At the northwestern tip of India is located The Golden Temple, or Harimandir Sahib, the most significant historical center on earth to the 20 million Sikhs worldwide. Here people from all walks of life are invited to join in listening to the hymns and teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib and to join in unity for a communal meal (Langar). This sacred gurdwara (temple) has entrances on all four sides, a symbol that this faith “is for people of all castes and all creeds from whichever direction they come and to whichever direction they bow.” (Guru Arjun Dev)
Over five hundred years ago in Punjab, India, a son was born to a Hindi couple. The child, who was named Nanak, was expected to follow in his merchant father’s footsteps. But this child was different in many ways. He was contemplative and thoughtful. He would frequently get lost in meditation. He seemed disinterested with the things of this world. He discussed religion with his Muslim and Hindi associates.
Finally, one morning he went to the river to bathe. According to legend, he entered the stream but did not surface. For three days and nights his friends searched for him, but he was not to be found. Then came the miraculous event-Nanak emerged from the river. During the time he’d been missing, Nanak had an incredible spiritual experience. He’d been in communion with God, and had been enlightened and given a calling to tell the world of his True Name. The first thing Nanak said upon his return was “There is no Hindu, no Muslim.” Nanak’s message was that only through true devotion to the one True Name could humans break the cycle of birth and deaths and merge with God. Nanak became the first Guru, and Sikhism came into being.
At that point, Guru Nanak left his home on the first of four major journeys to spread his message. Between the years 1499 and 1521 he traveled to such places as Sri Lanka, Tibet, Baghdad, Mecca, and Medina. Miraculous events accompanied him wherever he went, and he gained a large following. Finally at the close of his life he settled in Kartapur with his wife and two sons. His many disciples came here to listen to his teachings. Before he died, he appointed one to continue his work. Since Nanak, there have been nine other living gurus. The tenth, Guru Gobind Singh taught that there was no longer a need for a living guru. Instead, he found a spiritual successor in the Guru Granth Sahib (sacred texts), and a physical successor in the Khalsa.
Literally translated, khalsa means “the pure,” and it is the goal of all Sikhs to become Khalsa. Officially, one becomes Khalsa when he or she has undergone Sikh baptism, and have agreed to follow the Sikh Code of Conduct and Conventions, along with wearing the prescribed physical articles of the faith. This ceremony takes place when a mature individual presents him or herself in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib and five other Khalsa Sikhs. The candidate is taught what will be expected of him or her, and then drinks Amrit (sugar water stirred with a dagger).
Khalsa members can easily be distinguished by certain articles of clothing which they wear as symbols of their faith. These are referred to as the Five K’s.
· Kesh, or long, unshorn hair, is a symbol of spirituality. It reminds the individual to behave like gurus. (Male members wear a turban over the hair.)
· Kirpan, or the ceremonial sword, is a symbol of dignity. This is not regarded as a weapon, much as the cross is worn by Christians as a symbol of faith, and not an instrument of torture.
· Kangha, or comb, is a symbol of hygiene and discipline.
· Kara, or a steel bracelet, is a symbol of restraint in actions and a constant reminder of one’s devotion to God.
· Kachha, or drawers, which symbolize self-control and chastity.
Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world. It began as a progressive religion which rejected all distinctions of caste, creed, race, or sex. It recognized the full equality of women at a time when women were regarded as property or entertainment of men, when female infanticide and widow burning was common and even encouraged. The legacy of Sikhism is its emphasis on one’s devotion to God and truthful living.