Sikhism Emerges

In the late 1400s, a young man named Nanak founded the religion of Sikhism (SIK iz um) in the Punjab region of South Asia. According to Sikh beliefs, Nanak had entered a trance while swimming and was presumed drowned, but he emerged after three days and said that he had experienced a spiritual revelation. Based on his experience, Guru Nanak preached a faith recognizing one God for all humanity. He preached a powerful message proclaiming that men and women of all colors, races and religions should have equal rights and opportunities. He became known as Guru Nanak, after a word meaning spiritual guide.

Guru Nanak spent many years traveling throughout South Asia spreading the Sikh faith and way of life. During the 1500s and 1600s, his teachings and those of his successors shaped the core beliefs of Sikhism. Sikhism has grown into the world's fifth largest religion with 25 million followers.

A Message of Equality and Tolerance

In the Punjabi language, the word Sikh (SIK) means “disciple.” Sikhs consider themselves disciples of God who follow the teachings of the Ten Sikh Gurus and the guidance of the Sikh scripture, Guru Granth Sahib.

In addition to the belief in one God for all humanity, the basic Sikh beliefs include the equality of all people in the eyes of God, regardless of their race, gender, social class, or religion. This belief in equality and tolerance was a radical concept during the 1500s and 1600s, when Sikhism was developing and beginning to spread. At the time, strict division among social classes and inequality for women were common in India. Guru Nanak's successors institutionalized his teachings by abolishing a discriminatory caste system, encouraging widow remarriage, and putting women in positions of authority.

Taking New Names

During the early years of Sikhism in India, a person's last name often indicated that person's social status, or caste. The tenth Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, wanted to remove these barriers between people and promote tolerance of others. He sought to reinforce the idea of equality by giving all Sikh men the last name of Singh, which means lion in the Punjabi language. All women were given the last name Kaur, which means princess.

Painting of a bearded man wearing a turban, robes and beaded necklace. His hand is held up, with palm decorated with two letters and holding another set of beads.

Portraits of Guru Nanak held places of honor in Sikh homes. This tradition continues today.

The “Five Ks”

Some Sikhs aspire to take Amrit, which is a special initiation ceremony where individuals commit themselves to actively practicing the essential Sikh values of truthfulness, trust, loyalty, productive labor, sharing, integrity, and spirituality. Upon completing the Amrit, these Sikhs become part of the community of initiates called the Khalsa.

The Khalsa, as well as many Sikhs who have not been initiated, wear distinctive clothing that identifies them as Sikh. The clothing includes the five Sikh articles of faith, called the “Five Ks” among English-speaking Sikhs because they each begin with the English letter k.

The Five Ks are Kesh, which is uncut hair kept covered by a turban; the Kirpan (kir PAHN), a religious sword representing the responsibilities to fight oppression; the Kara (KEHR a), a metal bracelet; Kanga (KANG a) a comb; and the Kachera (kuh TSHERA), special underclothing.

As articles of faith, each object holds a deep personal and religious meaning for the Sikh wearing it. They are worn to honor the Sikh Gurus and to remind the wearer of the Sikh way of life. They also publicly proclaim the person to be a follower of Sikhism.


End ofPage 311

Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments