The principle of Religious Syncretism entails the integration of two religious beliefs into an entirely new system comprising elements of both religions. One such combination is between Islam religion and Hinduism religion which has sprung up to a single religion that has come to be known as Sikhism. This paper will explain how Sikhism originated, its doctrines and practices and how it has grown over the centuries.
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Origin of Sikhism
Sikhism is one of the youngest founded religious syncretism founded in the fifteenth century by Guru Nanak Dev Ji, and it is a monotheistic religion (Kaur, 2003). Guru Nana was born in 1469 in a Hindu family belonging to Kshatriya caste. He had a normal childhood, and though he failed to succeed in most occupations, he had a passion for poetry and religion.
At the age of nineteen, he had himself a wife and two sons but later left his family for Sultanpur city to try his luck in business. It was at the age of thirty while he was meditating in a forest that he received a vision to unite the Muslims and Hindu into one religion.
In his vision, he said that he had been singled out by God to preach out the message that ‘there was neither Muslim nor Hindu religion’ and with this, he began spreading the gospel for unity. He began his evangelism throughout India, and his dressing was a blend of both the Muslim and Hindu clothing. He succeeded in converting many followers who he called Sikhs, meaning disciples (Singh, 2006).
His unifying effort was seen during his dying day when an argument erupted between his Muslim converts and Hindu converts. The Muslims wanted to bury him as was their custom while the Hindu, on the other hand, wanted his body cremated. Nanak settled the argument by suggesting that they both place flowers on both sides of his body and the group whose flowers will still be fresh by the following day would have the body.
He then died peacefully in his sleep, and when the two groups came the following morning, they found the flowers had blossomed, but Guru Nanak’s body had disappeared. Thus, Nanak resolved the conflict in a unique way and further strengthened the harmony between the Muslims and Hindu.
Growth Of Sikh Community
Guru Nanak appointed one of his disciple Lahina, Angad Dev of the Trehan clan as his successor as the guru in 1538. This did not go well with most of his followers in Kharagpur where he announced as they felt that his son Sri Chand would have been made the guru. This made Angad relocate from Khartapur to Khadur until things cooled down. Nanak succeeded in reconciling the followers, and Angad took over the work of Guruship from Nanak.
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His most outstanding work was the standardization of the Gurmukhi script that is used in the Sikhs’ scripture (Jefferey, 2003). Amar Das was appointed as the third guru in 1552 and his main teachings revolved around equality for women. This was evident when he prohibited purdah and sati clothing by women.
He also held a training of apostles to which 52 of the trainees were women to manage and continue the rapid increase of the religion. He chose his son-in-law, Jetha who became Ram Das as the next guru. Ram Das who is famous for establishing the city of Ramdaspur which later came to be known as Amritsar continued to spread the gospel of Sikhism as the fourth guru.
He was succeeded by his youngest son Arjan Dev in 1581 as the fifth guru who was responsible for putting up the Golden Temple and writing the first Sikh sacred book known as Adi Granth. The book had all the teachings of all the five first gurus. He was however tortured and killed by the Emperor Jahangir for refusing to amend some wordings in his book and for refusing to support him.
After the death of Arjan Dev, Har Gobind became the sixth guru. He owned two swords to which one he associated it with spirituality and the other one for other reasons. During his tenure, he ensured that the Sikh community was organized and were trained in fighting for protective measures. Guru Har Rai succeeded him in 1644 and after that Guru Har Krishan.
The three gurus were known to have composed hymns though none of it has been included in the Holy Scriptures book of the Sikh. In 1665, Guru Teg Bahadur took over, but he was killed in 1675 by Aurangzeb for assisting the Hindus who had refused to convert to Islam.
Gobind Rai, Guru Bahadur’s son who was just nine at the time, succeeded his father. Rai, who was later baptized as Guru Gobind Singh was succeeded by the last Guru Granth Sahib in 1708, a renowned spiritual leader.
The Political Development of Sikh Community
Nanak’s followers began to develop political identity though they still upheld their religious philosophy. The beginning of the political transformation was significantly felt during the tenure of Guru Teg Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh when they conflicted with Mughal authorities (Christopher and Mandair, 2005). It was during this conflict that Gobind Singh formed a community he called Khalsa in 1699 which was a combination of both religious and political elements.
The community continued to embrace the military and political force in India even after the death of all the gurus. Banda Bahadur was assigned to punish all those people who had played a role in persecuting the Sikhs. He later became the army leader and participated in numerous attacks in the Mughal Empire. He was later killed by Emperor Jahandar Shah for refusing to be converted to be a Muslim.
After his death, the Sikh warriors formed another group during which time the Mughal Empire was falling. The Sikh kingdom, which was later formed, came under the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who initiated the traditions and discipline in the community.
The Sikh kingdom, however, collapsed upon the death of Ranjit Singh, and it came under the British rule. The Sikhs were however said to enjoy prosperity in the 1970s after a long fight during the partition of India which saw many of them killed and others displaced from their ancestral homes.
Organization of Sikh Community
The Sikh community does not operate through priests as they were abolished during the reign of Guru Gobind Singh for being corrupt and proud. In their place, they employ a Granthi to read the scriptures, lead worship and conduct ceremonies such as weddings.
It should be noted that any member of the Sikh community can be appointed as a Granthi. Sikhism has been divided under three main branches; Udasis are active missionaries, Sahajdharis shave clean and do not follow the Khalsa tradition and lastly, the Khalsa.
Religious Syncretism Beliefs
When Islam integrated with the Hindu community to come up with a single religion, Sikhism, they adopted beliefs that served to harmonize them without favoring each side. They believe that there is only one God who does not associate himself with a particular religion. They strongly hold the belief that the God they worship is immortal, the creator and self-existent.
Nanak composed the first hymn that entails all the description of the God they believe in and which is recited daily by the Sikhs. They also believe in equality before the eyes of the creator and are strongly opposed to the hierarchy of the Indian caste system. They uphold the principle of equality to further state that everybody is equal before the eyes of God regardless of their sex, race or religion.
Women in the Sikh religion are allowed to participate in prayer functions and are appointed as religious leaders as well. They also believe in reincarnation where the soul goes a repetitive cycle of rebirth, after death. They do not also believe in rituals such as fasting and pilgrimages, and they are condemned. They also believe that to follow the path to God mean living an honest life on earth and fulfilling all the obligations as intended by God.
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The Sikhs have two holy books that they derive their spiritual authority from; the Guru Granth Sahib and Dasam Granth (Gurinder, 2001). The Guru Granth Sahib is also referred to as Adi Granth though the two versions were written by two different people.
The Adi Granth was created by Bhai Gurdas, and it was the first version of the scripture under the guidance of Guru Arjun Dev in the years 1603-1604. Guru Granth Sahib is the final version and was created by Guru Gobind Singh. It entails the wordings of Adi Granth with some additions of Guru Teg Bahadur’s hymns.
Nanak claimed that all the wordings in the Granth came from God directly and the authors interpreted it for the followers. The Dasam Granth scripture has been linked to the tenth guru, and it fails to hold any religious importance for the Sikhs. They serve as part of the daily prayer recital for the Sikhs (Parrinder, 1971).
Practices and Traditions
The Sikhs have certain practices that they uphold and unify them. They recite their prayers many times daily, and their form of worship is through meditation. There are various recitals for different times of the day and the main object used during worship is a copy of the Granth scripture which is held high on a small altar.
The Sikhs are not allowed to worship any objects or idol. They also worship in the temple known as the Gurdwara, and there are over 200 temples in India alone. They are further prohibited from taking any alcoholic drinks or smoke tobacco, and they have a specified dress code.
Conflicts Within The Sikh Community
There have been numerous religious conflicts between the conservative Sikh believers and the progressive ones who interpret the Sikh traditions differently. Adi Granth: The major conflict is over the interpretation of the scripture. The main problem associated with this is the fact the Granth has been written in Punjabi, a language that is not easy to understand especially to the younger generation.
Some believers, however, argue that by interpreting the holy book, it will corrupt the original holy nature of the words. Others argue that by failing to interpret the holy book, the young Sikh followers who find it hard to understand Punjabi will go astray. Sikhs and India: in 1947, the Briton divided the land into India and Pakistan causing conflict between the Hindus and Muslims.
This was because they kept pushing for a Sikh community, a factor that resulted in violence with the government. Sikh Calendar: the calendar has also been a major cause of conflict between the Sikhs and the debate over the political and religious aspects in the calendar has never been resolved to date.
Sikhs and Chairs: the use of chairs by the Sikhs may seem odd, but the Sikh community has taken the matter seriously and has even led to many deaths over the issue.
It has been estimated that over 22 million Hindus and Muslims are followers of Sikh religion. There are also some members of the Sikh community such as Namdharis, Ravidasis, and Udasis who do not follow the laid down principles of the religion but are considered to belong to the Sikh community.
Religion syncretism, therefore, reunites two religious beliefs, and the concept has been adopted worldwide. Religious studies have shown that numbers of people joining Sikhism are still on the rise and the doctrines of unification being upheld as per the teachings of Nanak.
Christopher, S. and Mandair, A. (2005). Teachings of the Sikh Gurus: Selections from the Sikh Scriptures. United Kingdom: Routledge.
Gurinder, M. (2001). The Making of Sikh Scripture. United States: Oxford University Press Jefferey, B. (2003). World Religions. Minnesota: Saint Mary’s Press.
Kaur, S. (2003). Amongst the Sikhs: Reaching for the Stars. New Delhi: Roli Books Parrinder, G. (1971). World Religions: From Ancient History to the Present. United States: Hamlyn Publishing Group
Singh, K. (2006). The Illustrated History of The Sikhs. India: Oxford University Press.