Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Glossary of Sikhism

Adi Granth

("the primal book") The Sikh sacred text, also known as the Guru Granth Sahib.

("original teacher") God.

("immortal" or "undying") Holy, sweetened water used for initiation into the Khalsa.

("Lake of Immortality") Pool of water surrounding the Golden Temple.

("the better half") Women.

Ceremonial whisk waved above the scriptures as a sign of respect.

Five Ks
Five items always worn by devout Sikhs: Kesh (uncut hair), Kangha (comb), Kirpan (steel dagger), Kara (steel bracelet), Kachh (undergarment).

Sikh martial art.

Sikh official who reads from the Guru Granth Sahib at the gurdwara and also looks after the gurdwara.

Sikh temple.

One who is devoted to God.

Festivals marking the birth or martyrdom of a Guru.

("weighty one") In Indian religion, a spiritual guide. In Sikhism, only God, one of the ten Gurus, or the sacred book (Guru Granth Sahib) may be called Guru.

Small manual for home use, containing passages of the Adi Granth used in daily prayer. It is used instead of the Adi Granth itself because of the many rituals that must accompany the use of the Adi Granth.

God's will.


Ik Onkar
Affirmation that "There is one God."

Reverent accounts of Guru Nanak's life.

Undergarment (cotton shorts) that is suitable for battle, symbolizing moral strength and chastity. One of the Five Ks of the Khalsa.

Karha parshad
Sacred pudding eaten on special occasions.

As in Hinduism, the moral law of cause and effect.

Sikh sermon.

("pure"). Dedicated Sikh community founded by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699 in response to continual persecution by Mughal authorities. The Khalsa underwent an initiation ritual of baptism and wore the Five Ks.

Symbol of the Khalsa.

Ceremonial steel dagger symbolizing determination to defend the truth. One of the Five Ks of the Khalsa.

The singing of hymns.

(Also called Guru-ka-Langar). Communal vegetarian meal in which all participants sit on the floor to symbolize equality.

Prayer beads.

A wrong-doer; one who indulges in the five deadly evils and is lost in maya.

The error of placing value on material things over the spiritual.

Sikh fairs.

Crown-shaped hat worn by Guru Nanak in artistic depictions.

Mul Mantra
("Root Belief"). Morning prayer composed by Guru Nanak.

Mam kiran
Ritual of naming a child.

Naam simaran
("remembrance of the name") Sikh meditation.

("renegade"). A Khalsa who cuts off his hair.

Divine help; grace.

("slow-adopter"). Someone preparing himself gradually for initation into the Khalsa.

Title of respect used for people, places and things (e.g. Guru Granth Sahib).

Utter bliss; liberation from rebirth.

Beaded necklace traditionally worn by ascetics. Guru Nanak nearly always wears a seli in artistic depictions.

Disciple or learner.

Community service, a central value in Sikhism.

Practice of opening the Adi Granth at random and reading from the left-hand page to obtain guidance.

Sikh Things: Sacred and Ceremonial Objects

Guru Granth Sahib

The most sacred object in Sikhism is the Guru Granth Sahib (also called the Adi Granth), the Sikh holy book. Unlike the New Testament or the Bhagavad-Gita, which are often carried around, dog-eared and placed on a shelf with other books, there are strict rules and procedures for handling Guru Granth Sahib . For this reason, most Sikhs keep a smaller manual at home containing the main passages from the Guru Granth Sahib used in daily prayers.

The tenth and last human Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, designated as his successor the holy book of Sikhism as the enduring and living Guru. Accordingly, the Guru Granth Sahib is treated with the same respect one would show a human Guru.

The Guru Granth Sahib is kept under a canopy and on a throne, covered in decorative cloths (rumalas) at night, and a chauri (whisk) is waved over it while it is being read. When entering the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib, one must be barefoot, have his or her head covered, and prostrate before the book. When moved, the book is wrapped in cloth and carried on someone's head as a sign of its honored status.

Guru Granth Sahib Ji is printed in Gurmukhi script, a form of Hindi dating to the middle ages. The pages often have ornate decorations, but it is a fundamental principle of the Sikh faith that Truth is much more important than ritual and only what is written in the book really matters.


As mentioned above, a whisk is waved over the Guru Granth Sahib whenever it is read. This whisk is caleld a chauri and is usually made of yak tail hair or artificial fiber, set in a wooden or metal holder. The use of the chauri derives from the practice of retainers keeping dignitaries cool with a whisk or fan, which became a symbol of sovereignty and honor.

Five Ks

When Guru Gobind Singh established the Khalsa in 1699, he asked all Sikhs to wear five symbols expressing their allegiance to the new Sikh community. These five symbols are known as the five Ks.

Kesh is uncut hair on the head and body, symbolizing acceptance of God's will. This gave rise to the distinctive Sikh turban, which arose as a way to keep the long hair clean and tidy.

Kachh is a pair of white cotton shorts worn as an undergarment. It is practical in battle, and therefore symbolizes moral strength and chastity.

Kara is a steel bracelet symbolizing responsibility and allegiance to God.

Kangha is a wodden comb that represents personal care and cleanliness.

Kirpan is a steel dagger, a symbol of resistance against evil and defense of truth.

Nishan Sahib
The Nishan Sahib ("respected emblem") is the Sikh flag. It is triangle-shaped, bright orange or saffron in color, and bears the Khanda, the symbol of Sikhism. The Nishan Sahib is flown outside gurdwaras (temples) and often inside as well. A gurdwara is not authentic without a Nishan Sahib. The flag is also carried in processions and on special occasions, and it is raised and lowered with special rituals. Sikh devotees respectfully place flowers on the parapet at its base and light candles beneath it on the days of celebrations.

The flag is normally replaced annually on Vaisakhi in April, which celebrates the birthday of the Khalsa. The old flag is not thrown away, but divided into pieces which people take as gift from the Guru. These pieces of the Nishan Sahib are used to stitch the chola (long shirt) of infants. An old flag or worn out clothes made out of it is burned and the ashes are placed in flowing water.