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Sikhism:
Its origin, history, holy text, etc.

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Sikh origins:

No consensus exists on the origins of this religion.

bulletHistorians and specialists in Eastern religions generally believe that Sikhism is a syncretistic religion, originally related to the Bhakti movement within Hinduism and the Sufi branch of Islam, to which many independent beliefs and practices were added.
bulletSome Sikhs believe that their religion is a re-purification of Hinduism; they view Sikhism as part of the Hindu religious tradition.
bulletMany Sikhs disagree; they believe that their religion is a direct revelation from God - a religion that was not derived from either Hinduism or Islam.

Sikhism does contain many unique postulates and principles that are quite different from both Hinduism and Islam. Joseph D. Cunningham (1812-1851), the author of "A History of the Sikhs" (1848), observed: "It has been usual to regard the Sikhs as essentially Hindu... yet in religious faith and worldly aspiration, they are wholly different from other Indians, and they are bound together by an objective unknown elsewhere."

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Sikh History:

The founder of Sikhism was Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, (1469-1538) who was born in the Punjab area of what is now Pakistan. At Sultanpur, he received a vision to preach the way to enlightenment and God. He is responsible for the saying "There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim" which has since become one of the pillars of Sikhism. He taught a strict monotheism, the brotherhood of humanity. He rejected idol worship, and the Hindu concept of caste. Guru Nanak and Panth (his followers) later built the first Sikh temple at Katarpur.

A succession of nine Gurus (regarded as reincarnations of Guru Nanak) led the movement during the period from Guru Nanak's death until 1708. At that time, the functions of the Guru passed to the Panth and to the holy text, considered the 11th Guru.

Mogul emperors ruled a large area of South Asia from the 16th century until the end of the 18th century. They attempted to convert the Sikhs to Islam, but were unsuccessful. It has been said of one of the Sikh Gurus (considered by many Sikhs to have been the last guru) that "Had there been no Guru Gobind Singh, the entire country would have gotten circumcised" i.e. been converted to Islam.

In 1801, the Sikh state of Punjab was founded in Northern India by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. According to a historian Vincent Smith, "The Punjab State was neither a traditional Indian territorial State and monarchy, nor merely a dictatorship of one community over another. There was an element of partnership with other communities."

An invasion by Great Britain triggered the Sikh Wars (1845-1849). The British successfully gained control over all of India. After independence in 1947, occupied India was partitioned on religious grounds into a mostly Muslim Pakistan and mostly Hindu India. A mass migration of Sikhs and Hindus from Pakistan to India and a reverse migration of Muslims resulted, with immense loss of life. Some Sikhs have been seeking an independent homeland since the late 1940's.

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Sikh Holy Texts:

The holy granth, the Shri Guru Granth, was initially compiled by the fifth guru, Shri Arjan Dev Ji. Subsequently, it was updated to include the writings of the sixth to ninth gurus. The tenth guru, Gobind Singh Ji assembled his writings separately into a number of books, including "Dasam Granth

The holy granth consists of hymns and writings by the first nine Gurus, along with religious text from different Muslim and Hindu saints like: Kabir Ji, Baba Sheik Farid Ji, Bhagat Namdev, Bhagat Rav Dass Ji, etc. The Shri Guru Granth itself is considered the 11th and final Guru, and the Sikh's holiest religious text. It was made so by Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji.

At least two English translations are available online:

bullet"The Khalsa Consensus Translation [of the Guru Granth Sahib]...is regarded by some Sikh scholars as being among the finest and most accurate English translation currently available." It is available online at  http://www.sikhs.org/english/frame.html
bulletSrigranth.org allows people to search the Sikh scriptures in English, Punjabi, Hindi and in transliteration.

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Numbers of Sikhs:

The precise number of followers of any religion is difficult to estimate. Some sources, like telephone surveys and government censuses count adults who identify themselves as from a specific faith. Predictions by religious organizations are generally higher because they might count individuals as members who do not consider themselves of that faith.

Various sources estimate that Sikhism has about 23 or 24 million followers, making it the fifth largest organized religion in the world. It is surpassed in numbers only by Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. If one defines the term "religion" very inclusively, it is the ninth largest religion in the world, being fewer in numbers than secularists, and followers of Chinese traditional religion, African traditional religions and aboriginal faiths. 1

The Real Sikhism web site estimates that about 21 million (89%) Sikhs live in the Punjab, India. About 400,000 (2%) live in North America, and 360,000 (2%) are in the UK. (2004 data) 2

The Sikh population of Canada increased from about 147,000 in 1991 to 278,000 in 2001, according to the Canadian census. 3 Independent estimates between 1995 and 2005 range from 160,000, by the 1997 Britannica Book of the Year, to 300,000 by Christian Century magazine.

Data on the number of Sikhs in the U.S. is highly variable:

bulletThe ARIS study of 2001 derives its data from random phone calls to over 50,000 American households.  They count how many American adults identify themselves with each religion. They estimated that only 57,000 U.S. adults consider themselves as Sikhs.
bulletThe 1996 Britannica Book of the Year estimates that there are 240,000 Sikhs in the U.S.; the 1997 edition estimates 190,000.
bulletIn 1999, the New York Times estimated a population of 175,000; the Salt Lake Tribune estimated 500,000. 5

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A hoax (we think) related to a Sikh holy day:

Dozens of Internet listings of seasonal days of celebration and observance include Khamapana as a Sikh holy day. On 2001-AUG-22, Sikhs were said to celebrate a day of forgiveness. This is apparently a hoax, initiated by someone and replicated through the Internet. Sikhs continually seek forgiveness; they don't save it up until an annual holy day. On 2001-JUL-25, we found over three dozen references to Khamapana on www.google.com This had shrunk to 20 by 2006-MAR.

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References used:

  1. "Major Religions of the World Ranked by Number of Adherents," Adherents.com, at: http://www.adherents.com/
  2. "Facts (Year 2004)," Real Sikhism home page, at: http://www.realsikhism.com/
  3. "Religion (95A), Age Groups (7A) and Sex (3) for Population, for Canada, Provinces, Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas 1 and Census Agglomerations, 1991 and 2001 Censuses - 20% Sample Data," Statistics Canada, at: http://www12.statcan.ca/ This list also gives membership breakdowns by age groups. This appears to be no longer a valid URL. A chart remains online at the Stats Can web site at: http://www12.statcan.ca/
  4. "Sikhism, continued..." Adherents, at: http://www.adherents.com/
  5. Ibid, at: http://www.adherents.com/

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Copyright information

Census data from "Statistics Canada...is used with the permission of Statistics Canada. Users are forbidden to copy the data and redisseminate them, in an original or modified form, for commercial purposes, without the expressed permission of Statistics Canada. Information on the availability of the wide range of data from Statistics Canada can be obtained from Statistics Canada's Regional Offices, its World Wide Web site at http://www.statcan.ca, and its toll-free access number 1-800-263-1136."

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Site navigation: Home page > World religions > Sikhism > here

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Copyright © 1996 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update 2006-MAR-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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