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The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, was born in 1469 in the Punjab area of what is now Pakistan. His message combined worship of God and social equality. The Sikh population in the UK is the largest outside India. Sikhs in Britain usually speak Punjabi and English. There are about 23 million Sikhs around the world; 336,000 in the UK; and just over 5,000 in Greater Nottingham.

Early History

Sikhs believe that Guru Nanak Dev was born in an enlightened state. When he was about 30 he felt the call to preach and travelled extensively in India, the Middle East and some neighbouring countries. In a time of great conflict between religions he taught that there is only one God but many paths - the important things are sincere worship, peace and brotherhood. He eventually settled, and founded a community of Sikhs ('learners').

Religious Scriptures and Symbols

He was followed by nine other Gurus. They are seen as divine teachers, but not objects of worship. The last, Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708), said there would be no more human Gurus. He invested spiritual authority in the holy text, the Guru Granth Sahib, which contains the teachings of the Gurus and Hindu and Muslim saints in the form of 5817 hymns. He also founded the Khalsa Panth ('community of pure ones'), the society of initiated Sikhs.

A Sikh place of worship is called a gurdwara ('doorway to the Guru'), usually marked by a triangular saffron-coloured flag. The symbol is the khanda: the double-edged sword in the centre represents truth, strength, freedom and justice; the circle represents the eternal; and the two outer swords symbolise political and spiritual sovereignty.

What do Sikhs believe?

Sikhs believe in one God, who can be experienced but is beyond human understanding and never takes human form. There are many names for God, but the most common in worship is Waheguru ('wonderful lord'). The Mul Mantar which starts every section of the Guru Granth Sahib says: There is but One God, the Eternal Truth, the Creator, without fear, without enmity, timeless, immanent, beyond birth and death, self-existent: by the grace of the Guru, made known.

Sikhs also believe in the ten Gurus, the Guru Granth Sahib and the teachings of the Gurus it contains, and the Amrit Pahul, the Sikh form of initiation. They adhere to no other religion.

After death a soul is reborn as another creature, depending on the deeds of its old life. Humans are aware of the consequences of their actions and can seek unity with God, breaking out of the cycle of rebirth - this is called mukti. A major barrier to this is an illusory, materialistic view of the world, leading to self-centredness, lust, anger, greed, worldly obsessions and pride. Instead one should develop contentment, charity, kindness, happiness and humility.

Religious practice involves meditating on God and reading passages from the Guru Granth Sahib, individually or in groups. Being in the company of enlightened souls helps to purify one's own soul. God should always be remembered in everyday life. Key principles include reciting the name of God, earning a living by honest and approved means, sharing with the needy and sewa (selfless service) to the community. Equality is a strong principle: Guru Nanak taught that all people are born with the opportunity to attain mukti, regardless of wealth, caste, sex or education.

What do Sikhs do?

A Sikh's daily routine involves getting up before sunrise, taking a bath or shower, then meditating on the one God, saying a standard set of prayers. Verses are recited in the evening and before going to bed.
There is no single holy day in the week. The gurdwara is open daily, and some Sikhs visit it every morning and evening. In the UK sadh sangat (congregational worship) is usually on a Saturday or Sunday. In the hall of worship one must dress modestly, remove shoes and cover the head. Men and women sit separately as a social tradition. The focal point is the Guru Granth Sahib on a raised platform. There are no priests as such: any adult Sikh may perform religious ceremonies, though there's often a professional granthi to read scripture.

A typical service consists of hymn singing, accompanied by instruments including tabla (drums) and harmonium, followed by a sermon on the divine name and a final prayer. Everyone receives Karah Prashad, a sweet food made from flour, sugar, ghee (a purified butter) and water. Langar, a communal vegetarian meal, is provided free of charge. These symbolise universal equality, as everyone eats together regardless of their position.

Sikhs avoid alcohol and tobacco, and these are prohibited in the gurdwara. Many Sikhs are vegetarian, but others believe that meat can be eaten provided that the animal is killed with a single stroke.

Amrit Pahul is the initiation into the Khalsa Panth, undertaken by both men and women when they're old enough to understand its significance. The initiate makes vows and takes amrit, specially prepared sugared water, in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib and five members of the Khalsa Panth who recite special prayers.

Members of the Khalsa wear 'the five Ks' to show obedience to God and the teachings of the Gurus.
Kesh is uncut hair (including the beard and body hair). Men usually tie their hair up and wear a turban.
The Kangha is a small wooden comb worn in the hair to symbolise orderliness.
The Kara is an iron or steel bracelet, a reminder of fellowship and the covenant with God.
Kachhera is special knee-length underwear symbolising modesty and moral restraint.
The Kirpan is a curved sword representing dignity, self-respect and readiness to protect the weak.

Dates of Importance

Sikh festivals were based on the lunar calendar, so dates varied, but a new calendar has been prepared and in future they will be on fixed dates. Major ones are: Birth of Guru Nanak Dev; Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur; Birth of Guru Gobind Singh; Vaisakhi, the founding of the Khalsa; Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev; Installation of Guru Granth Sahib; Diwali; Guru Hargobind's return from imprisonment.

Sikhs in Nottingham

There are seven Sikh gurdwaras [temples] in Greater Nottingham, mostly in the NG7 area . There is also the Sikh Community Youth Service [SCYS] at Unity Complex, Ilkeston Road,Radford.

In addition to the religious services (mostly on Sundays) and meals for the community after every service, they run many other activities such as day centres for older people; Punjabi religious classes; kirtan (music) classes; other classes like English, sewing and computing; ladies' programmes; play schemes for children during holidays; and trips. The gurdwaras often host school visits, when children come to learn about Sikhism. The Sikh Community Youth Service arranges activities for young Sikhs, including trips and camps.