Sikhism is a monotheistic religion, founded in India under 500 years ago. Despite its relative youth it is the fifth largest religion in the world and has spread through diaspora to many countries across the world.
Sikhs have a few tenets such as the 5 Ks: Kesh (Literally hair, but in context it means natural, uncut hair), Kachhera (long underwear), Kangha (wooden comb), Karra (steel bangle) and Kirpan (dagger). All of these make up the identity of a Sikh and are essential to their faith. Unfortunately, some of these tenets have created troubles for the Sikhs, such as the right to carry a dagger. Still many Sikhs find ways to adapt as best they can such as by only carrying blunt daggers, daggers permanently locked into their sheaths, or merely the image of a dagger.
The Sikh faith rejects many Hindu practices such as sati (an obsolete tradition formerly practiced by certain upper-caste Hindus, in which a widow would immolate herself on her husband's funeral pyre), as well as many unequal traditions such as the caste system. Conversely, they reject Muslim principles such as holy pilgrimages, although many Sikhs do visit the Golden Temple which is the center of their faith in Amritsar, Punjab, northern India. Sikhism is a belief that stresses that all are equal no matter what caste or religion and in fact, they don't claim exclusivity on God, also know as Wahe-Guru, nor do they claim their religion is the only true path. They teach their followers to live a pious life with a strong emphasis on respect toward others, particularly the family.
What they prohibit is again matters of inequality as well as several self-indulgent and anti-social tendencies. As such they prohibit against superstition, adultery, avarice, slander and many others. They cannot consume intoxicants or barbiturates and nor can they eat ritually killed meat.
Sikhism is unique in that it has its own fighting style which is known as Gatka. This martial art primarily relies on weapons, it practices with an array of blade weapons but also includes others such as bows. The style is taught to be used in situations when one is facing both single or multiple opponents. It is noted as an aesthetically pleasing art and so there are many show performances of it.
Sikhs give worship in a building known as a Gurdwara which is always open to all, including non-Sikhs, provided they take off any foot wear and cover their heads. Within Gurdwara there is the langar halls where free food is served out which is always vegetarian. Such duties are carried out by volunteers providing Seva, which is charitable acts. Seva is encouraged amongst Sikhs in order to help them become better individuals and give to the community.
The religion has 10 Gurus which is actually the Hindi for teachers, who helped found and defend the faith. Guruship was something that could be passed down through succession but one could also be born and identified as a Guru. It existed in a relatively peaceful state throughout the lives of the first four gurus, from Guru Nanak to to Guru Ram Das, until the Mughal Empire began to take notice and actively persecute it. After the brutal death of the fifth Guru, the religion put emphasis on defending oneself but also on spiritual ascertation and thus established the duality between warrior and devotee. These were testing times when they were still such a small minority and they suffered many grievous losses, and as such many of the Gurus are remembered as martyrs. Many of the Sikh gurus died in horrific deaths under the over-zealous persecution from the Muslim Moghul shahs Jahangir and Aurengzeb. Guru Arjan Dev was starved, boiled and eventually died after having hot sand poured over him. Despite this, he did not waver as he was deep in meditation. Aurengzeb had the two youngest sons of Guru Gobind Singh bricked alive and demanded that they forcibly convert to Islam, which they refused and so were killed. After the passing of the tenth and final guru, also known as Guru Gobind Singh, the Guru thereon became the Guru Granth Sahib also known as the Sikh holy book. This holy text not only contains the hymns and verses of the Gurus but of subsequent companions and other holy men who were Hindu and Muslim.
Following this and the decline of the Mughal Empire, the Sikhs began to establish their own empire, i.e. the Sikh Empire. The Empire was lead by the Maharaja Ranjit Singh who was credited with expanding the Empire which existed from the Khyber Pass in the west, to Kashmir in the north, to Sindh in the south, and Tibet in the east. Their rule was secular and they were tolerant of other religions and did not destroy or desecrate holy temples. Of course the Sikh Empire was tested by two wars with the British also known as the Anglo-Sikh wars. The Sikh Empire was hit hard by betrayals from high-ranking members of the rulership. With their defeat the British quickly seized their lands as well as the prized Koh-i-Noor diamond which was once known as the largest diamond in the world. This diamond was then placed within the Queen's crown but was also cut into smaller pieces for the possession of other royals. Following their subsequent defeat the British Empire realized that the Sikhs were a formidable fighting force which would greatly benefit their military and so they began recruiting Sikhs. This went in lieu with their philosophy of the Martial Races theory, which proposed that certain tribes within India were more apt warriors and had noble attributes which placed them higher than other tribes. The Gurkhas of Nepal were also recruited on this basis.
With this the Sikhs began to make a disproportionate number within the Indian army which was successfully used throughout World Wars 1 and 2. Many Sikhs gained some of the highest military honours including the Victoria Cross and were held in high regard. One notable incident was the Battle of Saragarhi where 21 Sikhs defended a fort from the onslaught of thousands of Afghans. Despite the overwhelming odds the Sikhs held out for an extraordinary time and slew hundred of Afghans, injuring many more thousands. Eventually the Afghans decided to burn the fort in order to kill the last few defiant Sikhs.
Sikhs fought on all the major fronts on both the East and West during World War I, serving in many roles such as the RAF, tanks, artillery and infantry. They made up about a quarter of the combat units.
After the wars had ended and many acts of bravery the Sikhs returned to India under the same state of oppression as before. And so the Sikhs began to make peaceful demonstrations against the British Empire which they had so loyally served. In one such demonstration, the British Empire under a Brigadier-General Dyer ordered the butchering of many unarmed civilians in what is now known as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre which took place in a public square in Amritsar, Punjab, the center of Sikhism.
One vengeful Sikh, Udham Singh, decided to assassinate Michael O'Dwyer, who was a key figure behind the massacre. Udham Singh traveled to England and concealed a gun within a book he was carrying and proceeded to shoot O'Dwyer and several other Lords around him. Singh was then surrounded by policemen but he willingly submitted and confessed to the crime as well as expressing offhand how he failed to kill some of the other Lords but cited that there were too many women around and that he might have been too slow. When asked for his name he proclaimed "Ram Mohammad Singh Azad", combining Hindu, Muslim and Sikh names to show he was beyond religion, caste or creed. He also voiced his anger at the treatment of the Indian peoples and that what he did was for justice. He was later hanged and his body was withheld for a time. In India, Udham Singh became a martyr and a national symbol. Eventually his ashes were taken back to his family back in the homeland Punjab. To this day he is generally known as Shaheed Udham Singh-"shaheed" meaning a martyr, a term of Islamic usage originally.
During the inept and badly planned partition of India, many Sikhs felt that they deserved a homeland of their own which they would name Khalistan. However the British at the time were attempting to pull out of India as quickly as possible and did not take any full consideration of other minorities, even those that they once held in high regard, into account. This was a particular issue with Sikhs as Punjab, the region which contained their greatest numbers and was considered their home, was to be split into two. As such there began a massive wave of violence between Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims. There was rape and murder all about with Muslims moving to the newly declared Pakistan while the Sikhs and Hindus went to a redrawn India.
But as is the history of the Sikhs they would face even more persecution but this time by the Indian government. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered Operation Blue Star where the holiest site of the Sikhs known as the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab was attacked and hundreds died. The attack was to deal with civil unrest amongst the Sikhs who had requested that they be given a homeland to be named Khalistan. Indira Gandhi attacked the temple as she believed that Sikh militants resided there. After an attack by no less than their own government many Sikhs began to leave the Indian army. As a consequence of the massacre, Indira Gandhi was shot to death by her own two Sikh bodyguards. Both of them were gunned down themselves moments after the assassination but they became held in high regards by some for carrying out retribution for the Amritsar massacre.
With the assassination of the Prime Minister, there began what is known as the Anti-Sikh riots where anyone identified as Sikh was targeted by radical Hindus. During these troubling times the Sikhs found shelter by many non-Hindus. Such was the horrific scale of the riots that even in the modern day there have been calls for justice after the outrage and humans rights abuses. The Sikhs have called for many inquiries into the massacre but have yet to have seen a truly satisfactory and serious investigation into those past grievances.
As their history moved forward many Sikhs began to move to other countries such as the UK, Canada and the US. Here they worked to build lives for themselves like many other immigrant groups. There were hurdles such as Bhagat Singh Thind who fought for the right to live as a US citizen despite the still racist nature of the country (this being in the early 1920's, with legalized segregation). He became a citizen of the United States three separate times before it stuck, allowing him to stay in America. He later went on to earn a Ph.D. and became a spiritual writer.
Still, many Sikhs face hurdles due to misidentification and ignorance towards them. Most of this has been due to the religious right to cover their head which they have done for centuries by wearing turbans. By wearing turbans they have found themselves being misidentified as Muslim and discriminated against, as well as having to obey procedures which would mean them having to remove their turban, especially in the military. This has improved with the right to wear a turban instead of a motorcycle helmet and they have been allowed to wear their turbans in the US army as of March 2010.
The Sikhs still find themselves being overrepresented in various militaries as well as calls in the UK for a Sikh regiment. Many Sikhs have found themselves in occupations of all skill levels from engineers, doctors, scientists, lawyers etc. Others have lower skilled jobs such as corner-shop owners or taxi drivers, particularly for those who newly immigrated or are without the necessary or recognized education.
- Action Girl: Being a religion that was shaped by a long history of violence from all sides, it is to be expected that they would have plenty of these. Mai Bhago is among the most famous of these warrior women.
- Church Militant: The community of baptized Sikhs is called, among other things, "the Army of God." Every Sikh is expected to practice martial arts and be ready to defend the innocent should they be called upon, though not every one is a professional soldier.
- Planet of Steves: Almost all Sikhs have "Singh" that is lion (for males) or "Kaur" that is princess (for females) as a middle or last name.
- Martial Pacifist: The religion started off as a solution of peace by Guru Nanak created from Muslim and Hindu ideologies to mediate fighting between Muslims and Hindus through meditation at the time and greatly opposed violence in general. Unfortunately, both Hindus and Muslims eventually decided to designate Sikhs as a threat and began subsequent violent persecutions against them, leading the Sikh leaders to adopt martial principles down the line to become known as warriors instead of humble peacemakers for personal protection and haven't changed this ever since.
- Mistaken Identity: Sikhs are often confused with Muslims because of their headgear and brutally discriminated against because of it.
- Take a Third Option: As noted above, the religion was founded as an alternative to the dominance of Hinduism and Islam in an attempt to mediate finding and seek common ground. They instead were eventually attacked by both sides and thus had to adopt martial principles.
- The Paladin: An arguably real-life example with The Khalsa or "the pure ones."
- Special notice goes to The Nihang, though they have some differences in practices. They are respected as a proud Sikh warrior order.
- The Teetotaler: Sikhism in general prohibits intoxicants, but the Nihang are something of an exception due to their history of using cannabis for meditation purposes (though there have been some messy debates on this.)
- Worthy Opponent: In one battle a Sikh warrior urged his prince to care for the enemy wounded, calling them the "Children of God".