Ways of Living

Exploring the impact of religions and beliefs on how people live their lives;


Understanding and responding critically to beliefs and attitudes.


Guidance for Life

Sikhs consider that beliefs must translate into action as matter must be energized, maya must be charged with the Naam, the phenomenal world transformed by spiritual experience with the numinous, a fully, naturally human life.

Sikhs feel that it is essential to dissuade people from rituals based on the idea that God is mean, and encourage people to experiment with the Generous Reality.

Sikhs believe that God is not limited to one people, religion or language. Therefore, there should not be boundaries as we are all part of one humanity – there are no outsiders.

Regarding the martyrdom of the Ninth Guru (Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji 1621-1675) for leading a non-violent political campaign, Sikh scripture says that:

Tegh Bahadur broke the mortal vessel of his body by striking it at the head of the Emperor of Delhi and retreated to his ‘Original Abode’, the God. Truly incomparable is this great deed done to assert and protect three basic human rights: the first, to secure for everyone the liberty to worship; the second, to uphold the inviolable dignity of every person’s private and personal point of contact with God and their right to observe dharma, what they conceive as basic principles of cosmic or individual existence, and the third to uphold every good person’s imprescriptible right to pursue their own vision of happiness and self-fulfilment (Dasam Granth, 54).

Regarding the organization of society:

Henceforth: such is the Will of God: No one shall coerce another, no one shall exploit another Everyone, each individual, has the inalienable birth-right to seek and pursue happiness and self-fulfilment. Love and persuasion is the only law of social coherence (Guru Granth Sahib Ji: 74).

Sikhs have an active obligation to disobey any law that violates these principles, e.g. Guru Nanak Dev Ji breaking a ban on music in Baghdad, Guru Hargobind Ji commanding Sikhs to bear arms and ride horses in violation of Islamic law on dhimmitude.

Sikhs believe that progress in the world will be based on the spiritual sovereignty of the individual.

Religious Practice

The status of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji is shown by its being placed in the Gurdwara, on a throne (palki) supported by cushions (gaddis) under a canopy (chanani) in the royal court (diwan) which is the ‘prayer room’ for Sikhs. While the court is in session / services are taking place, there is always an attendant (granthi) waving a fan (chauri) over it. It is always carried over the head and, often, has a special room where it is kept at night. In the court people are not allowed to turn their back to the scripture and no one can sit at the same level.

In worship in the gurdwara, Sikhs always bow before the Guru Granth Sahib Ji. It is kept covered with a piece of silk called a romalla. except when being read. The Guru Granth Sahib Ji has the central position in the Gurdwara. During worship, a person will sit behind the Guru Granth Sahib Ji holding a chauri as a sign of respect.

Hymns are sung from the Guru Granth Sahib Ji and it is treated as the ruler of the Sikhs, seated on a throne in the court room of the gurdwara. Personal copies of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji are few as each copy must have a room set aside to house it. This is because Sikhs honour it so highly.

The status of the Khalsa is shown by the panj piare (five representatives of the Khalsa) taking a lead position in Sikh religious affairs, for example, processions.

Reading and Interpreting the Scriptures

The language of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji is in the Gurmukhi script but it also contains words from other languages such as Hindustani and Sanskrit. The Gurus aimed at making mysticism accessible to general masses but there are specific mystic terms from a range of traditions – Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim.

The texts of previous mystics were collected by Guru Nanak Dev Ji and he added his own hymns to the collections. These were passed down through a succession of Gurus till they were collected in a single volume, a granth. This text is called the Adi Granth and was compiled by Guru Arjun Dev Ji in 1604. The original manuscript still exists and is kept at Kartapur, in the Punjab, Northern India. Later, the writings of the Ninth Guru were added and the text known as the Guru Granth Sahib Ji was finalized in 1708.

The most significant complementary texts are the writings of Bhai Gurdas which are regarded as a basic summary of the main themes of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji. There were also texts written by the poets of the court of Guru Gobind Singh Ji. They had been dismissed by the Emperor Aurangzeb as he regarded poetry as un-Islamic. They took residence with the Guru and wrote a range of texts, including the Diwan-i-Goya. Some maintain that they also wrote many or all of the texts that have been collected in what is today called the Dasam Granth, although other Sikhs maintain that some or even all of these poems were written by Guru Gobind Singh Ji.

Some commentators interpret the language of these texts within the structure of Islamic, Hindu or Buddhist thought, while others see it as metaphorical and mythological. For example, some groups within Sikhism use literal interpretations of heaven and hell while others regard these as metaphors. Some groups use tradition as a guide to practice while others argue that it is important to continue to re-apply the principles to situations in the present.

Analysis is always from a perspective, a lens. Therefore, no commentator assumes that their understanding is perfect largely because the text is a dialogue between different mystics and God, the mystics among themselves and between the soul and God.

The Journey of Life

The four rites of passage in a Sikh life are birth, amrit or initiation, marriage and death.

Following the birth of a baby, a mother takes her child and karah parshad to the Gurdwara where it is prepared and a thanksgiving ceremony performed, during which some amrit (sugar and water) is placed on the baby’s lips. The Guru Granth Sahib Ji is opened at random and the first letter of the first hymn will be used as the initial letter of the baby’s name.

Initiation is extremely significant for Sikhs and usually takes place on physical maturity. For boys, five elder Sikhs lead the ceremony which involves stirring amrit in a bowl with a khanda before having it sprinkled in their eyes and hair. It is at this point that a young male Sikh can adopt the 5Ks – Kesh, Kangha, Kara, Kachera and Kirpan.

It is expected that a Sikh man will marry a Sikh woman. Often marriages are arranged and there is an engagement. Marriages are performed in the Gurdwara and the four marriage vows (Lavan) are read from the Guru Granth Sahib Ji.

The hymn sung at a funeral is the same as one sung before bedtime. The reason may be that death is little more than a sleep before we awaken to a new world and that sleep is a small death in which we can glimpse the preoccupations of our life.

Sikhs can either cremate or bury the body (particularly at sea); the main thing is to treat it respectfully. There is belief in heavens and hells to reward goodness and punish evil. Following these experiences a person may have another opportunity to achieve freedom from self-centredness and self-doubt and live in acknowledgement of God. The Gurus use names and ideas common to different traditions, e.g. Azrael for the angel of death and the bridge over hell (Islam), nirvana (Buddhism) and various Hindu deities.

According to Kanwar Ranvir Singh, 1999, 100 Questions and Answers about Sikhism:

Each ceremony combines the mysteries and impulses of death and sex. The naming of the new-born infant by the Guru Granth Sahib Ji and the parents is a puzzle to the labours of love the soul will be involved in before it departs once more. Pahul involves accepting death (offering your head) for spiritual re-birth with new parents in the House of the Guru.

The true marriage of a Sikh is the marriage between the soul and the Spirit. The Lavan refers to this ascent in the four rounds. The path to God is not from A to B. For God is not apart from us.

The spiritual journey is from the nightmare-phantasy of the ego to the beautiful reality of the here-and-now. “Wherever I see, there I see You.” It starts and ends in the same place, yet each time you are standing in a different experience because of the round. Therefore, the circuit around the Guru is used, rather than a straight walk. For a Sikh, it is not the case that God is not here, but is there. Rather, God is everywhere. The two humans re-enact a play of this spiritual journey. The Groom leads for the Gurbani usually signifies God as the personal Groom and the Guru-Sikh as the bride. The Gurus adopt the voice of the bride, the seeker, but also, In Truth, the sought. Yet the couple are not just acting a play. They are making a commitment to this journey by enacting it – they are taking their first steps together. About human relations, the Guru comments that “only those are married who are One Spirit in two bodies.” Without making this journey to the One the centre of their life path together (just as Guru Granth Sahib Ji sits at the centre of their marriage rite), they cannot be One. Rather the egos will always drive them into a wild dance, together and apart. The Anand Karaj is equally about spiritual union between soul and Spirit, the affirmation of physical life – sex leading to new life within this committed mini-sadhsangat, the physical-spiritual foundation of the Guru Khalsa Panth, but also the death of ego, which is a prerequisite for physical and spiritual wedding.

Finally, the death prayer is Kirtan Sohila, which is also our bedtime prayers each day. It lasts only two to three minutes. There is a link between sleep and death, the smaller rest and the greater. The important point is that the first of the prayers which comprise the Sohila is about the marriage day, between soul and Spirit. When will that day, i.e. day of death and marriage come?

Holy Days and Celebrations

Because Sikhism has strong historic and present day links with Hinduism and the Punjab region of India, the Hindu calendar is generally used to fix the Sikh festival year. Since people were already gathered together on these days, the Gurus decided to use these occasions to preach their message. Gurpurbs is the term to describe days connected with the lives of the Gurus but there are also melas. Melas (fairs) were traditional Hindu celebrations.


– Birthday of Guru Nanak Dev Ji – November. The birth of Guru Nanak Dev Ji marks the beginning of the religion, although the reverence of the Naam that he promotes goes back to the “first breath”.
– Birthday of Guru Gobind Singh Ji – 5th January. The birth of the last human Guru.
– Martyrdom of Guru Arjun Dev Ji – 16th June. In addition to Nagar keertan (street procession) and Akhand path (continuous reading of Guru Granth Sahib Ji), – Guru Arjun Dev Ji’s martyrdom is commemorated by Sikhs having stalls offering free drinks to passers-by. This recalls the original events when Guru Hargobind Ji offered the Sikhs sweet drinks to calm down after the execution of Guru Arjun Dev Ji, the first Sikh martyr.
– Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji – 24th November.

Akhand paths (the continuous reading of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji) take place during the gurburbs. Sikhs try to attend the gurdwara during this period with the final day of the meeting falling on the day of the festival.

Different hymns are sung on the birth of Guru Nanak Dev Ji and Guru Gobind Singh Ji and the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji.


– Baisakhi – 14 April – birth of the Khalsa, which is the Sikh community but also the living Guru, the Guru Khalsa. Baiskhi is marked by amrit ceremonies as it is the most popular time of year for people to join the Khalsa.
– Hola Mohalla – marked by martial arts competitions.
– Diwali – October/November – release of Guru Hargobind Ji as a prisoner of conscience – celebrated with fireworks.



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