Guru Nanak Khalsa Guru Granth Sahib
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Ranjit Singh at Harmandir Sahib - August Schoefft - Vienna 1850 - Princess Bamba Collection - Lahore Fort.jpg
Maharaja Ranjit Singh listening to Guru Granth Sahib being recited at the Golden Temple, Amritsar
Total population
c. 25 million[1]
Guru Nanak
Regions with significant populations
 United States700,000[3][4][5]
 United Kingdom450,500[7][8][9]
 United Arab Emirates52,000[13]
 New Zealand40,908[17]
 Hong Kong10,000[21]
Guru Granth Sahib
Punjabi and its dialects, English, Thai, Malaysian, Arabic, Hindi, Cantonese, Urdu, Indonesian, Swahili and numerous other languages in the Punjabi diaspora

Sikhs (/sk/ or /sɪk/; Punjabi: ਸਿੱਖ, sikkh, [sɪkkʰ]) are people associated with Sikhism, a monotheistic religion that originated in the 15th century in the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent, based on the revelation of Guru Nanak.[27] The term Sikh has its origin in the word śiṣya (शिष्य), meaning 'disciple' or 'student'.[28][29] According to Article I of the Sikh Rehat Maryada ('code of conduct'), a Sikh is:[30]

Any human being who faithfully believes in One Immortal Being; eleven gurus, from Guru Nanak to Guru Granth Sahib; the teachings of the 6 Gurus, 15 bhagats, 11 bhatts, 4 Gursikhs and the baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru.

Male Sikhs generally have Singh ('lion') as their middle or last name, though not all Singhs are necessarily Sikhs; likewise, female Sikhs have Kaur ('princess') as their middle or last name. Sikhs who have undergone the Khanḍe-kī-Pahul ('baptism by Khanda') which is an initiation ceremony know as Amrit are from the day of their initiation known as Khalsa Amritdhari Sikhs, and they must at all times have on their bodies

five Ks:

  1. kesh, uncut hair, which is kept covered usually by a turban;
  2. kara, an iron or steel bracelet;
  3. kirpan, a dagger-like sword tucked into a gatra strap or a kamal kasar belt;
  4. kachera, a cotton undergarment; and
  5. kanga, a small wooden comb.

The Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent has been the historic homeland of the Sikhs, having even been ruled by the Sikhs for significant parts of the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, the Punjab state in northwest India has a majority Sikh population, and sizeable communities of Sikhs exist around the world. Many countries, such as the United Kingdom, recognize Sikhs as a designated religion on their censuses,[31] and, as of 2020, Sikhs are considered as a separate ethnic group in the United States.[32]


Guru Nanak (1469–1539), the founder of Sikhism, was born to Mehta Kalu and Mata Tripta in the village of Talwandi, present-day Nankana Sahib, near Lahore.[33] Throughout his life, Guru Nanak was a religious leader and social reformer. However, Sikh political history may be said to begin in 1606 with the death of the fifth Sikh guru, Guru Arjan Dev.[34] Religious practices were formalised by Guru Gobind Singh on 30 March 1699, when the Guru initiated five people from a variety of social backgrounds, known as the Panj Piare ("beloved five") to form a collective body of initiated Sikhs, known as the Khalsa ("pure").[35]

During the rule of the Mughal Empire in India (1556–1707), several Sikh gurus were killed by the Mughals for opposing their persecution of minority religious communities, including Sikhs.[36] The Sikhs subsequently militarized to oppose Mughal rule.[citation needed]

Metal helmet in a museum
A Sikh Khalsa Army sowar's battle helmet

After defeating the Afghans and Mughals, sovereign states called Misls were formed under Jassa Singh Ahluwalia. The Confederacy of these states would be unified and transformed into the Sikh Empire under Maharaja Ranjit Singh Bahadur. This era would be characterised by religious tolerance and pluralism, including Christians, Muslims, and Hindus in positions of power. Its secular administration implemented military, economic, and governmental reforms. The empire is considered the zenith of political Sikhism,[37] encompassing Kashmir, Ladakh, and Peshawar. Hari Singh Nalwa, the commander-in-chief of the Sikh Khalsa Army in the North West Frontier, expanded the confederacy to the Khyber Pass.

British rule

Sikh armour and weapons

After the annexation of the Sikh kingdom by the British, the latter would begin recruiting from that area once recognizing the martial qualities of the Sikhs and Punjabis in general. During the 1857 Indian mutiny, the Sikhs stayed loyal to the British, resulting in heavy recruitment from Punjab to the colonial army for the next 90 years of the British Raj.[38] The distinct turban that differentiates a Sikh from other turban wearers is a relic of the rules of the British Indian Army.[39] The British colonial rule saw the emergence of many reform movements in India, including Punjab, such as the formation of the First and Second Singh Sabha in 1873 and 1879 respectively. The Sikh leaders of the Singh Sabha worked to offer a clear definition of Sikh identity and tried to purify Sikh belief and practice.[40]

The later years of British colonial rule saw the emergence of the Akali movement to bring reform in the gurdwaras during the early 1920s. The movement led to the introduction of Sikh Gurdwara Bill in 1925, which placed all the historical Sikh shrines in India under the control of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee.[41]

Partition and post-Partition

The months leading up to the 1947 partition of India were marked by conflict in the Punjab between Sikhs and Muslims. This caused the religious migration of Punjabi Sikhs and Hindus from West Punjab to the east (modern India), mirroring a simultaneous religious migration of Punjabi Muslims from East Punjab to the west (modern Pakistan).[42] The 1960s saw growing animosity between Sikhs and Hindus in India,[43] with the Sikhs demanding the creation of a Punjabi state on a linguistic basis similar to other states in India. This was promised to Sikh leader Master Tara Singh by Jawaharlal Nehru, in return for Sikh political support during negotiations for Indian independence.[44] Although the Sikhs obtained the Punjab, they lost Hindi-speaking areas to Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, and Rajasthan. In 1966, on the first of November, Chandigarh was made a union territory and the capital of Punjab and Haryana.

Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale triggered violence in the Punjab, resulting in then-prime minister Indira Gandhi ordering an operation to remove Bhindranwale from the Golden Temple in Operation Blue Star. This would subsequently lead to Gandhi's assassination by her Sikh bodyguards.[45] Her assassination would be followed by an explosion of violence against Sikh communities and the killing of thousands of Sikhs throughout India. Since 1984, relations between Sikhs and Hindus have moved toward a rapprochement aided by economic prosperity. However, a 2002 claim by the Hindu right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that "Sikhs are Hindus" disturbed Sikh sensibilities.[46]

During the day of Vaisakhi in 1999, Sikhs worldwide celebrated the 300th anniversary of the creation of the Khalsa. Canada Post honoured Sikh Canadians with a commemorative stamp in conjunction with the anniversary. Likewise, on 9 April 1999 Indian president K. R. Narayanan issued a stamp commemorating the 300th anniversary of the Khalsa as well.[47]

In 2004, Manmohan Singh became the first Sikh Prime Minister of India, and first Sikh Head of government in the world.

Culture and religious observations

Daily routine

From the Guru Granth Sahib:[48]

One who calls themself a Sikh of the Guru, the True Guru, shall rise in the early morning hours and meditate on the Lord's Name. Upon arising early in the morning, he is to bathe, and cleanse himself in the pool of nectar. Following the Instructions of the Guru, he is to chant the Name of the Lord, "Har, Har". All sins, misdeeds, and negativity shall be then erased. Then, at the rising of the sun, he is to sing Gurbani; whether sitting down or standing up, he is to meditate on the Lord's Name. One who meditates on my Lord, Har, Har, with every breath and every morsel of food and – that GurSikh becomes pleasing to the Guru's Mind. That person, unto whom my Lord and Master is kind and compassionate – upon that GurSikh, the Guru's Teachings are bestowed. Servant Nanak begs for the dust of the feet of that GurSikh, who himself chants the Naam, and inspires others to chant it.

— Fourth Mehl (Guru Ram Das), Guru Granth Sahib, p. 305

Five Ks

Wooden comb, iron bracelet and curved, gold-coloured dagger
Kanga, Kara and Kirpan: three of the five Sikh articles of faith

The five Ks (panj kakaar) are five articles of faith which all baptized (Amritdhari) Sikhs are obliged to wear. The symbols represent the ideals of Sikhism: honesty, equality, fidelity, meditating on Waheguru, and never bowing to tyranny.[49] The five symbols are:

  1. Kesh: Uncut hair, usually tied and wrapped in a dastar
  2. Kanga: A wooden comb, usually worn under a dastar to always also keep one's hair clean and well groomed.
  3. Kachera: Cotton undergarments, Worn by both sexes, the kachera is a symbol of chastity, also historically appropriate in battle due to increased mobility when compared to a dhoti.
  4. Kara: An iron bracelet, a symbol of eternity, strength and a constant reminder for strength of will to keep hands away from any kind of unethical practices.
  5. Kirpan: An iron sword/dagger in different sizes. In the UK, Sikhs can wear a small dagger, but in the Punjab they might wear a traditional curved sword from one to three feet in length. Kirpan is only a weapon of defense, used to serve humanity and to be used against oppression.

Music and instruments

Woman in yellow scarf bowing an instrument
Woman playing the dilruba

The Sikhs have a number of musical instruments, including the rebab, dilruba, taus, jori, and sarinda. Playing the sarangi was encouraged by Guru Hargobind. The rebab was played by Bhai Mardana as he accompanied Guru Nanak on his journeys. The jori and sarinda were introduced to Sikh devotional music by Guru Arjan. The taus (Persian for "peacock") was designed by Guru Hargobind, who supposedly heard a peacock singing and wanted to create an instrument mimicking its sounds. The dilruba was designed by Guru Gobind Singh at the request of his followers, who wanted a smaller instrument than the taus. After Japji Sahib, all of the shabad in the Guru Granth Sahib were composed as raags. This type of singing is known as Gurmat Sangeet.

When they marched into battle, the Sikhs would play a ranjit nagara ("victory drum") to boost morale. Nagaras (usually two to three feet in diameter, although some were up to five feet in diameter) are played with two sticks. The beat of the large drums, and the raising of the Nishan Sahib, meant that the Singhs were on their way.


Yellow bar graph
India's Sikh population and their percentage of the total population

Sikhs number about 25 million worldwide,[1][50] and approximately 83% of them live in India. About 76% of all Sikhs live in the north Indian State of Punjab, forming the majority (about two-thirds) of the population.[51] Substantial communities of Sikhs live in the Indian states or union territories of Chandigarh where they form 13.11% of the population, Haryana (over 1.2 million), Rajasthan, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Assam and Jammu and Kashmir.[52] Another substantial community of Sikhs exists within the Canadian province of British Columbia, numbering 0.2 million or 5% of the total population; outside India, it is the only province or state in the world with Sikhism as the second most followed religion among the populace.[53][54]


Sikh migration from British India began in earnest during the second half of the 19th century, when the British completed their annexation of the Punjab.[42] The British Raj recruited Sikhs for the Indian Civil Service (particularly the British Indian Army), which led to Sikh migration throughout India and the British Empire.[42] During the Raj, semiskilled Sikh artisans were transported from the Punjab to British East Africa to help build railroads. Sikhs emigrated from India after World War II, most going to the United Kingdom but many to North America. Some Sikhs who had settled in eastern Africa were expelled by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in 1972.[55] Economics is a major factor in Sikh migration, and significant communities exist in the United Kingdom, the United States, Malaysia, East Africa, Australia, Singapore and Thailand. Due to this, Canada is the country that has the highest number of Sikhs in proportion to the population in the world at 1.4 per cent of Canada's total population.[56]

Coloured world map
Map showing world Sikh population areas and historical migration patterns (2004 estimate)[57]

After the Partition of India in 1947, many Sikhs from what would become the Punjab of Pakistan migrated to India as well as to Afghanistan in fear of persecution. Afghanistan was home to hundreds of thousands of Sikhs and Hindus as of the 1970s, but due to the wars in Afghanistan by the 2010s the vast majority of Afghan Sikhs had migrated to India, Pakistan or the west.[58][59][60]

Although the rate of Sikh migration from the Punjab has remained high, traditional patterns of Sikh migration favouring English-speaking countries (particularly the United Kingdom) have changed during the past decade due to stricter immigration laws. Moliner (2006) wrote that as a consequence of Sikh migration to the UK becoming "virtually impossible since the late 1970s," migration patterns evolved to continental Europe.[61] Italy is a rapidly growing destination for Sikh migration,[62] with Reggio Emilia and Vicenza having significant Sikh population clusters.[63] Italian Sikhs are generally involved in agriculture, agricultural processing, the manufacture of machine tools, and horticulture.[64]

Johnson and Barrett (2004) estimate that the global Sikh population increases annually by 392,633 (1.7% per year, based on 2004 figures); this percentage includes births, deaths, and conversions. Primarily for socio-economic reasons, Indian Sikhs have the lowest adjusted growth rate of any major religious group in India, at 16.9 percent per decade (estimated from 1991 to 2001).[65] The Sikh population has the lowest gender balance in India, with only 903 women per 1,000 men according to the 2011 Indian census.[66]


Since Sikhism has never actively sought converts, as the religion does not advocate discrimination against any caste or creed,[67] Sikhs have remained a relatively homogeneous ethnic group. However, social stratification exists in the Sikh community despite Guru Nanak's calls for treating everyone equally in Sri Granth Sahib.[note 1] As such, Sikhs comprise a number of sub-ethnic groups.

Along with Guru Nanak, other Sikh Gurus had also denounced the hierarchy of the caste system, however, they all belonged to the same caste, the Khatris.[71]

Over 60% of Sikhs belong to the Jat ( Jatt) caste, traditionally agrarian in occupation. [72] Despite being very small in numbers, the mercantile Khatri and Arora castes also wield considerable influence within the Sikh community. Other common Sikh castes include Ahluwalias (brewers), Kambojs or Kambos (rural caste), Ramgarhias (artisans), Rajputs (kshatriyas), Sainis (kshatriyas), Rai Sikh (rural caste), Labanas (merchants), and Kumhars, as well as the two Dalit castes known in Sikh terminology as the Mazhabi and the Ravidasias.[73]

Some Sikhs belonging to the landowning dominant castes have especially not shed all their prejudices against the Dalits. While Dalits would be allowed entry into the village gurdwaras but in some gurdwaras they would not be permitted to cook or serve langar (communal meal). Therefore, wherever they could mobilize resources, the Sikh Dalits of Punjab have tried to construct their own gurdwara and other local level institutions in order to attain a certain degree of cultural autonomy.[67] In 1953, Sikh leader and activist, Master Tara Singh, succeeded in persuading the Indian government to include Sikh castes of the converted untouchables in the list of scheduled castes.[74] In the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, 20 of the 140 seats are reserved for low-caste Sikhs.[74]

Other castes (over 1,000 members) include the Arain, Bhatra, Bairagi, Bania, Basith, Bawaria, Bazigar, Bhabra, Chamar, Chhimba (cotton farmers), Darzi, Dhobi, Gujar, Jhinwar, Kahar, Kalal, Kumhar, Lohar, Mahtam, Megh, Mirasi, Mochi, Mohyal, Nai, Ramgarhia, Sansi, Sudh, Tarkhan, and Kashyap.

The 3HO organisation claim to have inspired a moderate growth in non-Indian adherents of Sikhism.[75] In 1998, an estimated 7,800 3HO Sikhs, known colloquially as gora (ਗੋਰਾ, 'white') Sikhs,[76] were mainly centred around Española, New Mexico, and Los Angeles, California.


Large, ornate white building against a blue sky
A Sikh temple, Nanaksar Gurudwara, in Richmond, British Columbia

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Sikhs began to emigrate to East Africa,[77] the Far East, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. In 1907 the Khalsa Diwan Society was established in Vancouver, and four years later the first gurdwara was established in London. In 1912 the first gurdwara in the United States was founded in Stockton, California.[78] There was a large Sikh immigration to Canada. While Sikhs were temporarily disenfranchised several decades ago, currently 17 of the 338 Canadian legislators are Sikhs, which is disproportionately higher than their share of the total Canadian population.[79]

Large group of Sikh men and women on a city street
Sikhs in Toronto celebrating Vaisakhi, the birth of the Khalsa

As Sikhs wear turbans and keep beards (among other physical similarities to Middle Eastern men), Sikh men in Western countries have been mistaken for Muslim, Arabic, and/or Afghan since the September 11 attacks and the Iraq War.[80][81] Several days after the 9/11 attacks, Sikh-American gas station owner Balbir Singh Sodhi was murdered in Arizona by a man who took Sodhi to be a member of al-Qaeda, marking the first recorded hate-crime in America motivated by 9/11. CNN would go on to suggest an increase in hate crimes against Sikh men in the US and the UK after the 9/11 attacks.[80][81]

In an attempt to foster Sikh leaders in the Western world, youth initiatives by a number of organisations exist. The Sikh Youth Alliance of North America sponsors an annual Sikh Youth Symposium, a public-speaking and debate competition held in gurdwaras throughout the US and Canada.

The Sikh diaspora has been most successful in North America, and UK Sikhs have the highest percentage of home ownership (82%) of any religious community.[82] UK Sikhs are the second-wealthiest religious group in the UK (after the Jewish community), with a median total household wealth of GB£229,000.[83]

In May 2019, the UK government exempted "Kirpan" from the list of banned knives. The U.K. government has passed an amendment by which Sikhs in the country will be allowed to carry kirpans and use it during religious and cultural functions. The bill had been amended late last year to ensure that it would not impact the right of the British Sikh community to possess and supply kirpans, or religious swords.[84][85] Similarly, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund overturned a 1925 Oregon law banning the wearing of turbans by teachers and government officials.[86]


Historically, most Indians have been farmers and 66 per cent of the Indian population are engaged in agriculture.[87] Indian Sikhs are employed in agriculture to a lesser extent; India's 2001 census found 39 per cent of the working population of the Punjab employed in this sector.[88] According to the Swedish political scientist Ishtiaq Ahmad, a factor in the success of the Indian green revolution was the "Sikh cultivator, often the Jat, whose courage, perseverance, spirit of enterprise and muscle prowess proved crucial."[89] However, Indian physicist Vandana Shiva[90] wrote that the green revolution made the "negative and destructive impacts of science [i.e. the green revolution] on nature and society" invisible, and was a catalyst for Punjabi Sikh and Hindu tensions despite a growth in material wealth.

Notable Sikhs in modern history

Manmohan Singh is an Indian economist, academic, and politician who served as the 13th Prime Minister of India from 2004 to 2014. The first Sikh in office, Singh was also the first prime minister since Jawaharlal Nehru to be re-elected after completing a full five-year term.

In the United States, the former US Ambassador to the United Nations and former governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, was born and raised as a Sikh, but converted to Christianity after her marriage. She still actively attends both Sikh and Christian services.[91]

Notable Sikhs in science include nuclear scientist Piara Singh Gill, who worked on the Manhattan Project; fibre-optics pioneer Narinder Singh Kapany; and physicist, science writer and broadcaster Simon Singh.

In business, the UK-based clothing retailers New Look and the Thai-based JASPAL[92] were founded by Sikhs. India's largest pharmaceutical company, Ranbaxy Laboratories, is headed by Sikhs.[93] Apollo Tyres is headed by Onkar Singh Kanwar. In Singapore Kartar Singh Thakral expanded his family's trading business, Thakral Holdings,[94] into total assets of almost US$1.4 billion and is Singapore's 25th-richest person. Sikh Bob Singh Dhillon is the first Indo-Canadian billionaire. Mastercard CEO is a Sikh named Ajaypal Singh Banga

In sports, Sikhs include England cricketer Monty Panesar; former 400-metre runner Milkha Singh; his son, professional golfer Jeev Milkha Singh; Indian wrestler and actor Dara Singh; former Indian hockey team captains Sandeep Singh, Ajitpal Singh and Balbir Singh Sr.; former Indian cricket captain Bishen Singh Bedi; Harbhajan Singh, India's most successful off spin cricket bowler; Yuvraj Singh, World Cup winning allrounder; Maninder Singh, World Cup winning off spinner; and Navjot Singh Sidhu, former Indian cricketer-turned-politician.

Sikhs in Bollywood, in the arts in general, include poet and lyricist Rajkavi Inderjeet Singh Tulsi; Gulzar; Jagjit Singh; Dharmendra; Sunny Deol; writer Khushwant Singh; actresses Neetu Singh, Simran Judge, Poonam Dhillon, Mahi Gill, Esha Deol, Parminder Nagra, Gul Panag, Mona Singh, Namrata Singh Gujral; and directors Gurinder Chadha and Parminder Gill.

Sikhs in Punjabi Music industry include Gurdas Maan, Diljit Dosanjh, Kuldeep Manak and Babu Singh Maan.

Soldiers of the Indian Army's Sikh Light Infantry regiment
Postcard of marching Sikhs with rifles
French postcard depicting the arrival of the 15th Sikh Regiment in France during World War I; the bilingual postcard reads, "Gentlemen of India marching to chasten the German hooligans"
See caption
Japanese soldiers shooting blindfolded Sikh prisoners

In the Indian and British armies

According to a 1994 estimate, Punjabis (Sikhs and non-Sikhs) comprised 10 to 15% of all ranks in the Indian Army. The Indian government does not release religious or ethnic origins of the military personnel, but a 1991 report by Tim McGirk estimated that 20% of Indian Army officers were Sikhs.[95] Together with the Gurkhas recruited from Nepal, the Maratha Light Infantry from Maharashtra and the Jat Regiment, the Sikhs are one of the few communities to have exclusive regiments in the Indian Army.[95] The Sikh Regiment is one of the most-decorated regiments in the army,[96] with 73 Battle Honours, 14 Victoria Crosses,[97] 21 first-class Indian Orders of Merit (equivalent to the Victoria Cross),[98] 15 Theatre Honours, 5 COAS Unit Citations, two Param Vir Chakras, 14 Maha Vir Chakras, 5 Kirti Chakras, 67 Vir Chakras, and 1,596 other awards. The highest-ranking general in the history of the Indian Air Force is a Punjabi Sikh, Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh.[99] Plans by the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence for a Sikh infantry regiment were scrapped in June 2007.[100]

Sikhs supported the British during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.[101] By the beginning of World War I, Sikhs in the British Indian Army totaled over 100,000 (20 per cent of the force). Until 1945 fourteen Victoria Crosses (VC) were awarded to Sikhs, a per-capita regimental record.[97] In 2002 the names of all Sikh VC and George Cross recipients were inscribed on the monument of the Memorial Gates[102] on Constitution Hill, next to Buckingham Palace.[103] Chanan Singh Dhillon was instrumental in campaigning for the memorial.

During World War I, Sikh battalions fought in Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Gallipoli and France. Six battalions of the Sikh Regiment were raised during World War II, serving in the Second Battle of El Alamein, the Burma and Italian campaigns and in Iraq and receiving 27 battle honours. Around the world, Sikhs are commemorated in Commonwealth cemeteries.[104]

Sikh nationalism and the Khalistan movement

The Khalistan movement is a Sikh separatist movement, which seeks to create a separate country called Khalistān ("The Land of the Khalsa") in the Punjab region of South Asia to serve as a homeland for Sikhs.[105] The territorial definition of the proposed country Khalistan consists of both the Punjab, India, along with Punjab, Pakistan, and includes parts of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and Rajasthan.[106][107][108]

Khalistan movement began as an expatriate venture.[109] In 1971, the first explicit call for Khalistan was made in an advertisement published in the New York Times by an expat Jagjit Singh Chohan.[110] By proclaiming the formation of Khalistan he was able to collect millions of dollars from the Sikh diaspora.[111] On 12 April 1980 he declared the formation of "National Council of Khalistan", at Anandpur Sahib.[112] He declared himself as the President of the Council and Balbir Singh Sandhu as its Secretary General. In May 1980, Jagjit Singh Chohan traveled to London and announced the formation of Khalistan. A similar announcement was made by Balbir Singh Sandhu, in Amritsar, who released stamps and currency of Khalistan. The inaction of the authorities in Amritsar and elsewhere was decried by Akali Dal headed by the Sikh leader Harchand Singh Longowal as a political stunt by the Congress(I) party of Indira Gandhi.[113]

Sikhs in London protesting against Indian government actions

With financial and political support of the Sikh diaspora, the movement flourished in the Indian state of Punjab, which has a Sikh-majority population and reached its zenith in the late 1970s and 1980s when the secessionist movement caused large scale violence among the local population. Operation Blue Star was an Indian military operation carried out between 1 and 8 June 1984, ordered by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to remove militant religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his armed followers from the buildings of the Harmandir Sahib complex in Amritsar, Punjab.[114] In July 1983, the Sikh political party Akali Dal's President Harchand Singh Longowal had invited Bhindranwale to take up residence in Golden Temple Complex to evade arrest.[115][116] Bhindranwale later on made the sacred temple complex an armoury and headquarters.[117] In the violent events leading up to the Operation Blue Star since the inception of Akali Dharm Yudh Morcha, the militants had killed 165 Hindus and Nirankaris, even 39 Sikhs opposed to Bhindranwale were killed. The total number of deaths was 410 in violent incidents and riots while 1,180 people were injured.[118] Casualty figures for the Army were 83 dead and 249 injured.[119] According to the official estimate presented by the Indian government, 1592 were apprehended and there were 493 combined militant and civilian casualties.[120] High civilian casualties were attributed to militants using pilgrims trapped inside the temple as human shields.[121]

Assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and bombing of Air India plane killing 328 passengers by Sikhs happened in the aftermath.[122] Various pro-Khalistan outfits have been involved in a separatist movement against the Government of India ever since. There are claims of funding from Sikhs outside India to attract young people into these pro-Khalistan militant groups.[123]

In January 1986, the Golden Temple was occupied by militants belonging to All India Sikh Students Federation and Damdami Taksal.[124] On 26 January 1986, a gathering known as the Sarbat Khalsa (a de facto parliament) passed a resolution (gurmattā) favouring the creation of Khalistan. Subsequently, a number of rebel militant groups in favour of Khalistan waged a major insurgency against the government of India. Indian security forces suppressed the insurgency in the early 1990s, but Sikh political groups such as the Khalsa Raj Party and SAD (A) continued to pursue an independent Khalistan through non-violent means.[125][126][127] Pro-Khalistan organisations such as Dal Khalsa (International) are also active outside India, supported by a section of the Sikh diaspora.[128]

In the 1990s the insurgency petered out,[129] and the movement failed to reach its objective due to multiple reasons including a heavy police crackdown on separatists, divisions among the Sikhs and loss of support from the Sikh population.[130]

Art and culture

Intricate design
Opaque watercolour-on-paper Nakashi art; about 1880, by an unknown artist from Lahore or Amritsar, and used to decorate the walls of Harmandir Sahib
Large building on the water
Darbar Sahib, circa 1870

Sikh art and culture are nearly synonymous with that of the Punjab, and Sikhs are easily recognised by their distinctive turban (Dastar). The Punjab has been called India's melting pot, due to the confluence of invading cultures from the rivers from which the region gets its name. Sikh culture is therefore a synthesis of cultures. Sikhism has forged a unique architecture, which S. S. Bhatti described as "inspired by Guru Nanak's creative mysticism" and "is a mute harbinger of holistic humanism based on pragmatic spirituality".[131] The American non-profit organization United Sikhs has fought to have Sikh included on the U.S. census as well, arguing that Sikhs "self-identify as an 'ethnic minority'" and believe "that they are more than just a religion".[132]

During the Mughal and Afghan persecution of the Sikhs during the 17th and 18th centuries,[133] the latter were concerned with preserving their religion and gave little thought to art and culture. With the rise of Ranjit Singh and the Sikh Raj in Lahore and Delhi, there was a change in the landscape of art and culture in the Punjab; Hindus and Sikhs could build decorated shrines without the fear of destruction or looting.[134]

The Sikh Confederacy was the catalyst for a uniquely Sikh form of expression, with Ranjit Singh commissioning forts, palaces, bungas (residential places) and colleges in a Sikh style. Sikh architecture is characterised by gilded fluted domes, cupolas, kiosks, stone lanterns, ornate balusters and square roofs. A pinnacle of Sikh style is Harmandir Sahib (also known as the Golden Temple) in Amritsar.

Sikh culture is influenced by militaristic motifs (with the Khanda the most obvious), and most Sikh artifacts—except for the relics of the Gurus—have a military theme. This theme is evident in the Sikh festivals of Hola Mohalla and Vaisakhi, which feature marching and displays of valor.

Although the art and culture of the Sikh diaspora have merged with that of other Indo-immigrant groups into categories like "British Asian", "Indo-Canadian" and "Desi-Culture", a minor cultural phenomenon which can be described as "political Sikh" has arisen.[135] The art of diaspora Sikhs like Amarjeet Kaur Nandhra and Amrit and Rabindra Kaur Singh (the "Singh Twins")[136] is influenced by their Sikhism and current affairs in the Punjab.

Bhangra and Giddha are two forms of Punjabi folk dancing which have been adapted and pioneered by Sikhs. Punjabi Sikhs have championed these forms of expression worldwide, resulting in Sikh culture becoming linked to Bhangra (although "Bhangra is not a Sikh institution but a Punjabi one").[137]


Sikh painting is a direct offshoot of the Kangra school of painting. In 1810, Ranjeet Singh (1780–1839) occupied Kangra Fort and appointed Sardar Desa Singh Majithia his governor of the Punjab hills. In 1813 the Sikh army occupied Guler State, and Raja Bhup Singh became a vassal of the Sikhs. With the Sikh kingdom of Lahore becoming the paramount power, some of the Pahari painters from Guler migrated to Lahore for the patronage of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh and his Sardars.

The Sikh school adapted Kangra painting to Sikh needs and ideals. Its main subjects are the ten Sikh gurus and stories from Guru Nanak's Janamsakhis. The tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, left a deep impression on the followers of the new faith because of his courage and sacrifices. Hunting scenes and portraits are also common in Sikh painting.

See also


  1. ^ Guru Nanak has mentioned in his first composition of Jap Ji Sahib, which is recited daily by all practicing Sikhs that all souls are to be treated with care and respect as Waheguru is the Giver of all souls. "The Guru has given me this one understanding: there is only the One, the Giver of all souls. May I never forget Him!", Guru Granth Sahib, 2[68] Guru Nanak said that blessings are rained down when the lowly person, regardless of any background are cared for. "In that place where the lowly are cared for-there, the Blessings of Your Glance of Grace rain down.", Guru Granth Sahib, 15[69] Guru Nanak had spoken we need to prize humility above all and thus caste is not an issue. "One who takes pride in wealth and lands is a fool, blind and ignorant. One whose heart is mercifully blessed with abiding humility, O Nanak, is liberated here, and obtains peace hereafter." Granth Sahib, 278[70]



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