Sikhs Praying in Wisconsin.
Sikhs Praying in Wisconsin.

Sikhism is a religion that originated in the Punjab region of India, and emphasizes moderation, tolerance and unity. The origin of the word Sikh means "disciple" or "student." The rejection of rituals and performing good actions are important to the Sikh faith. There are over 27 million Sikhs in the world today, with most living in India, the United Kingdom, United States and Canada.

The Founding of Sikhism

Sikhism originated in the Punjab province of India in the 15th century, and became politically important in India after the death of Guru Arjan Dev in 1606. Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru and a popular leader, greatly increased the spiritual and political power of the Sikhs in India. Though early Mughal rulers enjoyed the friendship and cooperation of the Sikhs, Emperor Jahangir was hostile, and tortured Guru Arjan to death for failing to remove references to Hinduism and Islam from his holy book. This event drove the Sikhs to militarize, forming the Sikh Confederacy.

Tenets of the Sikh Faith

Sikhs are monotheistic and revere a supreme being who is manifest in all things. The Sikh faith teaches that followers should try to break the cycle of life and death by doing good works, meditating on the teachings of the Gurus and overcoming the five cardinal vices: lust, anger, greed, worldly attachment and pride. Sikhs reject many religious rituals like fasting, pilgrimages and idol worship, emphasize normal family life and the equality of women.

Sikh Symbols

A Sikh Parade
A Sikh Parade

Sikhs who are initiated into the faith -- called Khalsa, or pure -- are required to bear five physical representations of their faith: kesh, long unshorn hair; kara, a steel bracelet; kanga, a wooden comb; kachha, functional cotton undergarments; and the kirpan, an iron dagger or sword. The kirpan is not a weapon, but represents the Sikh struggle against injustice. This practice has caused difficulties in some parts of the world, but modern Sikhs insist that it is not meant for violence.

Sikh Contribution to Society

Though the Sikh population is relatively small, as a people they have made a significant contribution to society, especially in India. Sikh influemces are very visible in India, especially the Harmandir Sahib -- Golden Temple -- in the Punjab. Sikh soldiers served in the British military during both World Wars and won many honors for their bravery and service. After the fall of the Sikh Empire in 1849, Sikhs spread all over the world, where they have worked to uphold their tradition of charity by developing NGOs that work to educate and care for both the Sikh community and those around them.