General Characteristics of Sikhism

1.     Sikh” from Pali sikkha, meaning “disciple”

2.     Define selves as believing in one God, accepting the teachings of the first ten guru/leaders of the community, believing in scripture, the Adi Granth.

3.     20 million Sikhs in the world, about 85% live in the Indian state of Punjab [show on atlas]

4.     Sense of identity closely tied to the course of historical events, especially the battles with their enemies the Mughal armies.

5.     Primary emphasis on the consciousness of God

6.     Articulate their faith and practices as things worth fighting and dying for; tradition of martyrs

Cultural-religious context of the emergence of Sikhism: The Sants

1.     Sant Tradition

a.     Growth of devotional movements in Medieval Period (600 CE - 1800 CE) - temples, images, sects, Puranas, outward form of devotion such as pilgrimage, festivals, processions.

b.     General Characteristics: populist, vernacular, poor, low caste, dispossessed and oppressed = linked in their religious attitudes with orthodox, upper class devotees

2.     Nirguna Bhakti

a.     Saguna is worshipping the deity with forms and attributes (Tulsidas and Rama, Surdas and Krishna)

b.     Nirguna = ascribes no forms or attributes to God.

c.     Way to liberation: meditation on the divine name, the expression in this world of the divine reality.

3.     Other Features of Sant tradition:

a.     Emphasis on the saint as guru

b.     Rejection of all the familiar external forms of religious practice (pilgrimage, ritual bathing, use of murtis)

c.     Rejection of caste and all caste restrictions


Kabir (1440-1518)

1.     Late 15th century-early 16th, North India, low caste - Hindus and Muslims revered his poetry, he is taken up into the Sikh tradition, mentioned in their sacred scripture.  Insistence of inward devotion and not outward observances. 

2.     Invocation of God’s name: Utter the name of God: He extinguishes birth and death.  I utter His Name, and whatever I see reminds me of Him; Whatever I do becomes his worship

a.     Ridiculed conventional religious practices of both Hindus and Muslims.

3.     Sants provided links with Muslim mystics, Sufis - fed each other

4.     India was widely affected by devotional mysticism, expressed in images of love, suffering, and union.



Historical Overview of Sikhism


1.     Two principle developmental stages: first pacifistic, the second more militant


First Period: Early Sikhism: Begins in Northern India, 15th century

2.     Guru Nanak (1469-1539)

a.     To the historian, not much known for certain about his life; but an important tradition of  stories about Nanak within the Sikh tradition

b.     Writings preserved in the Sikh scripture -- the Adi Granth (first book. Cf. adi-kavi = Valmiki, first poet) [image]

c.     Born into a Hindu family, Kshatriya, near Lahore [show on atlas];   married at 19, 2 sons; Muslim school, studied Persian and Arabic, learned about Islam, close friend was Muslim musician and servant (Mardana); Early group of followers, bathed in river every morning before dawn, sang religious songs in his home evenings

d.     30 years old: divine call.  Didn’t return one day from morning bath, friends couldn’t find for 3 days, then showed up w/no explanation, only this cryptic statement:

                                      i.     There is neither Hindu nor Mussalman, so whose path shall I choose?  I shall follow God’s path.  God is neither Hindu nor Mussalman and the path which I follow is God’s”

e.     Later explained - a vision, carried up to God’s presence, God gave Nanak a cup of nectar and then gave him a promise of happiness and a mission to honor the name of God, to teach others to honor the name of God.

3.     Basic Points of Nanak’s Teaching (closer look at Sikh doctrine next time [nanak1]

a.     Expressed his faith in a simple statement, which comes at the beginning of the Adi Granth, and which is repeated silently each day by observant Sikhs

b.     Meditation on the divine name, singing hymns, worship > bring about consciousness of God.

c.     Accepted karma and rebirth

d.     People fail to recognize the presence of God all around them, in the world because they are blinded by ignorance and self-centeredness, seduced by passions.

e.     Insisted on the oneness of God, and that there is no other.

f.      Purpose of meditating on the divine name is to begin to hear the voice of God speaking mystically in their souls, finally to ascend higher and higher until one achieves union with God, the Eternal One. God can be known only experience of mystical union

                                      i.     Rejected divine images and many outward practices of popular religion.

g.     Nanak moved from place to place, singing and spreading his religious message [nanak2]

4.     Was Nanak a Sant?  A question of origins.  Sikhs insulted by claim that Nanak’s teachings came from the Sant traditions.


Second Period

1.     Nanak dies (1539).  His teachings are continued through nine successors, ending in the Death of Guru Gobind Singh in 1708. By that time, Sikh community had changed greatly from its earlier form.

a.     Babur had invaded India and initiated a period of struggle and violence.  Important part of Sikh history set in this context of struggle.

2.     Guru Arjan (fifth guru, ruled 1581-1606): began building the Golden Temple in Amritsar, enlarged its pool into an artificial lake. [image]

a.     Four major entryways, signaling that it was open on all sides, members of all four castes had equal status as disciples

b.     Gathered teachings and hymns of first four gurus into the Adi Granth.  Had the Adi Granth installed in the Golden Temple

c.     Arjan’s death was extremely important for the changes that would follow in Sikhism. Refused to remove certain passages from the Adi Granth - tortured (forced to sit on a hot iron plate over a file, burning sand poured on him]. Initiated official policy of Mughal hostility against Sikhs - militant tradition.

d.     Arjan advised his son, Hargobind (the 6th guru [image]) to sit fully armed on throne, wear two swords tradition of martyrs: one symbolized spiritual authority, one temporal authority - new militancy.

3.     Gobind Singh (tenth guru, 1675-1708): “The Lion”. 

a.     Aurangzeb’s efforts to impose Islam , executed the 9th guru in Delhi. His son, Gobind Singh, was a child when he received the title of guru.

b.     1699: Reunited Sikhs by establishing a new order of the Khalsa. Called together a gathering of Sikh warriors, called for volunteers to die for the Sikh cause.
Claimed that God demanded a blood sacrifice.  Five warriors volunteered, Gobind Singh led them one by one into his tent and emerged four times with a bloody sword.  After the fifth, Gobind Singh brought out all his warriors alive, he had substituted a goat for the sacrifice of each man. [image: Gobind 3]

c.     First initiates: gave each a 2-edged dagger, declared that they would be know henceforth as Singh (“lion”)

d.     Member of the Khalsa identified by 5 special symbols (the five Ks) [image]

                                      i.     Not to cut the hair on his head or his beard

                                    ii.     Carry a comb

                                   iii.     Wear a steel bracelet

                                   iv.     Wear a sword (dagger)

                                    v.     Wear shorts pants

e.     Women could also join: wear single edged dagger

4.     A militant organization from an inwardly focused, meditative tradition.

a.     All four sons assassinated, proclaimed that the line of gurus would end with himself,  In the future would be the Sikh community, the Khalsa, the Adi Granth