Center for Faith and Vocation


Religious History/Beliefs

Sikh Window

Sikhism was founded in 1469 the Punjab region of South Asia by Guru Nanak. In the Punjab at that time, there was some tension between Muslims and Hindus, and their respective worldviews. Nanak was brought up Hindu, but his friend, Mardana, was a Muslim. The two had frequent religious discussions. One day Nanak bathed in a river and then went into the forest for three days. During this time God told him that there was only one God, and that he was beyond description. Nanak would later refer to this heavenly deity as the True Name (Satnam). He said that in truth there were neither Hindus nor Muslims. They both worshipped the same God, or "True Name." After Nanak had this realization, Nanak and Mardana began wandering around India, visiting holy sites and gathering followers.

In an attempt to demonstrate his indifference to religious distinctions, Nanak adopted different clothing from each background: the Hindu loincloth, an orange Muslim coat, and a Muslim cap. Along with this, he decorated his forehead with Hindu markings. Nanak resisted conceiving of God in anthropomorphic terms. At the same time though, Nanak saw God as having personable qualities like love, justice, knowledge, and compassion, and as a being with whom humans could have a personal relationship.

At his death in 1539, he became known Guru Nanak, and the first of a line of ten Sikh gurus. The Adi Granth is the central scripture of the Sikh faith. This text contains theological discourses by Guru Nanak, as well as hymns and poems written by Nanak and other poet saints like Kabir. Nanak's successors collected the contents of the Adi Granth in stages, and when the tenth in a line of gurus stretching from Nanak died, the Adi Granth was installed as the perpetual "guru" of the community, and therefore came to be known as the Guru Granth Sahib. The Guru Granth Sahib is believed to hold the living spirit of Nanak and the rest of the nine gurus so it is treated with respect and highly honored.

Guru Arjan was the fifth guru, and was responsible for building the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar in the 16th century. At that time, the Punjab (as much of north India) was ruled by Jahangir, a Muslim emperor. Arjan and the Sikh community came into conflict with Jahangir, and emperor had Arjan killed under torture. After this, the Sikh community came to focus more on protecting itself from outside threats. Partly in response, later gurus would implement the wearing of swords as a symbol of Sikh faith and instituted what is called the Khalsa-an inner core of devoted Sikhs dedicated to the preservation of the Sikh community. Members of the Khalsa go through an initiation and take the last name of Singh (lion), which accounts for the prevalence of that name among today's Sikhs.

Source: Molloy, Michael. Experiencing The World Religions. McGraw-Hill. New York: 2008.

Individual Institutions