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Sikhism was founded about 500 years ago in the Punjab region of India, by a man who became known as GURU Nanak. He taught that all religions share the same essential truth and that holiness is to be found within. Sikh literally means “disciple.”


The Harimandir, or Golden Temple, has become the symbol of the Sikh religion and their most important pilgrimage site. The fourth Guru, Ram Das, built a city and sacred lakes in Amritsar, in the Punjab, where Guru Nanak once meditated. The fifth Guru, Arjan, built the Golden Temple and collected the teachings of the Gurus into a sacred book, the Granth Sahib.


Guru Nanak taught that “the only temple that matters is inside oneself.” Sikhs pray at home, and also worship together, with hymns read from the sacred book. The focus of worship is on Nam, the divine name that lives within everyone. Sikh gurdwaras (temples) have a langar, or eating space, where Sikhs can share a communal meal with anyone who comes.


As with Hindu traditions, guru means “wise teacher,” or more literally, “revealer of light and darkness.” Sikhism regards its Ten Gurus as a single living spiritual flame, passed down from God, through Guru Nanak onward, and eventually reaching all Sikhs.


Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru (1666–1708), founded the Khalsa, or community of Sikhs, in 1699 to protect them against religious persecution. He called for volunteers who were prepared to die for their faith. All Sikhs wear five symbols, known as the five “Ks,” as a sign of their allegiance to the Khalsa. These include the kirpan (dagger) and kangha (comb).


The tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, appointed the sacred Adi Granth (“First Book”) as his successor, so that after him there would be no more human gurus. It became known as the Guru Granth Sahib and copies were kept with great care at temples and treated with the respect a human guru would be given.


Southern Asia

Copyright © 2007 Dorling Kindersley

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