This column presented a report in March of 2013 on the beginning and development of Sikhism, a faith community founded in 1499 in Punjabi, India, by a religious leader called Guru Nanak. It is a monotheist religion that rejects both Hinduism and Islam. It had a succession of nine gurus after Nanak himself, one of whom started the practice of establishing kitchens, or “langars,” to feed poor people. These langars were located in “gurdwaras,” centers of worship.
The 10th guru introduced two far-reaching changes. The first was to designate himself the last personal guru, informing the Sikh community that their guru thereafter would be the Adi Granth Sahib, the collected writings of former gurus. The second change was to organize the Khalsa, a militant order of all adult Sikh males, whose identity was five marks: uncut hair covered by a turban; distinctive shorts; a wooden comb; a short dagger; and a steel bracelet on the right wrist. Their name became Singh, “Lion.”
Many Sikhs have immigrated to countries of the Western world. One report puts the number in the United States at 250,000. Here Sikh men are easily recognized by their turbans. Sikh women tend to wear a Punjabi style of feminine garb rather than the more common Indian sari. Women carry the name Kaur, “Princess.”
Like other immigrant groups, Sikhs have tended to stick together so they can: continue to enjoy their Punjabi language; give each other economic help in their start-up in the United States; and most important of all, they can grow into a sufficiently sizable community to build a gurdwara with its langar. There is such a gurdwara in the South Bend-Mishawaka area it was my privilege to visit recently.
Although built in an Indian architectural style, this gurdwara functions for all practical purposes like a Christian congregation with a well-equipped kitchen and fellowship hall. Here members of the Sikh community can meet, socialize, provide religious education for their children and youth, and above all engage in worship.