Sikh Missionary Society
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Introduction to Sikhism
Introduction to Sikhism

Sikh Missionary Society: Publications: Introduction to Sikhism: Contents

Section VI: Worship, Ceremonies and the Future

  1. What is the Naming Ceremony among the Sikhs?
  2. What is the Sikh baptism - Amrit?
  3. What is the Anand Marriage?
  4. What is the Death Ceremony among the Sikhs?
  5. Describe the Sikh Temple
  6. Describe the Sikh worship
  7. What is the place of sacred music - Kirtan - in Sikhism?
  8. Is there any organized priesthood in Sikhism?
  9. Mention the important Sikh festivals.
  10. What are the Seats of Authority (Takhats) in Sikhism?
  11. Explain the procedure and significance of Gurmatta (Guru's Decision).
  12. Give a brief survey of Sikh studies.
  13. What is the future of Sikhism?

Q109. What is the Naming Ceremony among the Sikhs?

Sikh ceremonies are not rituals or occasions for the display of affluence and ego, but acts of thanks-giving and prayer, suited to the occasion. There is no ceremony at the time of the birth of the child in a Sikh family, even though the event produces a feeling of joy among the near relatives. However, when the mother and the child are in a position to move about, say a few weeks after the birth, the family takes the opportunity of performing the Naming Ceremony.

Generally a date is fixed by the parents, and the relatives and friends are informed of the date, time and venue. Generally the ceremony takes place in a Sikh Temple (Gurdwara). The family prepares some Karah Prasad at home or requests the Gurdwara to arrange for its preparation. The mother and child are taken to the Gurdwara. The family also takes a Rumala which is a piece of quality cotton or silk cloth about one metre square as a gift for the Guru Granth Sahib and sometimes sweets for distribution amongh the congregation. The Granthi or a senior member of the congragation present places a bowl of water near the Scripture. He places sugar-balls or pellets in the water and stirs the contents with a Kirpan(Sword) while reciting the first five Pauries of Guru Nanak's Japji. Sometimes some hymns are then sung to seek a blessing for the new-born. Then the general prayer, the Ardas (Supplication) is recited requesting good health and a long life for the child. After the Ardas a hymn is sung on behalf of the mother for the gift of meditation and Gur-Sikhi, for her child as under:

"O Son, this blessing is sought by your mother:
May you never forget the Lord of the universe even for a moment;
May the True Guru be kind to you and
May you come to a love for the society of the saints".
(AG. p. 496)
Thereafter a Hukam (a random reading from the Guru Granth Sahib) is made. The first letter of the first word of the reading becomes the initial letter of the child's name. For example if the first letter of the reading is "S", the child may be named Surjit Singh or Surinder Singh or any other name beginning with the letter "S". If the newborn is a girl, her name would likewise begin with "S" but end with "Kaur" in place of "Singh". There-after a few drops of "Amrit" or sweetened water prepared earlier, are put in the baby's mouth, while the remaining water is drunk by the mother. The ceremony ends with the distribution of Karah-Parsad and the placing of the Rumala on Guru Granth Sahib. Sometimes, Langar is also served to those present, though this is not compulsory.

In places where there is no Sikh Temple or where the child and the mother are not in a position to move out, the Naming Ceremony may be held in the home. Friends and relatives may be invited. One of those present will recite a hymn or two, prepare the Amrit as mentioned above and offer Ardas before one of the other Sikh scripture if the Guru Granth Sahib is not available, they may then take a Hukam from the Pothi or Gutka (Selections of Gurbani or Hymns). They will then propose a name according to the first letter of the hymn read. Those present generally give the approval to a name by a jaikara or it may be left to the parents to choose a name later, but using the key initial letter from the Hukam. The use of caste name like Grewal, Arora etc. before or after the personal name is discouraged in the Sikh religon.

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Q110. What is the Sikh baptism - Amrit?

Baptism is necessary before joining the Khalsa Panth. Guru Gobind Singh initiated the practice with the establishment of the order of the Khalsa in 1699.

The Amrit ceremony (baptism) is held in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib. Five baptised Sikhs known for their piety are called Panj Piyaras, all wearing the five symbols - Kesh(long hair), Kanga (Comb), Kachha (Knickers), Kara (Iron wristband), and Kirpan (Sword) sit in front of the Guru Granth Sahib. One of the five explains the principles of Sikhism to those who want to be baptised. After the candidates have signified their acceptance, one of the five offers Ardas. Then all the five sit round an iron-vessel containing fresh water an a quantity of sweets - Patasas. They recite the five Banis: the Japji, Jap, ten Swayyas, Chaupai and Anand Sahib. The reciter stirs the water with a double-edged sword, a Khanda, which he holds in his right hand. After recitation is over, the five initiators stand up, holding the vessel in their hands. Each one of them then offers prayer (one of the five Banis) for the nectar just prepared.

As each candidate receives five handfuls of Amrit (holy water) which he drinks shouting Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh. The Amrit is put five times in his eyes and five times on his hair while he repeats the above greetinng. The Amrit that remains is sipped by all candidates to remove caste prejudice. The five initiators repeat the Mul Mantra five times, this is then repeated by the candidates. Then one of the five explains the vows of Sikh discipliine - Rahat. The candidates are to regard themselves as sons of Guru Gobind Singh and Mata Sahib Kaur. Their home is Anandpur Sahib. They are to abstain from the four misdeeds: removing hair, eating halal meat, adultery and using tabacoo. One of the five Panj Piyaras then offers Ardas and reads a passage from the Guru Granth Sahib. Those who adopt Sikhism for the first time receive a new name, ending in Singh for a male and Kaur for a female. All the baptised Sikhs then eat Karah Parsad from the same vessel. If a Sikh has done any of the four misdeeds - Kurahats - mentioned above, he has to be rebaptised after due confession and penance.

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Q111. What is the Anand Marriage?

The Anand form of marriage was given a statutory recognition in 1909, under the Anand Marriage Act. It has been observed since the early days of Sikhism. Sikh boys and girls are married according to its form when they are grown-up and fit to undertake matrimonial responsibilities. Marriages are generally arranged and assisted by parents, though there is no bar to the boy and the girl arranging it on their own.

The marriage ceremony is simple but impressive. The bride and the bridegroom along with their relatives and friends form a congregation in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib. The couple and their parents then stand and an Ardas is offered to seek God's blessing. The person in charge of the function addresses the bride and the bridegroom individually and explains to them their duties in the new life which they are about to enter. Anand marriage is sacrament. The Guru is a witness to the marriage. No writing or document is necessary. The bridegroom is to vow fidelity to the wife - Istribrat Dharam while the bride is to vow fidelity to her husband - Patibrat Dharam. The husband is to protect the life and honour of his wife, she is to remain content with the lot of her husband and her treatment in the husband's house. The couple signify their consent by bowing before the Guru Granth Sahib. Then the scarf of the bridegroop is placed in the hands of bride. The Granthi or the officiating person, reads the lavan - the epithalamium of Guru Ramdas. Each stanza explains in detail a stage in the development of a life of love. The first stage is the performance of duties to the family and the community. The second stage is that of selfless love and holy fear which provide opportunities for devoted service and sacrifice - the discipline needed to facilitate the feeling of yearning and enthusiasm. Even troubles provide opportunities for service and sacrifice, and are therefore helpful to love. The third stage is that of detachment: Vairag. Human love is superseded by divine love. The fourth stage is that of hormony or union. The bride and bridegroom are completely identified with each other.

After the reading of each stanza, the couple go round the Guru Granth Sahib, the bridegroom leading the bride, while the stanza is sung to the accompaniment of musical instruments. After the completion of the lavan, the Anand Sahib is read. Finally the Ardas after which Karah Parsad is distributed to all present. Monogamy is practiced by the Sikhs.

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Q112. What is the Death Ceremony among the Sikhs?

On the death of a Sikh, his relatives and friends are informed, so that they may join the funeral ceremony on whatever day and date is fixed for the cremation. In foreign countries, a date and time is given by the crematorium authorities. As soon as the people gather for the funeral, the dead body is bathed then dressed in clean clothes with the five symbols of the Khalsa, and placed on a wooden frame or palanquin. The people form a procession and sing hymns as they carry the body to the cremation ground. In the west they form a motorcade and drive to the crematorium. No wailing or beating of the chest or breasts is allowed, for death is the natural end for every person. After the body reaches the cremation-place, the Kirtan Sohila is recited, for it is of special significance at this time. The Guru says:
"This same call goes to all homes every day;
So remember that Lord who calls, O Nanak;
The day draws ever nearer for each one of us."
(AG. p. 12)
Then the Ardas (General Prayer) is recited, this seeks a blessing for the departed person. Then the nearest relation to the deceased lights the funeral pyre, electricity or gas, whichever is used for the cremation. When the ashes are collected they should be disposed of by throwing them into running water or the sea. No memorials or monuments may be erected at the place where the last remains of the deceased were disposed of.

After the cremation, the relatives and friends return to the house of the deceased, there they bathe and generally start a Sadharan Path for the benefit of the dead and his family. This complete reading of the Scripture is done by the relations and friends of the family; sometimes pathis are engaged in case of need. Generally, both in the morning and in the evening, Kirtan and Katha are performed. The passing away of a Sikh is no cause of grief or sorrow, for one submits to the Will of God. Those who have led pure lives are not in any way afraid of death. Kabir says in this connection:

"Death of which men are afraid, gives me nothing but joy!
It is through the gate of Death that one may unite with the Lord of Bliss."
(AG. p. 1365)
The path (reading) of the Holy Scripture should be completed within nine days. On the tenth day, the relatives and friends of the family gather for the "Bhog" ceremony, at which the singing of hymns, and the last five pages of Sri Guru Granth Sahib are read. After the Bhog, Ramkali Sadd(This composition which is based on call of death is on page 923 of Guru Granth Sahib) is recited for the benefit of the family of the deceased. The Gurus emphasised the rememberance of God's name as the means of consolation for the bereaved family. After Ardas and a Hukam, Karah-Prasad is distributed among those present. Sometimes Langar(Free food) is also served, though it is not compulsory. Presents are then sometimes distributed to the grand children and donations are announced for charities or religious organizations.

Sometimes another small ceremony is held to mark the occasion. This is called Dastar-bandi (turban tying). The eldest member of the family is declared as the new Head of the family and given a turban ceremoniously. This is a token of his new responsibility for looking after the family and estate of the departed person. He is now regarded as the new chief of the family, responsible for the care of the children and other dependents of the family.

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Q113. Describe the Sikh Temple.

Guru Nanak started the first Sikh assembly at Kartarpur in 1521. This was the beginning of a religious congragation called Dharmsala (place or seat of religion). In the mornings and the evenings the followers of Guru Nanak formed a Sangat (congragation) and hymns were sung by the Guru and Mardana often in chorus with all present. Later on, such sessions were held in the homes of the Guru's followers. The second Guru, Guru Angad, added another activity to the routine of work by teaching Punjabi in the Gurmukhi script. This was called the Pathshala. Here children gathered, to learn the script of the Guru's hymns. Guru Amardas, the third Guru, extended the free kitchen. The Fourth Guru established an ideal centre for work at Amritsar, while the Fifth Guru built the Harminder Sahib later (called the Golden Temple). Almost all the Gurus set up temples wherever they went or whenever they acquired a group of followers. These temples were called Gurdwaras which mean the door (home) of the Guru.

A Sikh temple today is not only a place of worship, but also a community-centre. A Free Kitchen (langar) is always a part of a temple. The Gurdwara is also used for performing the birth, marriage and death ceremonies of Sikhs. The Scripture is called Sri Guru Granth Sahib. It contains the musical compositions of the first five Gurus, the Ninth Guru and medieval-Indian saints - Bhagats - both Hindu and Muslim. It is kept in a central place on a raised platform and under a canopy. A man sits behind holding a Chauri(made from feathers or hair), which he waves from time to time in token of respect for "The Word" of the Guru. The worshippers sit on a carpet, men on one side and women on the other. They listen to the musicians or the lecturer. The most important Sikh Temples of Doctrinal Authority are the Akal Takhat Amritsar, Kesgarh Sahib at Anandpur, Patna Sahib, Hazur Sahib at Nander and Damdama Sahib.

Sikh festivals like Diwali, Baisakhi and Gurpurbas are celbrated in all Gurdwaras. Then the sessions are long and well attended. Special lectures are arranged to explain to the audience the significance of each occasion or historical event. Apart from the kitchen and dining hall, there are rooms set apart for the accommodation of travellers and visitors. Some big temples have a library and reading room, a Sikh Museum and school. Welfare projects like widow-homes, orphanges, dispensaires or clinics are run by many historical Gurdwaras in India. A Gurdwara is managed by a committee elected from the congregation, according to its registered Constitution. These elections are being held annually.

The Historical temples in India follow a certain design of architecture called Indo-Sarsenic. Temples in foriegn countries may be housed in any building. Some of the Gurdwaras in U.K. have purchased former Christian churches and then altered them to suit their needs. Usually there is a tall flag-pole - Nishan Sahib - convered with cloth and with a yellow flag bearing the Sikh Insignia (a building without a Nishan Sahib may not be called a Gurdwara). A Sikh temple is open to all people - whoever they may be.

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Q114. Describe the Sikh worship.

Generally a Sikh Temple - Gurdwara - remains open throughout the day, so that worshippers can offer prayers at any time convenient to them. However, in India, two services are held daily in every Sikh temple, one in the morning and the other in the evening. In the morning Asa-di-Var is sung or recited, this is followed by the Anand Sahib, the Ardas (supplication_ and a Hukam(a random reading of a hymn of the Scripture), then follows the distribution of Karah Prasad (consecrated cooked food, made of flour, clarified butter and sugar). In the evening, Rehras and Chaupai are recited by the Granthi (reader of the Scripture) or by the sangat (congregation). Then some hymns are sung by the ragis (musicians) or recited by the sangat. After an Ardas and a Hukam, Karah Prasad is then distributed. Finally, the Guru Granth Sahib is ceremoniously wrapped up and taken to its special place for the night.

On festivals like Gurpurbs (Guru's festivals) days commemorating the birth, accession, death anniversary or other special occasions and Akhand Path (continuous reading of the Scripture for about 48 hours by the relays of readers) is held and the Ardas is offered. This is followed by programme of Kirtan (hymnal singing) and Katha (discourse). On such occasions the free kitchen - Langar - is open throughout the day.

Sikhs generally bathe in mornings before going to the Gurdwara. They take off their shoes at the gate then wash their hands and feet if suitable arrangements exist. When they enter the main hall, they kneel down and bow before the Guru Granth Sahib, they also make an offering in cash or kind. Any non-Sikhs must cover their heads with a cap or a handkerchief. They are not allowed to take any form of tabacoo, alcohol or narcotics inside the temple.

The congregation sits crosslegged on the floor/carpet, the use of chairs is not permitted. In some cases, old and infirm people are allowed cushions for their comfort. There is no priesthood in Sikhism, but for the benefit of the congregation, a Granthi or Sewadar (care-taker) may be employed to read the scripture, perform ceremonies or help in the Langar. Often professional musicians called Ragis sing hymns from the Scripture in the prescribed ragas (melody-pattern) and talas (rhythms), accompanied by a harmonium and tabla (pair of drums). In the absense of any musicians, the congragation sings the hymns in chorus.

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Q115. What is the place of sacred music - Kirtan - in Sikhism?

Sacred music, Kirtan, means "singing the praises of God". It is devotional music. Generally in the Gurdwara, musicians either sing alone or request the Sangat to repeat after them the lines of the hymn in chorus. This is congregational hymn singing and has a soothing effect on the mind. The Sikh sacred music - Gurmat Sangeet - falls into two categories; classical music and folk music. Classical music pruned of ornamentation becomes devotional music. Folk music includes those vars in the ballad from which enshrine the praise of God.

The Sikh Gurus themselves composed hymns to be sung according to certain musical scores (Raags). The scores were suited to the spirit and the content of the hymn. The best way to sing a hymn is to do so in its own raga and according to its own musical notation (singing hymns to the melody of contemporary western music or film music is explicitly forbidden via decree from Akaal Takhat). The Sikh Gurus harmonized the contents of poetry with the characteristics of the raga. 31 different ragas have been used in the Guru Granth Sahib.

Guru Nanak encouraged his followers to practice hymn-singing at dawn, because at that period of the day, all is quiet and the mind is receptive to the soft strains of music and the surrounding atmosphere of stillness. This helps in the absorption of the healing power of Nam. According to the Gurus, Kirtan is food for the soul. It is a permanent treasure which can never be depleted. Whoever performs Kirtan or listens to it, comes nearer to God. Their troubles and miseries lessen and their minds gain peace and equipoise.

Guru Nanak encouraged his companion - Mardana - to do Kirtan at all times. Guru Amardas wanted the Sangat to join in group-singing. Though there are professional singers, the best Kirtan is one in which the entire Sangat sings in chorus, then all can partake of this divine food as every one needs it. Sikhs pray for the strength to sing God's praises.

For Sikhs the slow and deep strains of their devotional music please the soul like the gentle drops of rain please the dried out earth. The soul drinks the musical nectar and immerses itself in the divine Name. The devotional music in India would never have reached its present height, but for the impact of the hymns of the Guru Granth Sahib.

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Q116. Is there any organized priesthood in Sikhism?

Guru Amardas organized the propagation of the Sikh faith. He divided the country into 22 dioceses - Manjis - each in the charge of a devout Sikh. Daily Kirtan was held by all congregations (Sangats). The Guru himself trained many travelling missionaries, including women, they were moved into different parts of India to spread Sikhism.

These missionaries, then called 'massands' collected offerings from the Sikhs for the Guru, and sometimes misappropriated them for their personal use. In due course, they became powerful as a separate group and started harassing the poor and innocent Sikhs. They moved about like Jagirdars (lords), and Zamindars, with pomp and pageantry, and accompanied by their servants and retainers.

Guru Gobind Singh received several complaints regarding the misdeeds of these 'massands' from Sikhs living in different parts of India. He looked into the complaints made against each one. The guilty were duly punished and the order of massands was abolished.

Since that time there has been no professional priesthood, in any form, among the Sikhs. The idea of clericalism as opposed to secularism, of a different morality for the churchman and for the layman has no place in Sikhism. There are neither hereditary priest nor monks. Sikhism does not prescribe a particular dress or uniform for a saint (except of the required 5Ks). It does not enforce the vow of celibacy. In its temples, any one can perform the services for Kirtan and Katha. The person known as a 'Granthi' is merely a reader of Guru Granth Sahib. He is a Pathi. Kirtan-groups generally consist of amateurs. Even those who are professionally-trained as singers cannot be priests, because there is no such office or designation.

Woman are allowed to take part in Kirtan, Paath and Katha on equal terms with the men. They may lead and participate in all ceremonials like baptism, marriage and funeral, where readings from the Guru Granth Sahib are common to all such functions.

It is not generally understood that all Sikhs are under a sacred duty to try to impart a knowledge of their religion (SIKHISM) to the rest of the world.

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Q117. Mention the important Sikh festivals.

Sikh festivals are many, for example general festivals like the birthdays, the accession anniversaries of the Gurus, the death anniversaries of the Gurus, in addition to other special events. There are also local festivals like Maghi (celebrated at Mukatsar in Punjab) Holla Mahalla (celebrated at Anandpur and Fatehgar Sahib). However, there are five big festivals which are celebrated by the Sikhs all over the world. These festivals are not meant for solely entertainment, pleasure of food and frolic, but are occasions for the revitalisation of faith and rededication to the principles and practices of Sikhism. These celebrations are open to all men and women without distinction of caste, creed or color and take form in devotion and worship, through Kirtan (hymnal singing), Katha (discourse or lecture) and Ardas (supplication), Karah Parsad (consecrated food) and Langar (free food in the community kitchen).

(i) Guru Nanak Dev Ji's Parkash (birthday): Guru Nanak is the Founder of Sikh religion. He was born on 20th October 1469 at Talwandi, now in Pakistan. The actual birthday-anniversary varies, according to the dates of the Bikrami Sammat. The celebrations generally last for three days, though in some small villages or Gurdwaras, there is only a one-day celebration on the actual birthday. Two days before the birthday, an Akhand Path (continuous reading of Sri Guru Granth Sahib which takes about 48 hours, by relays of readers called pathis) is held in the Gurdwara (Sikh Temple). One day before the birthday, a procession is organized through the town, led by Panj Piyaras (Five Khalsas) and the Palki (palanquin) of Sri Guru Granth Sahib followed by teams of singers, singing hymns, brass-band playing different tunes and groups of devotees singing in chorus. On the actual birthday a Diwan (religious session) begins early in the morning at about four O'clock, with the singing of the Asa-di-var (morning prayer) followed by the hymns from the Scripture. Then follows the Bhog (reading of last five pages) of the Akhand Path after which more, Kirtan and Katha, lectures and the recitation of poems in praise of the Guru. This celebration goes on till lunch-time, when Langar is served to all.

Some Gurdwaras also hold night-services. These begin soon after sunset when the Rehras and Chaupai are recited. Then follows Kirtan till late in the night (and often till dawn of the next day [Rahin Sabhai Kirtan]. Sometimes a Kavidarbar (poetic symposium) is held, to enable poets to pay their tributes to the Guru in their own words. At about 1.20 A.M. (the actual time of the birth of the Guru) the congregation sings the praises of the Guru and recites the Holy Word. The function ends at about 2 A.M.

(ii) Guru Gobind Singh's Birthday: Guru Gobind Singh is the tenth Guru of the Sikhs. He was born at Patna on 22nd December 1666. The celebrations are similar to those for the three-day schedule of Guru Nanak's birthday. Those Sikhs who cannot join the main celebrations for some reason or live in places where there is no Sikh Temple, hold a celebration in their own homes and themselves perform Kirtan, Ardas and distribute Karah Parsad.

(iii) The Installation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib as permanent Guru: Three days before passing away, Guru Gobind Singh conferred perpetual Gurudom on Sri Guru Granth Sahib on 3rd October 1708. The Sikh Scripture is also called the Eleventh Guru. On this day a special one-day celebration is held with Kirtan, Katha, lectures, Karah-Parsad and Langar. Sikhs then rededicate themselves to follow the teachings contained in the Guru Granth Sahib. In all Sikh temples, the Guru Granth Sahib presides and holds the most prominent place. In some Gurdwaras, an Akhand Path is read as a part of the celebration.

(iv) Baisakhi: This is the Birthday of the Khalsa (the pure ones). Guru Gobind Singh started the Khalsa brotherhood with his 'baptism of steel' on 30th March 1699. This one-day celebration is held in Gurdwaras with Kirtan, Katha, lecture and Karah-Parsad, Ardas and Langar. In addition, the Amrit ceremony is held and Amrit is given to those who offer themselves for baptism. Sikhs after taking Amrit, are called Khalsa. In some Gurdwaras, an Akhand Path is read as a part of the celebration.

(v) Diwali: The Sikhs celebrate Diwali - generally regarded as a Hindu festival - because Guru Hargobind came back to Amritsar on this day in 1620, after his release from Gwalior jail. The one-day celebration is held with Kirtan, Katha, lectures, Karah-Parsad, Ardas and langar in the Gurdwara. Diwali means festival of lights. So in the evening, illuminations are lit and fire-work displays are held, both in Gurdwaras and in the homes of Sikhs to express their joy at the return of the Sikhs's Guru to Sri Akal Takht (The Throne of the Timeless one) at Amritsar.

In addition to the above festivals, celebrations are held in memory of the martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan in summer season, and the martrdom anniversary of Guru Teg Bahadur in winter, in every Sikh temple.

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Q118. What are the Seats of Authority (Takhats) in Sikhism?

'Takhat' which literally means a throne or seat of authority is a result of historical growth of Sikhism. There are five Takhats. The first and the most important one was established by Guru Hargobind in 1609. It is called 'Akal Takhat' (the Throne of the Timeless God) and is situated just opposite the gate of Harmandar Sahib - The Golden Temple, Amritsar. The Guru established it, because he thought that secular political matters should not be considered in the Golden Temple, which is meant purely for worship of God. Here the Guru held his court and decided matters of military strategy and political policy. Later on, the Sikh commonwealth (Sarbat Khalsa) took decisions here on matters of peace and war and settled disputes between the various Sikh groups. The Sarangi singers sung the ballads of the Sikh Gurus and warriors at this place and robes of honour (saropas) were awarded to persons who rendered distinguished services of the community of men in general.

The second seat of authority is called "Takhat Sri Patna Sahib". Guru Tagh Bahadur lived with his family here in 1665. Here was born Guru Gobind Singh. The building which was partly damaged by the great earthquake of 1934 has been rebuilt. Here are preserved the relics of Guru Gobind Singh including his cradle, weapons and Proclamations.

The third seat of authority is called "Takhat Sri Kesgarh Sahib". The township of Anandpur was founded by the Ninth Guru in 1665 but the Takhat therein owes its importance to the creation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699. The Shrine contains the historic double-edged-sword-khanda with which the Guru stirred the Amrit (baptism-water). It has also a number of weapons of the Tenth Guru. During the annual Holi festival, mock-battles between groups of Sikhs are held here. This is called the Holla Mahalla festival by the Sikhs.

The fourth seat of authority is "Takhat Sri Huzur Sahib". It is the place where Guru Gobind Singh passed away in 1708 and is situated at Nander in Maharashtra State. Maharaja Ranjit Singh renovated the temple and provided a gold-plated dome and several costly decorations. The takhat puts on display of weapons of Guru Gobind Singh and other relics on Sikh festivals. Some manuscript copies of the Dasam Granth can be seen here.

The fifth seat of authority is called "Takhat Damdama Sahib". This place owes its importance to the literary work of Guru Gobind Singh done during his stay in 1706. Here the Tenth Guru prepared the authentic edition of the Adi Granth, to which he gave prepetual succession at the time of his death. The Guru held his court at Damdama Sahib for over nine months and imparted training in arts of war and peace to his followers.

The five Takhats have authority in their respective jurisdictions, and recommend punishments for specific religious offences called 'Tankha'. The daily routine of prayers etc. follows an old tradition. Only the best Sikhs are selected as heads (Jathedars) of these five Takhats.

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Q119. Explain the procedure and significance of Gurmatta (Guru's Decision).

Gurmatta or Guru's decision is a special resolution passed by the corporate personality of the Sikh community. Its features are as under:
(i) Gurmatta may be taken only by one of the five Takhats in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib.
(ii) 'The five beloved ones' (Punj Piyara) including the Head (Jethedar) are selected by the participants on basis of merit, piety and religious living.
(iii) The persons present must have no enmity against one another, and must declare their impartiality; personal difference cannot be expressed here.
(iv) The subject must be of concern to the entire Sikh Community, and must not pertain to the interests of a group or party of Sikhs.
(v) The Gurmatta has to be unanimous; there is no question of majority view.
(vi) The Gurmatta is binding on all Sikhs; they must respect and implement it, though they may not be personally in favour of it.
So, in essence, Gurmatta is a "decision of the collective will of the Sikh community". It is a symbol and form of the supreme authority of the Panth. It has the sanction of the Guru Granth Sahib and the entire Sikh Community. The solution of new problems facing the community can be sought through the institution of Gurmatta.

One of the important Gurmattas passed in 1747 was the nomination of Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia as the Commandar of the Dal Khalsa against the forces of Ahmed Shah Abdali. In December, 1920, Gurmatta was passed for liberating Sikh Gurdwaras from proprietory control, and bringing them under popular administraion. Gurmattas are taken in cases of emergency or when a crisis faces the Sikh community as a whole.

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Q120. Give a brief survey of Sikh studies.

Sikh studies in its broadest sense means creative literature on Sikh History, Sikh Philosophy, culture and fine arts. Such studies may be divided in five headings.

Historical, Theological, Institutional, Cultural and Practical. Historical studies will cover the lives of the Ten Gurus (1469-1708) persecution of the Sikhs in the eighteenth century and the growth of the missals, Sikh rule under Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his successors (1800-1849), Punjab under British rule (1849-1947), Post-independence period (1947 uptodate). The recent period will also include the study of the problems of the Sikhs both in India nad abroad.

Theological studies pertain to the teachings of the Gurus, the interpretations of the scriptures, and the concepts of God, Creation, Man, Maya, Ethics, The Holy Word, Meditation, Salvation etc. Institutional studies include Sangat, Pangat, Gurdwara, Khalsa Brotherhood, Takhats, Gurmatta etc.

Cultural studies will cover the study of the fine arts of the Sikhs, specially their music (both classical and folk), their architecture (specially Gurdwara architecture and town planning) their paintings (both secular and religious) etc.

Practical Sikhism includes the Sikh way of life, the family, the community, social commitment, worship, ceremonies, Sikh identity and character.

However the above categories should not be considered as watertight compartments; they are like intersecting circles cutting mutual frontiers. For example Practical Sikhism is nothing but leading family-life according to the message of the Gurus.


Sikh studies began in right earnest after the independence in India in 1947. Principal Jodh Singh, Prof. Teja Singh, Prof. Sahib Singh and Dr. Ganda Singh produced worth-while books on Sikh themes. The establishment of the new universities (Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar; Punjab University, Chandigarh; Punjabi University, Patiala) initiated serious research in Sikh religion and history. The celebration of centenries of Guru Gobind Singh (1966), Guru Nanak (1969), Guru Tegh Bahadur (1975), Guru Amardas (1979) and Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1980) gave impetus to the production of valuable research books on the Gurus and Sikh theme.

Among the recent university Scholars are Prof. Harbans Singh, Narain Singh, S.S. Kohli, G.S. Talib, B.S. Anand, J.S. Grewal, Fauja Singh, Mohinder Singh, H.S. Shan, A.C. Chatterjee, H.R. Gupta, C.H. Leohlin, S.S. Bal, P.S. Gill, Pritam Singh, Prakash Singh, Taran Singh, Mc. Leod, W.O. Cole, Juergensmyer, Shackle and others.

The non-university writers of considerable merit are Dr. Gopal Singh, Khushwant Singh, K.S. Duggal, S. Trilochan Singh, Raghbir Singh, Daljeet Singh, Jagjit Singh, G.S. Sidhu, Ishwar Singh, P.S. Sambhi, D. Greenlees, Dr. Gurmeet Singh and Dalip Singh.

The credit for pioneering work in the field of Sikh studies, as for example the preparation of the Sikh Encyclopeadia in several volumees, and the translation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib in modern English (with footnotes) goes to the Punjabi University, Patiala. Its department of Religion and Adi Granth Studies prepares students for the M.Phil and Ph.D. Degrees.


Sikh studies in U.K. began with the introduction of Sikhism as one of the sections of the paper on "World Religions" at the GCE level. Both teachers and students needed books suited to the standards of Britian. Dr. Owen Cole deserves credit for preparing some basic books and reference material on Sikh studies. His book entitled "World Religions: A Handbook for teachers", which he edited for the SHAP working party on World Religions in Education in 1976 prompted many writers to produce books for the school curriculum. As far as I know about twenty books have been published in U.K. by eminent writers like Dr. Cole, P.S. Sambhi, W.H. Mcleod, Terry Thomas, J.R.S. Whitting, John Prickett and others. Perhaps some more books are needed for the GCE. 'A' level.

Sikh studies have found a place in the B.A. course of the Open University, and the first Degree at the West Sussex Institute of Higher Education, Chichester. Leeds and London Universities have provision for research degrees in Sikh studies. In view of the large number of Sikhs settled in Britian, there is a great need for a centre of Sikh studies and Research. Perhaps after collection of adequate funds, such a centre can be established either at Sally Oak College, Birmingham, or West Sussex Institute of Higher Education at Chichester. The proposed centre may also provide training facilities for teachers, teaching Sikhism at the GCE level.


Though the first Sikh immigrants settled on the west coast of Canada in 1905, Sikh studies has not received its due place either at the school or college level. The Sikhs have been more concerned with ethnic, economic and political issues than their religion or the cultural upbringing of their children. There is a large number of Sikh in Toronto, Vancouver, and a sizeable number at Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa. The Sikhs have been holding Annual Conferences since 1979, where issues like identity of the Sikhs, Sikh children and their education, the relations with other communities, Sikhs in small towns and the means of communication with their corelgionists, Sikh women and their role in the new environment are discussed. The number of books on Sikhism published in Canada is very small. Most of them deal with the problems of immigration and employment. The main reason for the neglect of Sikh studies is the indifference of the State and the preoccupation of Sikhs with Gurdwara politics. Moreover, the Sikhs are mostly working in trade and industry, and very few are in the learned professions. G.S. Pannu's "Sikhs in Canada" is a learned treatise presented to the University of British Columbia (1970) posing the problems facing the Sikh community. Another work dealing with ethnic problems of the Sikhs written by T.J. Scanlon entitled "The Sikhs of Vancouver: a case-study of the Role of the Media on Ethnic relations" was published by UNESCO (Paris) in 1977. Till such time as Sikh studies is made a subject at the school or college level, no worth- while publications may be forth-coming in Canada.


Though Sikh Studies has not been accepted as a subject at the school level, on account of the separation of the State from Religion in the USA, perhaps a beginning can be made in Sikh Studies in cities where the Sikh are settled in large numbers. California has a rich and viable group of both Sikh farmers and professional men, and many have expressed the need of a Public school in a place like Yuba City. The Gurdwaras and Sikh Associations have hardly taken any interest in Sikh Studies. There is the Sikh Council of North Americal but it is suffereing from factionalism and petty politics. Individuals have written some books on Sikh themes. Besides Archer's 'The Sikhs' (1946), Dr. S.S. Ahluwalia's book (God's Free Kitchen, 1979) and Khushwant Singh's two volumes (History of the Sikhs 1966) have been published in the States.

There is however an organized group of American-born Sikhs under the 3HO (also called the Sikh Darma Brotherhood) managed by the Khalsa Council. Their leader Yogi Harbhajan Singh has promoted Sikhism and published a few books (The experience of consciousness, and The Saying of Yogi Bhajan, 1977). Their publications include "Sublings of Destiny", "Japji of Guru Nanak", "Sikh Dharma Training Manual", "The Sun Shall rise in the West" and some others. Their books include the two notable works published in 1976, by Premka Kaur ("Peace Lagoon: Selections from the Sikh Scriptures" , and "Guru for the Aquarian Age: Life of Guru Nanak")

There are two university centres which provide facilities for research in Sikh religion. One is the Department of Religion at the University of California, Berkley, San Francisco. The section of Sikh studies is under the charge of Dr. Juergensmyer who compiled a number of papers on various aspects of Sikhism under the title "Sikh Studies, Berkley", in 1980. In 1982, Prof. Harbans Singh of Patiala delivered three lectures at Berkley, which were later published under the title "Berkley Lectures", by Guru Nanak Foundation, New Delhi.

The other place is the Centre for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University. The Guru Nanak Foundation of North America, Maryland, the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation, Maryland, The Sikh Philosophical Society, Columbia, the Research and Educational Centre, Chesterfield, St. Louis, may pool their resources in the near future and set up a joint centre for Sikh studies and Research on the East Coast.


Sikhs are settled in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong in large numbers. They have built up many Gurdwaras in major cities. Singapore has the distintion of leading the other regions in Sikh studies. Two books have been written and published by Mehervan Singh on "Sikhism" and "Sikhism in Malaysia". The latter highlights the problems of the local Sikhs. Recently, the Guru Nanak Satsang Sabha, and the Missionary Society of Singapore got approved "Sikh Studies" as subject for the GCE Course. It is a compact course dealing with all the important aspects of Sikh History and religion. Two books "Hand Book of Sikh Studies" for students, and the other entitled, "Manual of Sikh Studies" for teachers, have been printed in Singapore, perhaps such books will set the pace for the preparation of standard text books on Sikhism in other countries.

(PLEASE NOTE: The latest edition of this book was published in 1985, so the information is not up to date.)

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Q121. What is the future of Sikhism?

The Sikhs in glorious past have had long periods of persecution and suffering. Their faith in the Gurus and God, and an awaremenss of the need for voluntary community service made them face cheerfully, many ordeals. The eighteenth century witnessed the genocide of the Sikhs, particularly at the two holocausts of 1746 and 1762 called Chotta Ghallughara and Wada Ghallughara respectively, from which the Sikhs rose like phoenix from the ashes. Their martyrdom has inspired successive generations of Sikhs to the cause of the Panth and their belief in Chardi Kala, Dynamic optimism.

Again during this century, the Partition of India in 1947 divided their home-land and dealt them another catastrophic blow, physically and economically. Again they never lost the courage and will to survive. Many of them migrated to the truncated Punjab, others went to foreign countries and established themselves. In the new state of the Punjab, they brought in the Green Revolution (in agriculture) and the White Revolution (in milk) production. Now Punjab has the highest per capita income in India. Though affluence has brought in some evils, the Sikhs have managed to maintain their vitality and leadership in both the economic and political fields by hard work, sociability, resourcefulness and optimism.

The world today is torn by strife and suffering. Even the affluent countries are not free from the fear of war and the dilution of their quality of life. Man has progressed materially but not intrinsically. Disparities in income, the poverty of two-thirds of the world's population, the maldistribution of resources and the exploitation of the weaker sections of humanity, have divided the globe into the North and the South - the industrial nations and the Under-developed nations. The Gurus showed a way forward to the removal of inequality through justice, equality and freedom. Religions in its true sense is not of ritual, but of fellowship and self-discipline. Hypocrisy and double standards crode our character and hinder our progress. A Sikh's recognition of the brotherhood of all ordinary people is illustrated in Sangat (congregation) and Pangat (Free Kitchen. The Gurus' love of humanity made them declare that there was truth in all revelation. Man must follow and practice sincerely, the commands of his own religion.

Today we witness a revival of Sikhism all over the world. Sikhs are discovering the truth of the Gurus' message by studying Gurbani. Non-Sikhs are being influenced by the zeal and dedication of Sikhs to projects of community-welfare and voluntary service. More Sikhs are taking Amrit as they try to become Guru Gobind Singh's saint-soldiers. The growth of Sikhism in the United States of America is a testimony to the relevance and vitality of the Gurus' teachings in this day and age. Not only there is great increase in the number of Sikhs, but also a new enthusiasm to follow the teachings of the Gurus in daily life. Sikhism is now a World Religion, it has a great part to play in building bridges of understanding and friendship between the different nations of the world and in the promotion of global peace.
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