Insight into Sikhism
What started as a personal interest developed into an enjoyable, educational experience in peace and understanding another religion. In the month of July Naria Gaarder, the National Program Coordinator for Youth and Students for Peace (YSP), went to visit a Sikh temple called the Gurudwara near her home. The only thing she really knew about Sikhism was that they wear turbans and wanted to learn more about their teachings and practices. After making a phone call and a couple visits to the temple she learned many insightful and inspiring things about the religion founded in India and wanted to share it with others.
On August 18 a group trip was organized to visit the Gurudwara to promote intercultural learning. Eight people participated in the visit and were warmly welcomed and given a tour of the building. It was explained that all who enter the Darbar Hall (prayer hall) need to cover their heads, either with a scarf, turban or handkerchief, as a way to show respect. Upon seeing that some participants did not have the proper head attire, one Sikh gentleman freely offered black head covers and helped put them on.
Several people helped to explain about Sikhism and answer any questions the group had, including a young man named Amitoj, a man named Janit Singh and his wife, Jasneet. The group toured the building, enjoyed light refreshments in the dining area called the Langar Hall, and sat in the Darbar Hall. Janit explained the two styles of prayer used during service: singing (Kirtan) and verbal recitation (Kartha) of their holy scriptures. Following the “Ardas,” or the concluding prayer, everyone enjoyed a vegetarian meal together in the Langar Hall.
Throughout the day, the group learned many things about Sikhism, including the meaning of the Sikhism symbol, Khanda, which is made up of three swords and a circle. They also learned that when Sikhs greet one another, they put their hands together in front of them as if in prayer and say “Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh,” meaning the Khalsa (pure people) belong to God and victory belongs to God.
While inside the Gurudwara, one is expected to keep his or her head covered at all times. In the Indian culture, you cover your head when meeting your elders to show respect as well. Shoes are removed while in the temple and you wash your hands before going inside the Darbar Hall. In the Darbar Hall there is a raised platform decorated in beautiful fabric with a canopy above it. This is where their sacred text, the Guru Granth Sahib Ji is kept. This text is their Eternal Guru or teacher and is treated with the utmost respect. Anyone can go up and sit on the platform to read from the book, but it should be done with a certain respect and reverence since it is considered a great privilege to be able to sit there to read from the holy texts. There is also a fluffy fan (the Chaur Sahib) the person reading occasionally swishes around. This practice to show respect to the Guru (the sacred text) was most likely carried over from the early eras.
The women often wear scarves called “chunni” and young boys wear a headwrap with a bun near the front of their head called a “patka”. The boys transition to a turban when they feel they are ready to take on the responsibility, since a turban is akin to the crown of a prince. In addition, it also takes time and practice to put one on. The tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, said that Sikhs should wear the turban to stand out in a crowd. That way people will know that they are a Sikh and can go to them for help.
The Langar Hall is where they serve food to anyone, no matter who you are or where you come from. The tiled floor had rows of narrow carpets for people to sit. They do not prepare or eat any meat or eggs to show respect for life while in the holy building, although being a Sikh does not mean you have to be vegetarian.
Sikhism teaches to not drink alcohol, not to do drugs, to keep your purity until marriage and fidelity within marriage. It is the 5th largest religion in the world and was founded about 550 years ago in India. They believe in one God who is formless and is described as the essence of energy that created all things. A Guru is simply a name for a teacher and there were 10 Gurus in Sikhism, with the final Guru saying that the sacred texts compiled by the Gurus was now their Guru, hence the name Guru Grathn Sahib for their scriptures. Their prayers and sacred texts are in the Punjabi language.
During the prayer service people could come and go whenever during the reciting and singing of the holy texts. Some people come fully garbed in traditional Indian style clothing with scarves or turbans, others were wearing regular pants and t-shirts and had a handkerchief on their head upon entering the Darbar Hall. Some people touch the ground with their hand then to their head before entering the hall and there were others who didn’t. Observing this, there is a sense that no judgement is felt or given by anyone. People could simply express their own way of showing dedication and respect to God upon arrival and during the service. It is each person’s personal offering and it didn’t matter what others thought. The only things that mattered was what each person wanted to offer themselves. In Sikh religion the emphasis is more on learning and applying the universal message of the Guru in day-to-day life, and not on ritualism surrounding the practice of worship.
Baptized Sikhs are those who make a commitment to live and practice a certain way of life, not to eat meat and eggs, and to wear the five articles of faith that identify you as a Sikh. These are: wearing your hair long and never cutting any hair from your body, a comb to keep your hair clean, a silver bracelet to remind you that you belong to God and what you do should be for God, a sword or representation of a sword to use for protection and to protect others, and lastly a pair of boxer-like underpants for hygiene and modesty. Both men and women can be baptized as Sikhs and when they are “baptized” they drink a bowl of water sweetened with nectar.
Another notable aspect of Sikhism is their belief of equality. Since the founding of Sikhism, men and women are seen as equal and the visiting group saw both men and women wearing turbans, cooking food, serving food and sitting at the front of the Darbar Hall. They just have men sitting on one side and women on the other, and the children seemed to sit with whichever parent they wanted to in the Darbar Hall. They also don’t believe in the caste system which is still used in India. As a Sikh it is also customary to have the last name of Singh if you are a man and Kaur if you are a woman.The Sikhs’ 10th Guru initiated this to get rid of the inequality due to the caste system in India, where one’s last name identifies their caste.
“I had so much fun visiting the Sikh Temple because from that experience I was able to learn about their faith. Some of the things I learned from their religion is men/women wear the metal bracelets called Kara. Kara is one of the five Kakars. It’s a reminder to always keep one consciousness to God. All Sikhs, even the little ones, wear one. I also learned about the three golden rules which are similar to the three great blessings. The three duties are Nam japna, which is “Keeping God in mind at all times,” Kirt Karna, which is “Earning an honest living,” and Vand Chhakna, which is “Giving to charity and caring for others.” The third thing I learned is after the Sunday service they gave us little treats, which is basically God’s offering and it’s made out of flour, clarified butter, and sugar. The last thing I learned was that they didn’t believe in fasting. I think my favorite part of the experience was the prayer because I felt the spirit from God and even though we couldn’t understand (because it wasn’t in English), I still felt like this is how they believe in God and understand God’s heart.” ─Reina, Unificationist, age 15
“To be honest, I would say I want to convert. But then again, I think so far I’ve been saying that about every religion I learn something about, and it was through this experience that I realized this.
“The thing that stuck out most to me was that the Sikh people live strictly according to one scripture. From reading the scripture and singing it (the singing was really nice, it was like at the mosque where they would recite lines from the Qur’an) they learn how they should live. They also believe in reincarnation; however, they are very concentrated on the present life and they believe that God put us on Earth so that we may do good.
“Now the thing that I really loved the most were the words of the actual scripture itself. I don’t remember exactly, but I remember I started really reading the lines and tried to understand them after reading “God is a playful and wondrous God.” When I read this, I thought about how God just wants to be happy and is waiting for that happiness to finally exist.
“This led me to the conclusion that religions are all ways God has been looking to bring us back to Him. They are all truths but maybe different interpretations…
“My friends told me that religions are very different from each other, but whenever I learn about them I feel like, no, they actually all have the same core beliefs and it’s just how they carry out those beliefs that is different. I really love the different religions and what they entail. I feel like uniting them all is actually feasible, despite what my school friends say. The DP really does hold those core beliefs that religions generally have in common, I think. I loved it, it was great!” ─JungHae, Unificationist, age16
This was one of the first organized intercultural trips by YSP USA. YSP plans to organize more intercultural visits in the future, so keep an eye out on our website and Facebook page for opportunities to participate!