Appreciating that individuals and cultures express their beliefs and values through many different forms;
The key writings of Sikhism are those of the Gurus are by the Gurus.
The stories of significance for Sikh faith are contained within the Guru Granth Sahib Ji and the Janam Sakhis or ‘life stories’ of the Gurus. Without these texts there would be no record of what the Gurus had said.
At one level they contain the teachings of God (revelation); at another they contain commentaries of the writings of other Gurus and mystics (philosophical dialogue); at another the Guru Granth Sahib Ji is a mirror reflecting the Shabad which is the Divine-in-humanity. This Shabad is the Word spoken at the beginning of the world and which is the Jot or Light that lights all beings:
Amongst all is the Light – You are that Light. By this Illumination, that Light is radiant within all. Through the Guru’s Teachings, the Light shines forth (Guru Granth Sahib Ji: 13).
Individual Sikhs and the community treat the texts as revelation guiding them to God and/or as a series of philosophical commentaries on religious experience and/or as a Living Embodiment of the Shabad.
Sikh symbols are seen as gateways that point to Reality.
A most important symbol for Sikhs is the Nishan Sahib – the flag that is flown at every gurdwara. This is made up of a blue or black Khanda on a yellow or orange background.
The Khanda is made up of three weapons – a chakra (quoit – as used by Xena, warrior princess! – which stands for God’s Infinity, without beginning and without end); a Khanda (double-edged sword – which stands for God’s power of justice and mercy, or creation and destruction, the double edge of God’s Names); and two kirpans (swords of mercy – which stand for meeri-peeri (worldly and spiritual power).
The Panj Kakke is the 5Ks. Panj means ‘five’ and kakke means words starting with the Punjabi letter for ‘k’ – hence, they are called the 5ks. All members of the Khalsa – female as well as male – must wear them.
The five Ks have both spiritual meanings and form a uniform for the Khalsa. The taking of the five Ks is intended to create a saint as well as a soldier, a sant-sipahi (saint-soldier). This reflects the Sikh belief in meeri-peeri (worldly as well as spiritual power). The transformation of the five Ks is both individual (for the person who has joined the Khalsa) and collective (as it forms a uniform):
1. Kesh means ‘uncut hair’ and reflects detachment or freedom from worldly fashions. Uncut hair is common to many different spiritual traditions – Native Americans, Rastafarians, Nazarenes, Taoists, Hindu rishis.
2. Kangha means ‘comb’ and reflects the idea that detachment should be balanced with social responsibilities such as cleanliness. Life should be physically, mentally and spiritually pure. Some of those with uncut hair did not clean it since they had left society to focus on God.
3. Kara means ‘bracelet’ and reflects the infinity of God – without beginning or end – that works through human beings, on their right wrist.
4. Kachera are ‘breeches’ or long shorts. They cover the private parts, therefore, showing the importance of social order. They also allow people to be active unlike many of the previous types of clothing.
5. Kirpan means ‘sword of mercy’. It is a weapon showing that the Khalsa is a soldier as well as a saint. It is a weapon worn by a knight – hence the surnames Singh for men meaning ‘Lion’ and Kaur for women meaning ‘princess’ – who must use it ‘with mercy’ to ensure freedom and justice.
Sikh aesthetics have focused on music where the hymns of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji are played and sung. Guru Nanak Dev Ji wrote over 900 hymns and in order for these to be used in worship, they are arranged as ragas or musical measurements so they can be recited to music.
Many people interpret the language of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji symbolically since the Gurus have imposed layers of words on reality, demonstrating that language cannot directly approach the Real. For example, the term ‘yamas’ has been used for the gods of death which is found in Hinduism, but the name Azrael has also been used, who is the angel of death in Islam and is also, perhaps, mentioned in the Book of Tobit. A literalist might wonder what the ‘real’ name and nature of these beings that gather the dead actually is.
Sikhism rejects any form of idol worship including worship of pictures of the Gurus. Although some of the Gurus did pose for paintings, none of these historical paintings has survived. Any subsequent paintings of the Gurus are considered to be for inspirational purposes only and should not be regarded as objects of worship themselves.
The Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple) was built at a lower level than the city of Amritsar that was constructed around it, symbolizing that religion should serve humanity. Also, it was surrounded by a pool which enabled people of all castes and races to drink together. Within the complex is a langar where people can eat together and serve each other. There are four doors symbolizing openness to all people.
Within all gurdwaras the most important rooms are the langar and the diwan (literally, court) where the Guru Granth Sahib sits on a throne underneath a canopy and is attended by a person waving a whisk. Sikhs bow before the Ruler and make an offering that will be of practical use in supporting a republic of goodness under the guidance of the Word. They sit at a lower level and never turn their back on the Ruler. These protocols reinforce the message sent by the design of the diwan.
There are historic gurdwaras associated with different episodes in the lives of the Gurus.
For Sikhs, attending the Gurdwara fulfils a basic human need to worship, to recognize the fire within the wood of our being.
Sikh sentiments are contained in the following verses:
‘The earth has been set up as a dharamsal, a place for righteousness’ and ‘the saints of different worlds’ (Guru Granth Sahib Ji: 7-8).
These material worlds are spaces where the Spirit let to be allowed to shine through the veil of shame and filth that is the ego. However, the traditional place of worship for Sikhs, is the Gurdwara. This means Guru’s door. A Gurdwara is not only a place of worship, it is also a centre for the community. Outside will be found a flag, the Nishan Sahib with the Sikh symbol placed on it. Inside, there will be found a worship area with a throne or takht at the centre. This is a platform for the Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
The Guru Granth Sahib Ji is treated as the ruler of the Sikh’s life. Therefore, it is placed on a throne under a canopy with an attendant waving a fan over it. Sikhs bow to it and must never turn their back to the ruler.
A verse occurs three times in the Guru Granth Sahib Ji – in the morning and evening prayers and in the main text also. It discusses planets, fire, water, Buddhas, angels, gods, goddesses and saints praising God.
Worshippers always take off their shoes when entering a Gurdwara. They also bow or prostrate themselves before the Guru Granth Sahib Ji. During worship which may last up to five hours, worshippers (the sadhsangat) sit cross-legged on carpeted floors. Hymn singing or ragas, sermons and prayers alternate during the course of the devotions. There are no priests in Sikhism so anyone may read the Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
At the end of devotions a worshipper receives karah parshad, a sweet mixture of flour, semolina and butter, to indicate equality before God. As it is important to feed the physical as well as the spiritual body, food is prepared in the langar (kitchen) and worshippers have food during the course of the day.
Pilgrimage is condemned by the Gurus; the real pilgrimage is to God who lives in the heart. However, many Sikhs will visit Amritsar in the Punjab and the Golden Temple in order to identify with the historic roots of their faith.
For Sikhs, all space is holy since God lives everywhere. When Guru Nanak Dev Ji visited Makkah he had his feet towards the Ka’bah. When Muslims objected that he had pointed his feet towards the House of God he asked them to point his feet to where God did not live. All time is holy since God has been true from the beginning, is true now, and will always be true.
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