Sikhism is a monotheistic, dharmic religion that had its origins in the historical area of Punjab (today split between India and Pakistan), where its followers are still largely concentrated. However, with the advent of British rule in India in the 18th century, Sikh communities have also been established in many other parts of the world, particularly where there are large Indian diasporas, with Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States and Malaysia having notable Sikh diaspora communities. With around 25 million adherents, it is the world's fifth largest religion.


Sikh soldiers in their characteristic turbans

Sikhism was founded in 15th-century Punjab by Guru Nanak. Sikhs believe that there is only one god, and the gods of all other religions are simply different manifestations of this single god. Sikhs generally believe that they are required to follow the teachings of the ten gurus, the last one being Guru Gobind Singh. Guru Gobind Singh named Sikhism's holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, as his successor before his death, thus ending the line of human gurus, and making the scripture the eternal authority on the religion.

Sikhs reject the traditional Hindu caste system in theory (though not necessarily in practice). As part of this philosophy of rejecting social classes, all male Sikhs are required to have the surname Singh (meaning "lion"), while all female Sikhs are required to have the surname Kaur (meaning "princess"), as differing surnames have traditionally been seen by Sikhs as an indication of social class. Sikhs are forbidden from cutting their hair, and are also required to cover their hair in public. Male Sikhs traditionally wear a turban (or Dastaar in Punjabi) for this purpose, while female Sikhs traditionally wear a headscarf known as a Chunni (similar but not identical to the Muslim hijab), though an increasing number of Sikh women are opting for the male turban instead.

All Sikhs are required to wear five items at all times as articles of their faith, which are also known as The Five Ks: Kesh (uncut hair), Kangha (wooden comb), Kara (iron bracelet), Kachera (tieable cotton underwear), and Kirpan (iron dagger). The use of the Kirpan is strictly limited to self-defence and the protection of others. Sikhs are mandated by their religion to provide assistance to the victims, and not turn a blind eye whenever they encounter crimes being committed.

The Sikh place of worship is known as a Gurdwara, also known colloquially as a Sikh temple. Unlike in many other religions, there is no priesthood in Sikhism, and prayers in a Gurdwara may be led by any Sikh regardless of gender. However, in practice, religious services are usually led by a specially trained person known as a Granthi.

Sikhs have a reputation of being fierce warriors, and contributed significantly to the Allied war efforts in both world wars as part of the British Indian Army's Sikh Regiment. Today, the Sikh Regiment remains the most decorated regiment in the Indian Army.


  • Guru Nanak Gurpurb, also called Guru Nanak Prakash Utsav or Guru Nanak Jayanti, celebrates the birthday of the first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak. It falls on the full moon on the Indian lunar month of Kartik, which is usually in November. Festivities includes kirtan (singing hymns), decorating homes and temples with banners and bunting, brass bands playing various tunes, gatka martial artists performing sword dances and mock battles, and gurdwara temples serving a free langar lunch to the community. Guru Nanak Gurpurb is a public holiday in 14 states and union territories in India.
  • Baisakhi, which falls on 13 or 14 April (same day as the Hindu Vaisakhi), is the Sikh new year, and an important festival for Sikhs. It also marks the initiation of the Khalsa, or Sikh warriors, by the final human guru, Gobind Singh.


Sikhism's principal religious text, the Guru Granth Sahib, is written in a number of languages and dialects, including Punjabi, Sanskrit, Persian, Khadi Boli Hindi, Braj Bhasha, Arabic, Sindhi, Rajasthani and Awadhi. This vast combination of tongues was commonly used among all religious figures in Northern India at the time and is collectively known as Sant Bhasha ("saint language"). Because the vast majority of Sikhs are either from Punjab, or of Punjabi descent, the Punjabi language is widely spoken among Sikh communities. Depending on where they are established, Sikhs usually also speak the local languages. For instance, it is common for Sikhs living in India to also speak Hindi, or those living in Malaysia to also speak Malay, with the better educated ones usually able to speak English as well.


South Asia[edit]


Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar, Sikhism's most important pilgrimage site
Map of Sikhism
  • 1 Amritsar. Home to the Harmandir Sahib, also known as the "Golden Temple", the holiest site in the world for Sikhs.
  • 2 Anandpur Sahib. The city where the last two Sikh gurus lived and where Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa army in 1699.
  • 3 Nanded. Guru Gobind Singh travelled to Nanded and proclaimed he would be the last of the human gurus, making Nanded his permanent abode and establishing the holy book Guru Granth Sahib as the eternal living guru. The Hazur Sahib is one of the five Takhts (Sikh seats of authority), and where Guru Gobind Singh died and was cremated.
  • 4 Patna. The capital of Bihar houses one of the five Takhts and was the birthplace of the tenth and final guru, Gobind Singh.
  • 5 Bathinda. Home to the Takht Sri Damdama Sahib, one of the five Takhts, where Guru Gobind Singh compiled the final version of the Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhism's holy book.
  • 6 Dera Baba Nanak. Home to the Gurdwara Dera Baba Nanak, built on the site of a well that Guru Nanak was said to have sat next to while meditating on God. Another important site is the Gurdwara Sri Chola Sahib, which houses a cloak that is believed to have been presented to Guru Nanak by a Muslim devotee.
  • 7 Kiratpur Sahib. Birthplace of Guru Har Rai and Guru Har Krishnan, the seventh and eighth gurus respectively. It it also home to the site where the Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and final guru, received the head of his martyred predecessor, Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth guru. The Gurudwara Babangarh Sahib now stands here. The Gurdwara Patalpuri Sahib stands on the banks of the River Sutlej, where several of the gurus' ashes were scattered after their deaths and cremations, and to this day, many Sikhs bring the ashes of their loved ones here to be scattered in the same river.
  • 8 Delhi. The Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib stands on the site where Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth guru, was beheaded on the orders of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb for refusing to convert to Islam.


  • 9 Nankana Sahib. The birthplace of the first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak.
  • 10 Kartarpur. Location of the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, where Guru Nanak is believed to have settled and died after finishing his missionary work. According to legend, Guru Nanak's body was said to have mysteriously disappeared after his death.
  • 11 Lahore. Location of the Gurdwara Dera Sahib, where Guru Arjan, the fifth guru, is believed to have been martyred.
  • 12 Hasan Abdal. Location of the Gurdwara Panja Sahib, which is home to a boulder that is said be imprinted with the handprint of Guru Nanak.

Outside South Asia[edit]

With many Punjabis having migrated to distant corners of the globe, there are now Sikh diasporas in numerous far-flung places. Here we have a listing of some of the more prominent Gurudwaras outside South Asia.


There are no strict dietary restrictions for Sikhs per se, but they are forbidden from eating meat from animals that have been subject to ritual slaughter or slaughter methods resulting in a slow death. This effectively means that Sikhs are not allowed to consume halal or kosher meat. As Sikh temples are required to be welcoming to people of all faiths when serving community meals, only vegetarian food is served at such events.


Sikhs are forbidden from consuming non-medicinal drugs or alcohol, and are also forbidden from smoking. In practice, drinking alcohol is tolerated among much of the Sikh community but smoking or consuming any form of tobacco is a much stronger taboo. Sikhs found to be smoking are often shunned by the community.


When visiting a gurudwara (a Sikh place of worship), you will be required to take off your shoes before entry. If you are not wearing a turban or chunni, you will also need to wear a rumaal, a piece of clothing similar to a bandana or handkerchief. Free temporary rumaals are provided outside most gurudwaras. All gurudwaras welcome visitors of all faiths.

Gurdwara Etiquette[edit]

  • A Gurdwara is open to anyone regardless of race, religion, or creed.
  • Cover your head at all times (the same rule applies to women). You will usually find baskets of reusable headscarves. Do not let it fall from your head. In the event that it does, the volunteers will point it out.
  • Don't take photographs inside a Gurdwara; it is inappropriate conduct.
  • Don't sit with your legs extended or feet pointed towards the Guru Granth Sahib; it is inappropriate conduct.
  • You don't need to be a Sikh to volunteer at a Gurdwara. Anyone can volunteer for any position.


The Khalistan movement is a separatist movement calling for the carving out of an independent Sikh state from India. Although it does not have widespread support among Sikhs in India, it enjoys strong support among British and Canadian Sikhs.

See also[edit]

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