The Sikh religion was founded over 500 years ago and today has a following of over 20 million people worldwide, it is ranked as the worlds 5th largest religion. Like most religious doctrine Sikhism preaches a message of devotion and remembrance of God at all times, truthful living and equality of mankind.  Sikhism is open to all through the teachings of its 10 Gurus enshrined in the Sikh Holy Book and Living Guru, Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

History and Development

Sikhism was born in the Punjab area of South Asia, which now falls into the present day states of India and Pakistan. The main religions of the area at the time were Hinduism and Islam.  The Sikh faith began around 1500 CE, when Guru Nanak began teaching a faith that was quite distinct from Hinduism and Islam.
Nine Gurus followed Nanak and developed the Sikh faith and community over the next centuries.

Militarisation of the Sikh:

Sikhism was well established by the time of Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru. Guru Arjan completed the establishment of Amritsar as the capital of the Sikh world, and compiled the first authorised book of Sikh scripture, the Adi Granth. However, during Arjan's time Sikhism was seen as a threat by the state and Guru Arjan was eventually executed for his faith in 1606.

The sixth Guru, Hargobind, started to militarise the community so that they would be able to resist any oppression. The Sikhs fought a number of battles to preserve their faith.

The Sikhs then lived in relative peace with the political rulers until the time of the Moghal Emperor, Aurangzeb, who used force to make his subjects accept Islam.

Aurangzeb had the ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadur, arrested and executed in 1675.
The Khalsa

The tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, recreated the Sikhs as a military group of men and women called the Khalsa in 1699, with the intention that the Sikhs should for ever be able to defend their faith. Gobind Singh established the Sikh rite of initiation (called khandey di pahul) and the 5 Ks which give Sikhs their unique appearance.Gobind Singh was the last human Guru. Sikhs now treat their scriptures as their Guru.

After the Gurus

The first military leader of the Sikhs to follow the Gurus was Banda Singh Bahadur. He led a successful campaign against the Moghals until he was captured and executed in 1716. In the middle of the century the Sikhs rose up again, and over the next 50 years took over more and more territory.

In 1799 Ranjit Singh captured Lahore, and in 1801 established the Punjab as an independent state, with himself as Maharaja.

He proved an adept ruler of a state in which Sikhs were still in a minority.
Although a devout Sikh, he took part in religious acts with Muslims and Hindus as well.

Defetated by the British

After Ranjit Singh died in 1839 the Sikh state crumbled, damaged by vicious internal battles for the leadership.

In 1845/6 troops of the British Empire defeated the Sikh armies, and took over much Sikh territory.

The Sikhs rebelled again in 1849, and were defeated by the British, this time conclusively.

The Sikh and the British Rahd

After this final battle, the Sikhs and the British discovered they had much in common and built a good relationship. The tradition began of Sikhs serving with great distinction in the British Army.

The Sikhs got on well with the British partly because they came to think of themselves less as subjects of the Raj than as partners of the British.

The British helped themselves get a favourable religious spin when they took control of the Sikh religious establishment by putting their own choices in control of the Gurdwaras.

Good relations between Sikhs and British came to an end in 1919 with the Amritsar massacre.


There is only one God
• God is without form, or gender
• Everyone has direct access to God
• Everyone is equal before God
• A good life is lived as part of a community, by living honestly and caring for others
• Empty religious rituals and superstitions have no value

Sikhs focus their lives around their relationship with God, and being a part of the Sikh community. The Sikh ideal combines action and belief. To live a good life a person should do good deeds as well as meditating on God.

Sikhs believe that human beings spend their time in a cycle of birth, life, and rebirth. They share this belief with followers of other Indian religious traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

The quality of each particular life depends on the law of Karma. Karma sets the quality of a life according to how well or badly a person behaved in their previous life-you reap what you sow. The only way out of this cycle, which all faiths regard as painful, is to achieve a total knowledge of and union with God.

Sikh spirituality is centred round this need to understand and experience God, and eventually become one with God.

To do this a person must switch the focus of their attention from themselves to God. They get this state, which is called mukti (liberation), through the grace of God. That means it's something God does to human beings, and not something that human beings can earn. However, God shows people through holy books, and by the examples of saints, the best ways to get close to him.

Truth is the highest of all virtues, but higher still is truthful living.

Sikhs believe that God can't be understood properly by human beings, but he can be experienced through love, worship, and contemplation.

Sikhs look for God both inside themselves and in the world around them. They do this to help themselves achieve liberation and union with God.

When a Sikh wants to see God, they look both at the created world and into their own heart and soul.
Their aim is to see the divine order that God has given to everything, and through it to understand the nature of God.

Most human beings can’t see the true reality of God because they are blinded by their own self-centred pride (Sikhs call it haumain) and concern for physical things.

Sikhs believe that God is inside every person, no matter how wicked they appear, and so everyone is capable of change.
Just as fragrance is in the flower, and reflection is in the mirror, in just the same way, God is within you.

Sikhs believe that God’s message can be found in several ways outside ourselves.

• The message is written in the whole of creation; look at it with open eyes and see the truth of God, for creation is the visible message of God

• Sikhs believe that most of us misunderstand the universe. We think that it exists on its own, when it really exists because God wills it to exist, and is a portrait of God’s own nature

• The message has been shown to us by the Gurus in their lives and in their words

• The message is set down in the teachings of scripture

Sikhs don't think it pleases God if people pay no attention to others and simply devote themselves slavishly to religion.

Sikhism doesn’t ask people to turn away from ordinary life to get closer to God. In fact it demands that they use ordinary life as a way to get closer to God.

A Sikh serves God by serving (seva) other people every day. By devoting their lives to service they get rid of their own ego and pride.

Many Sikhs carry out chores in the Gurdwara as their service to the community. These range from working in the kitchen to cleaning the floor. The Langar, or free food kitchen, is a community act of service.
Sikhs also regard caring for the poor or sick as an important duty of service.


The three duties that a Sikh must carry out can be summed up in three words; Pray, Work, Give.

• Nam japna:
Keeping God in mind at all times.

• Kirt Karna:
Earning an honest living. Since God is truth, a Sikh seeks to live honestly. This doesn't just mean avoiding crime; Sikhs avoid gambling, begging, or working in the alcohol or tobacco industries.

• Vand Chhakna:
(Literally, sharing one's earnings with others) Giving to charity and caring for others.

Sikhs try to avoid the five vices that make people self-centred, and build barriers against God in their lives:

• Lust
• Covetousness and greed
• Attachment to things of this world
• Anger
• Pride

If a person can overcome these vices they are on the road to liberation.


Although the majority of Sikhs are vegetarian, dietary requirements are the choice of the individual. For all Sikhs, the consumption of meat from cows is prohibited, as is eating the flesh of any animal killed according to the Halal method. Sikhs who are initiated into the Khalsa abstain from stimulants and drugs, and are prohibited from eating eggs, meat and fish.

Sikhism Today

UK and Global

The Sikh homeland is the Punjab, in India, where today Sikhs make up approximately 61% of the population. This is the only place where Sikhs are in the majority. Sikhs have immigrated to countries all over the world - especially to English-speaking and East Asian nations. In doing so they have retained, to an unusually high degree, their distinctive cultural and religious identity.

Sikhs are not ubiquitious worldwide in the way that adherents of larger world religions are, and they remain primarily an ethnic religion. But they can be found in many international cities and have become an especially strong religious presence in the United Kingdom and Canada.

According to the 2001 Census there are 336,000 Sikhs (less than 1%) in Britain today, 80% of whom are active in their faith. 39% of UK Sikhs attend a religious service at a Gurdwara.

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