Surinder S. Jodhka
The paper begins with a critique of the popular/Orientalist view of Indian society that conceptualizes caste in unitary terms, as a pan-Indian system, organized around the notion of varna hierarchy. Though caste is indeed a fact of life in Punjab and among the Sikhs living elsewhere, the Sikhs’ social structure has its own specificity and historicity. Even though ideas of hierarchy and untouchability have been a part of life, the Sikh religious ideology does not support caste-based social divisions. Caste in the Sikh Panth has also seen many changes over the last century. The ‘rearticulation’ of Sikh identity during the religious reform movements meant a rejection of caste, popularly viewed as a Hindu practice. Democratic politics and economic development have changed caste-based social relations.
Navdeep S. Mandair
Gurinder Singh Mann
This chapter traces expansion of the Sikh community from its inception in the early 1520s to the present day. Focusing on four periods of Sikh history—the founding of the community under Baba Nanak’s guidance, the establishment of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh, the rise of the Khalsa Raj under Ranjit Singh, and the arrival of the British—it seeks to chart out the different methods by which the Sikh community expressed its identity and attracted non-Sikhs to the community. In the process, the chapter addresses issues of how the Sikh community created a niche for itself in a competitive environment dominated by various shades of Muslim, Hindu, and Jain communities, and has evolved into a group claiming the adherence of twenty-five million people, 70% of whom live and enjoy a stable religio-political base in Punjab, India, while the remaining have spread across the globe.
Charles M. Townsend
This chapter explores the ongoing religious life and history of the Darbar Sahib (aka Harimandir Sahib, or Golden Temple), Sikhism’s sacred centre in Amritsar. It begins with a historical overview of the Darbar Sahib from the beginnings of the town of Ramdaspur during the time of the early Sikh Gurus, followed by a period of destruction and contestation, the flourishing of Sikh architectural and artistic embellishments under Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s patronage, the British colonial period, the aftermath of Operation Blue Star in 1984, and the modern period. Special attention is given to practices, performances, and daily religious life at the Darbar Sahib, including twenty-four-hour continuous gurbani kirtan (devotional singing of the Gurus’ hymns), running of the langar (community kitchen), and other forms of practice and seva (selfless service).
This article discusses the Dasam Granth, a lengthy text with a diverse set of compositions attributed to Guru Gobind Singh. The article describes the contents of the compositions within the text, from those praising a formless god to accounts of the goddess Durga and various avatars of Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva, the autobiographical composition entitled Bachitra Natak, and one of its most controversial compositions, Charitropakhian, noted for its often graphic depictions of illicit liaisons. The article notes how accounts of Guru Gobind Singh’s life relate to the history of the compilation of the text and controversies concerning its authorship, as well as the different interpretations of the text and its contested status within Sikhism.
Louis E. Fenech
This paper traces certain facets in the ongoing evolution of the Sikh community. Noting the past contributions to this debate by both W. H. McLeod and Indubhushan Banerjee, the article adds further dimensions by positing the role of Mughal courtly ideology in this growth.
Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh
This article offers a feminist hermeneutics of Sikh scripture as a means of balancing the current patriarchal meaning and application of the text. It is based on Gadamer’s claim that interpretation, understanding, and application belong to a single hermeneutic process. The feminist currents permeating the text are explored from the horizon of 1) Sikh theology, 2) spirituality, 3) society, 4) historical consciousness, and 5) personal identity constructed by the Five Ks, the five items of Sikh faith. The article concludes with reflections on ways of accessing the sacred text by both men and women so that gender-justice and equality can be achieved. The sublime textual lyrics are viewed as a powerful resource that reach the inner psyche of the individual and therefore substantially promote the work of social activists, human rights organizations, politicians, and legal advocates.
This article discusses the development of gender construction within Sikh history, based on an understanding that gender ideologies and gendered practices are social constructs that are deeply imbricated in societal and religious structures, ideologies and values. Beginning with the Sikh Guru period through to contemporary Sikh society, central rituals, identity markers, and religio-cultural institutions and practices are examined through an analysis of inclusionary and exclusionary processes based on gender. These include an overview of gender differentiation within the developing Khalsa order, Sikh naming practices, the turban as identity marker, scripture, official codes of conduct, institutional roles such as the panj piare (beloved five) as well as religio-cultural codes such as izzat (honour). The intersectionality of caste, socio-economic status, geographic locale, and class are also considered in terms of the negotiation of gender identities.
Sikhism, like all religious traditions, is undergoing changes in an era of globalization. It was for years a regional religion in South Asia, and then became a world religion in the Sikh diaspora. It is now becoming a global religion where the global Sikh diaspora affects politics in South Asia, and where the Sikh community in South Asia is affected by transnational trends in global affairs. The early twentieth-century Ghadar movement of diaspora Sikhs is an example of the former, and the late twentieth-century Khalistani movement of Sikh separatism is an example of the latter. The transnational Sikh community continues to evolve in the multicultural world of the twenty-first century.
This article discusses the world view of Gurmat (‘Guru’s doctrine’), emerging from the teachings of the Gurus in the Sikh canonical literature. It focuses on certain key terms and concepts, keeping in mind their original sense and their later historical understanding. It explores the five stages of spiritual development, including the ethical virtues to be cultivated in the actual life of an individual seeker. The essay concludes with the evolution of the doctrine of miri-piri and the institution of the Khalsa.