Who are Sikhs?

Have you ever wondered why some Indians wear a turban and others don’t? Indians who wear turbans are typically Sikhs. Sikhism is a monotheist religion that originated in Punjab, India. In spite of being the world’s fifth-largest religion with more than 25 million followers worldwide – the majority of whom are found in India, Sikhism is not well known.

Chander Mohan | Unsplash

Founded by a man named Guru Nanak in the sixteenth century, Sikhism is distinct from Hinduism and Islam, the two dominant religions in India.

In the Punjabi language, Sikh means “disciple” or “learner”. Sikhism includes a daily discipline of meditation and prayer as well as five articles of faith called Kahaars to be worn at all times as the markers of Sikh identity. The Five Kakaars (or 5 K’s) consist of:

1. Kesh: unshorn hair; Sikhs are not supposed to cut hair from any part of their body. The hair must be kept covered at all times with a turban or head-covering, traditionally mostly for men. The Sikh turban is typically up to six meters long and one to two meters wide;

2. Kangha: a wooden comb worn in the hair representing self-discipline;

3. Kara: an iron or steel bracelet worn on the wrist;

4. Kachhera: cotton undergarment representing high moral character and restraint;

5. Kirpan: a 6- to 9-inch-long dagger or ceremonial sword worn in a strap, representing the duty of Sikhs to stand up against injustice. It is a religious symbol and by no means a weapon.

Here are the interesting facts: as per Indian law, turban-wearing Sikhs are exempt from the mandatory requirement of wearing helmets on two-wheelers, and they are even permitted to carry Kirpan onboard domestic flights.

In addition to stressing the equality of all men and women, Sikhism disagrees with the practice of caste and class systems and considers all humans equal. It is one of the reasons why all Sikhs bear the same surnames: men were instructed to adopt the last name Singh, meaning ‘lion’, while women were encouraged to use Kaur, meaning ‘princess’.

Sikhs worship in temples called gurudwara. The preeminent pilgrimage site of Sikhism is the Golden Temple located in Amritsar, India. The religious shrine is characterized by a full golden dome surrounded by a sacred pool where devouts can take a bath.

Sean Robertson | Unsplash

Another key concept of Sikhism is “seva”, or selfless service: Sikh temples offer free meals to anyone who stops by, regardless of age, gender, race, or faith. The Golden Temple is home to the world’s largest free kitchen with roughly 50 000 to 100 000 meals served daily. The gigantic kitchen is entirely financed by donations and is managed by over 400 staff members and hundreds of volunteers that keep it running 24 hours every single day of the year. This is what Sikhs call “sharing is caring”.

Lucile Guéguen


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