This Indian religion follows a single god who has never had an incarnate form. It was founded in the C15th by Guru Nanak to combine elements of Hinduism and Islam. It incorporates the ideas of karma and rebirth but not the caste system and shares some of the mystical ideas of the Sufi Muslims and devotional aspects of Hindu Bhakti movement. Martial aspects of religion are strongly emphasised, combining the Hindu warrior caste, 'Ksaytriya', and the Islamic 'jihad' or Holy War. Nanak was followed by a series of leaders who organised the Sikhs (the word means 'disciples') into a military society with political influence. The last of these, Guru Gobind Singh, founded the Khanda-di-Pahul and the Khalsa, a militant group to defend against persecution, in 1699. After his assasination by a Muslim in 1708, the Sikh holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, has taken the place of a leader. Ranjit Singh became the ruler of a Sikh state in the Punjab in 1799.

Sikhism is the main religion of the Punjab ('five rivers') area in North-West India which was semi-independent from the British Raj until the Sikh Wars of the Victorian period. The First Sikh War of 1845-6 followed an invasion of British India by Punjabi Sikhs. They were defeated and part of their territory was annexed by Britain. The Second Sikh War of 1848-9 followed a revolt in Multan and the British were again victorious, annexing the entire Punjab. It became a province with Lahore as its capital. Under British rule, much land was irrigated to improve fertility and granted to Indians who had served in the British army.

When India was partitioned in 1947, the Punjab was divided between India and Pakistan, the new Muslim state. Many Sikhs moved from the Pakistani West to the British East Punjab, with violent struggles between the various relgions leading to many deaths in the process. In 1966, Sant Fateh Singh was instrumental in the creation of a separate Sikh state within India. The Akali separatist group wants have the Punjab declared fully independent again After its leader, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, was killed in the siege of the Golden Temple of Amritsar in 1984, Sikh extremists retaliated and the Indian prime minister, Indiara Gandhi, was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. Severe rioting followed, killing about 1000 Sikhs but the Punjab remains part of India.

Many ordinary Sikhs would probably prefer it to be an independant nation, but few seem to feel as strongly about it although support has increased steadily over the last twenty-five years. The name chosen for the independent Punjabi nation would probably be 'Khalistan', derived from the word 'Khalsa', meaning pure, the name given to the Sikh army which fought against the British in the C19th which can be a religious title, a reference to God and a rather rare last name.

The Ten Gurus of Sikhism

Guru Nanak c 1500-39 1469
Guru Angad 1539-52 1504
Guru Amar Das 1552-74 1495
Guru Ram Das 1574-81 1534
Guru Arjan 1581-1606 1563
Guru Hargobind 1606-44 1595
Guru Har Rai 1644-61 1630
Guru Har Krishan 1661-4 1656
Guru Tej Bahadur 1664-75 1621
Guru Gobind Singh 1675-1708 1666

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This collection of names compiled by Kate Monk. Copyright January 1997, Kate Monk. Last updated October, 98. Copies may be made for personal use only.