Founded in Punjab, India, in the late 15th century, Sikhism focuses largely on the individual's religious condition.
Sikhs believe that the religion is best practised through direct experience in the real world. Community service is a key value, with good deeds being valued over rituals.
Sikhs live life according to the teachings of the Sikh gurus, meditate on God and the scriptures and do things to benefit others.
The view that Sikhism is a variation of Hinduism is not correct and can offend Sikhs.
Sikhism emerged from a community gathered around a man known as the Guru Nanak, who died in 1539.
Guru Nanak founded the Sikh faith. He disappeared for three days, and when he reappeared, he announced that everyone should be a truly devout follower of his or her own faith.
He spent the rest of his life teaching, writing hymns, and travelling to discuss religion with Muslims and Hindus.
The ten human Gurus are revered in Sikhism: Guru Nanak, Guru Angad, Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjan, Guru Hargobind, Guru Har Rai, Guru Har Krishan, Guru Teg Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh.
These teachers were born between the 15th and 17th centuries. They are held in high esteem, and pictures of them are often seen in Sikh places of worship and homes.
Today, there are 25 million Sikhs worldwide, with the vast majority living in India.
Sikhs believe in a single, formless God. This God has many names, and Sikhs connect with God through meditation.
For Sikhs, God has never taken, and will never take, human form on earth.
The Sikh place of worship is called a gurdwara, where they attend service once a week. Most gurdwaras have a Granthi, which is a learned Sikh skilled in reading the scriptures. Unlike a priest, a Granthi has no special religious status.
The Sikh holy book is the Adi Granth, often called the Guru Granth Sahib.
Sikhs believe that the Adi Granth is the embodiment of the Sikh Guru, and the book is treated with the respect that Sikhs would give to a human Guru.
In a gurdwara, the Adi Granth rests under a canopy.
Sikhs bow or prostrate themselves before the book, and no one turns his or her back to it. Also, worshippers remove their shoes near the Adi Granth.
Sikhs believe that at death, one's earthly life is over, but that a transition is made to a life spent in the presence of God.
Rituals and customs
The Khalsa ("Pure") was established by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699, as a declaration of Sikh values, conduct and community. The Khalsa included a new ritual of initiation (the amrit sanskar) and a rigorous code of conduct.
As a symbol of this code, Sikhs are expected to wear five items, known as the "five Ks" because of their Punjabi names: kes (uncut hair), kangha (a comb), kachha (a pair of shorts), karha (a steel bracelet) and a kirpan (ceremonial sword).
In Sikh practice, both men and women are forbidden from cutting any of the hair on their bodies. Hair has been regarded as a symbol of holiness, as well as strength.
Anyone who enters a gurdwara must do so with covered heads and bare feet. Worship consists mostly of scripture song and ends with a set prayer called Ardas.
Here are some of the Sikh occasions:
Diwali — A major fall festival, known as "the festival of lights" that is also celebrated by Hindus and Jains. Homes are decorated with lights, sweets are given out and fireworks are set off.
Vaisakhi — One of the most important dates in the Sikh calendar, the April New Year festival also marks 1699, the year the Khalsa was established.
Gurpurbs — These are celebrations associated with the 10 gurus. They are joyous occasions of celebration.
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