Sikhism was founded in the 16th century in the Punjab district of what is now India and Pakistan. It was founded by Guru Nanak and is based on his teachings, and those of the 9 Sikh gurus who followed him.

There were 25 million Sikhs in the world according to Pew Research Centre.


The Khanda is the symbol of the Sikh faith, that attained its current form around the first decade of the 20th century. It is an amalgam of three symbols:

A double-edged khanda (sword) in the centre

A chakkar (chakram)

Two single-edged swords, or kirpan, crossed at the bottom, which sit on either side of the khanda and chakkar. They represent the dual characteristics of Miri-Piri, indicating the integration of both spiritual and temporal sovereignty together and not treating them as two separate and distinct entities.

Brief History

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. 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 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. (We’ll talk about the 5 Ks later.) Gobind Singh was the last human Guru. Sikhs now treat their scriptures as their Guru.

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.

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.

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 British Raj than as partners of the British. (British Raj was the rule by the British Crown in the Indian subcontinent from 1858 to 1947. The rule is also called Crown rule in India, or direct rule in India.) 

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

When British India gained its independence in 1947; it was divided between India and the Islamic state of Pakistan. The Sikhs felt badly treated and reluctantly chose to join India.

The Sikhs were unable to demand their own state, because there were too few of them to resist Pakistan’s claim to the Punjab. Only by siding with India were they able to keep part of the Punjab, although not before appalling loss of life in communal massacres.

Sikhs lost many of their privileges, much of their land, and were deeply discontented. The Sikh ambition for a state of their own was something that India would not concede. To do so would have allowed communalism (i.e. religious groupings) an unbreakable foothold in the politics of what was supposed to be a secular state.

However, in 1966, after years of Sikh demands, India divided the Punjab into three, recreating Punjab as a state with a Sikh majority.

This was not enough to stop Sikh anger at what they saw as continuing oppression and the unfair way in which they thought India had set the boundaries of the new state. They continued to demand various concessions from the Indian government.

As Sikh discontent grew, the conflict gradually changed from a purely political conflict into a confrontation between Hindus and Sikhs; and then to real violence.

A Sikh preacher called Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale became the leader of the most disaffected of the Sikhs. He was often portrayed as representing all Sikhs, although, actually, he did not. In 1983 Bhindranwale and his closest followers took refuge in the Golden Temple Complex at Amritsar, the most revered place in the Sikh world.

In June 1984 Indian troops launched ‘Operation Blue Star’. They attacked the Golden Temple Complex, killing many of those inside, and seriously damaging the buildings.

This invasion of the holiest place of the Sikhs infuriated many Sikhs, even the non-militant. They saw the Indian female Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, who had ordered the invasion, as a deliberate persecutor of the Sikh faith and community.

In October 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards.

Sikhs scriptures

The principal Sikh scripture is the Adi Granth (First Scripture), more commonly called the Guru Granth Sahib. The Sikhs do not regard this as their “holy book” but as their perpetual and current “guru”, guide or master. It was called Adi Granth until Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and final guru in human form, conferred on it the title of the guru in 1708, after which it was called Sri Guru Granth Sahib, or Guru Granth Sahib for short. The Granth has 1430 pages and is divided into 39 chapters. All copies are exactly alike. The Sikhs are forbidden from making any changes to the text within this scripture.

The Guru Granth Sahib was compiled by Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth guru of the Sikhs. The work of compilation was started in 1601 and finished in 1604. The Granth, called “Pothi Sahib” by Guru Arjan, was installed at Harmandir Sahib (House of God) with much celebration.

Sikh worship

Sikhs worship God and only God. Unlike members of many other religions they worship God in his true abstract form, and don’t use images or statues to help them.

Sikh worship can be public or private. Sikhs can pray at any time and any place. Sikh aims to get up early, bathe, and then start the day by meditating on God.

A Sikh should wake up in the ambrosial hours (three hours before the dawn), take a bath and, concentrating his/her thoughts on One Immortal Being, repeat the name Waheguru (Wondrous Destroyer of darkness).

Although the Sikh God is beyond description Sikhs feel able to pray to God as a person and a friend who cares for them. Sikhs regard prayer as a way of spending time in company with God.

For prayer to be really effective a person tries to empty themselves of everything of this world so that they can perceive God. Guru Arjan wrote of the importance of prayer. The praising of His Name is the highest of all practices. It has uplifted many a human soul. It slakes the desire of restless mind. It imparts an all-seeing vision. Although Sikhs can worship on their own, they see congregational worship as having its own special merits. Sikhs believe that God is visible in the Sikh congregation or Sangat, and that God is pleased by the act of serving the Sangat. Congregational Sikh worship takes place in a Gurdwara which is Sikhs’ temple. Sikh public worship can be led by any Sikh, male or female, who is competent to do so.

Main believes


  • 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. The only way out of this cycle, which all faiths regard as painful, is to achieve a total knowledge of and union with God.

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.

Holy days

Sikhs also celebrate the festival of light Diwali together with Hindus and Jains.

The other celebrations are so called Gurpurbs.

Gurpurbs are festivals that are associated with the lives of the Gurus. They are happy occasions which are celebrated most enthusiastically by Sikhs.

The most important Gurpurbs are: 

  • The birthday of Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism (April or November)
  • The birthday of Guru Gobind Singh, founder of the Khalsa (January)
  • The martyrdom of Guru Arjan (June)

The martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur(November/December)

Sikhs celebrate Gurpurbs with an akhand path. This is a complete and continuous reading of Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, that takes 48 hours and finishes on the day of the festival. This is also performed in times of ceremony such as birth, death, marriage and moving into a new home. The reading is done by a team of readers, who may be professionals or family members (in the case of family rites). Each reads for two to three hours.

Khalsa initiation

Khalsa (Punjabi: “the pure”) refers to both a special group of initiated Sikh warriors, as well as a community that considers Sikhism as its faith.

The 5 Ks date from the creation of the Khalsa Panth by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699.

The Guru introduced them for several reasons:

  • Adopting these common symbols would identify members of the Khalsa
  • Because all members of the Khalsa wear the 5 Ks the members of the community are more strongly bound together
  • Each K has a particular significance

    The 5 Ks taken together symbolise that the Sikh who wears them has dedicated themselves to a life of devotion and submission to the Guru.

The 5 Ks are 5 physical symbols worn by Sikhs who have been initiated into the Khalsa.

The five Ks are:

  • Kesh (uncut hair) a symbol both of holiness and strength
  • Kara (a steel bracelet) A symbol of God having no beginning or end
  • Kanga (a wooden comb) This symbolises a clean mind and body; since it keeps the uncut hair neat and tidy
  • Kaccha – also spelt, Kachh, Kachera (cotton underwear) symbol of chastity

Kirpan (steel sword) spirituality, defence of good and the weak

The documentary ‘The Golden Temple’ 48minutes

The Golden Temple or the Harmandir Sahib at Amritsar stands at the core of Sikh belief system and also as a testimony to the 600 year old history of the birth and evolution of Sikhism. The film looks at this complex history of a spiritual sect emerging out of the confluence of Hinduism and Islam and it’s metamorphosis into one of the most prolific religions of the world by looking at a day in the life of the Golden Temple.

few photos from our film screening & discussion on Sikhism

description of the past event

Hello there,

Join us and the Our Cultures for a reading, a film screening and a discussion on Sikhism.

We are going to learn about other peoples’ values and believes which are different than ours stretching for 500 years from Punjab to all over the world.

Come and have an enjoyable evening with us. Feel free to call your family, friends and colleagues. Even bring a snack to share if you like. We’ll brew a cup of a hot drink for you anyway.

5th March (Tue) 18:15

The Welcome Centre
entrance on Nottingham St opposite Pilgrim St
S3 9AW

The Our Cultures is screening films and documentaries on the first Tuesday of every month except summer and winter holidays. It’s always good to check updates on our Facebook page or by subscribing to our newsletter.

To find out more also experience a cosy evening with us and a cuppa, join us for the screening at the Welcome Centre.

The event is entirely FREE of charge.

There is no money involved (directly) at all. No grants, no funds only people’s will to do so.


See you there,
(entrance on Nottingham St opposite Pilgrim St S3 9AW)

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