Sikhi (Sikhism)

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Page author: Luke Burns

This page created on: 14/12/2019

Last modified: 07/09/2021

Abstract

Sikhi is the name of a religious tradition which emerged in the Punjab, initiated by Guru Nanak, and led by a series of Gurus who acted as divine intermediaries between God and humanity. The final human Guru bestowed spiritual authority onto the community's scriptures and the community itself.

Traditions

Table of Contents

Introduction

Sikhi is characterised by its founding figures: a series of ten divinely inspired leaders known as Gurus. Unlike Hindu gurus (who tend to be considered holy persons with great wisdom), Sikh Gurus were viewed as conduits of the supreme guru (Waheguru) – i.e. God. Therefore the actions and sayings of the Gurus hold tremendous importance for Sikhs, and during their lifetimes they were instrumental in shaping the tradition.

Guru and Sikh

The foundational relationship in Sikhi is between teacher and pupil, hence the importance of the term Guru (teacher) and Sikh (student). According to Sikhi, God is the supreme and immeasurable creator of all existence, which makes itself available to humanity in the form of a teacher who can dispel ignorance and darkness.

Each successive human Guru presented this divine intelligence and guidance in different forms for different contexts, but the tenth and final Guru, Gobind Singh, placed spiritual authority in two complementary locations – the recorded scripture (known as Guru Granth) and the Sikh sangat itself, also referred to as the Guru Panth (panth means path, or way, and by extension – those who follow the Guru’s way).

Initiation and community

The Sikh community can be further divided between those who have been initiated into a group known as the Khalsa (the pure), and those who follow the Gurus but don’t engage in the additional practices required for Khalsa initiates. These additional steps involve a ceremony known as ‘taking amrit’ and the wearing of the so-called five K’s.

You can watch a discussion of this ceremony in the BBC clip below:

The ceremony is also covered in this video from the Open University.

There is sometimes dispute between whether the authority granted by Guru Gobind Singh applies to the entire Sikh panth, or specifically the Khalsa panth (Oxtoby, 1996, p.194). Whichever side of this debate is correct, religious authority wasn’t just given to the Sikh community by itself, but also to the scriptures.

The leadership of the collective Khalsa or the Panth, did not mean that any majority decision taken by it had an automatic religious sanctity. The supreme consideration was that such decisions had to conform to the Sikh ideals … It was the Sikh principles which were to be supreme. The Guruship was conferred on Guru Granth Sahib [the holy text], and leadership on the collective Panth. These steps were taken to ensure that after the Gurus, the collective leadership of only those who were ideologically oriented, prevailed.

Singh, 1997, p. 297

References

  • Oxtoby, W.G. (1996) ‘The Sikh Tradition’ in World Religions: Eastern Traditions, Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp. 176-213.
  • Singh, J. (1997) ‘The Khalsa’ in Sikhism: Its Philosophy and History, Chandigarh, Institute of Sikh Studies, pp. 289-302.

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