Vaisakhi – the story of the origin of the khalsa

Sikhism - Thy Name is Love and Sacrifice

WaheGuru Ji Ka Khalsa - What are Sikh values?




Saroop Kaur (1924 – 2013) — Wife of Late Labh Singh Digpal

*My experience of taking Amrit and becoming a Baptised Sikh.

Sikhism, Love, Amrit



You believe in One God, timeless and formless,
all-creating and all-pervading.

You follow the teachings of Guru Nanak
(born in the Punjab in 1469 CE)
and those of the nine Gurus who followed him.

Your holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib,
was completed by the 10th Guru, Gobind Singh.

It is venerated as a living Guru.

Your place of worship, Gurdwara (door to the Guru),
contains a prayer-hall and a langar (dining-hall)
where food is offered freely to all.

You respect the 5 Ks, worn by initiated Sikhs:
Kesh (uncut hair), Kanga (comb),
Kara (steel bracelet), Kaccha (undershorts)
and Kirpaan (ornamental sword),
as symbols of spirituality, cleanliness,
righteousness, self-control and justice.

You follow four basic principles:
Simran (meditation on God's name);
Kirat Karni (honest work);
Wand Chakra (sharing your goods with the poor);
Seva (service to God and humanity).

The Khanda is the symbol for Sikhs.  The two edged sword represents God's freedom and justice and the circle signifies God's oneness and infinite power.  The Khanda is also the emblem of the Khalsa, the community of initiated Sikhs.  The two swords symbolise the balance of spiritual and worldly power in the universe and remind Sikhs to serve God.

Taken from the Sikh Faith Card in the Diversity Game



The term “Sikhi” is the way Sikhs would describe their faith.  A Sikh is a disciple of the Gurus, a student endeavouring to follow the way of life set out before him/her.  “Sikhism” is a term invented by the West along with all the other –isms, which by attempting to bring together diverse paths into neat packages, thus succeeds in distorting and debasing them!

The era of the ten gurus of Sikhi spans nearly 300 years, from the birth of Guru Nanak Dev (1469 -1539), through the life of Guru Gobind Singh.  At the time of his death in 1708, Guru Gobind Singh bequeathed his title of Guru to the Sikh scripture, Guru Granth, which took on the status of living guru for the Sikhs.  Sikhs regard the 10 gurus of Sikhism as the embodiment of one guiding light which passed from each guru to their successors and which now resides with the scripture Sri Guru Granth Sahib.




Vaisakhi – The Story of the Origin of the Khalsa

It was the Vaisakhi day of 1699 and a time of persecution.  Guru Gobind Rai (10th Guru), standing outside a tent, called for a Sikh to volunteer to sacrifice himself in the cause of justice.  On hearing this, one Sikh presented himself before the Guru as a willing sacrifice.  The Guru took him into the tent and came out with a blood stained sword.  He repeated this challenge four more times with the same result, before returning these five martyrs to the community, calling them Panj Piare (“5 Beloved Ones”).

Then the Guru made Amrit (sacred water) with clear water and Patashas (Punjabi sweeteners) in an iron bowl while reading the holy Gurbani and he baptized the five beloved ones with the Amrit and called them Singh.  After this the Guru took Amrit from them and became Gobind Singh from Gobind Rai.  From then on, he decreed that male Sikhs who have been initiated (taken Amrit) should bear the name of Singh (lion) and women should take the name of Kaur (princess).  He thus proclaimed an end to the caste system.



Sikhism - Thy Name is Love and Sacrifice

God is love and love is God.  As God cannot be confined, Restricted or limited to any particular creed, cult, race, Similarly religion of love cannot be restricted or confined In geographical limits and boundaries.

Sri Guru Nanak Sahib's religion of love is cosmic and universal in its appeal, holy folds and dimensions.

It is a religion of perfect and universal love totally free from man-made barriers of colour, caste, creed and status.

It is a religion which radiates with a deep thirst for the divine.

and with the gospel of purity of heart, mind, body, speech and deeds.

It is a religion which establishes brotherhood of the whole global community irrespective of colour, caste, creed, race and nationality purely on the basis and foundation of love and equality, all being the children of the same lovable God.


WaheGuru Ji Ka Khalsa - What are Sikh values?

Waheguru ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji Ki Fateh The Khalsa belongs to the God, all victory is the victory of God

Sikhism maintains that while 'Truth is High, Higher still is Truthful living'

·        Belief in One God - Sikhs view life as an interconnected whole.  All human beings are equal and alike in front of God.

·        Equality of man and woman - Sikh men have last name of 'Singh' and the woman of 'Kaur' Equality of all Mankind regardless of race, religion, background, caste or creed.  All are equal, all are loved and respected.

·        Belief in the Guru Granth Sahib - the Sikh holy book or the 'Living Guru' Sikhs venerate the revealed teachings contained in the holy book, which belongs to all mankind.  Sikhs do not believe in idols and idol worship or rituals.

·        Belief in the Guru - (Teacher).  Sikhism is not a synthetic religion.  It is a revealed faith that has been transmitted through human means.

·        Belief in Freedom - Sikhism is an intensely democratic faith that places great emphasis on the individual and freedom of choice for everyone.

·        Love for All - Sikhs pray daily for the well-being of all of humanity.  'Nanak Naam Chardikala, Tere Bane Sarbat da Bhalla' (0 God Through Satguru Nanak, may your name be exalted and may All Humanity prosper according to your Will)

·        Food and Shelter for All - Central to the Sikh faith is humble and voluntary service for all in need - not only the poor

·        Justice for All - Sikhs' spiritual beliefs must constantly be tested and proven in the world of action.  A Sikh cannot witness injustice and turn away.  They are 'Saint Soldiers' in every decade.



The Ipswich Sikhs celebrated the opening of this Gurdwara in Bramford Road around the time of Guru Nanak’s birthday in November 2000.  They had previously been worshipping for over twenty years in a converted scout hut in the Yarmouth Road.  That site was far from ideal.  After many years of costly saving, fundraising and sheer hard work the Ipswich Sikh community are now enjoying this splendid newly adapted accommodation.  The word Gurdwara means “the door of the Guru”.  It is the Sikh place of worship, the home of the Guru.  A building only becomes a Gurdwara when the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book) has been installed there. 

A Gurdwara can be recognised by the saffron flag, Nishan Sahib, which flies high outside it.  The Ipswich Gurdwara contains a Prayer Hall upstairs and other communal rooms downstairs.  Every Gurdwara (Door to the Guru) has a Prayer Hall and also a Langar (communal kitchen and dining area) where all can be fed.




IMG_0103.JPGThere are various Sikh paths or sects reflecting the different historical and social contexts in which the faith was born and has developed.  In particular the caste system has had a lasting influence, and the 10th Guru, Gobind Singh, sought to overcome this when he formed the Khalsa (collected body of all initiated Sikhs).

All but one, believe that the Guru Granth Sahib is the 10th and Final Guru.

 I belong to the RADHA SOAMI FAITH , which believes that the teachings of All Saints are universal, and can lead us back to our origin.  We use the teachings of the holy Granth to express our faith and guide our path, while also believing in a Living Guru or Spiritual Guide.

This belief is confirmed by the teachings contained in the Guru Granth Sahib, which includes the teachings of 22 other saints, both Hindu and Muslim holy people, as well as the 10 Sikh gurus.

Our national spiritual centre is at Haynes Park, Bedford.  Haynes Park is owned by the sangat and Nd sewa (service) on this huge farm takes place every day and most devotees go there over the weekend.  In particular, the sangat (congregation), meet for two discourses over several days annually in May and August.  Often the Master is present.

There are four criteria to being accepted as a disciple of the Masters:-

1.     Complete vegetarianism.  NO MEAT NO FISH NO EGGS.

2.     No alcohol or drugs

These first two are absolute obligations.  In addition we aspire to keep

3.     The moral promise of one husband and one wife.  (and no sex before marriage )

4.     The observation of 2.5 hours of meditation daily.  (between 3 - 6 am) (a tenth of a day) and we are asked to give what we can of our income in charity.

Bhupindar Singh Sully




Saroop Kaur (1924 – 2013) — Wife of Late Labh Singh Digpal

Our grandmother was known affectionately by her grandchildren as 'Bobo' (meaning grandmother).

It was difficult to write something that covered everything, given that she had such a long and full life, and secondly because she was blessed with such a large family.

Bobo Ji was born on 13' March 1924 in Poona, South India.  Her father's name was Pirmal Dass Singh Potiwal and she was the youngest daughter with 5 brothers and 4 sisters.

She married our Bapu Ji (grandfather) Labh Singh Digpal in 1941.

Bobo and Bapu Ji lived in Islam Ganj in Ludhiana (Punjab, India).

Bapu Ji visited the U.K in the early 1950s, travelling throughout England, Scotland and Ireland.

He then brought Bobo and his family to England in 1956 and they moved to 37 Emlyn Street, Ipswich.

One of the things we as grandchildren were interested to know was why they chose to move to Ipswich with Bapuji having travelled so much around the country.  Unfortunately, none of our elders knew the exact reason.  However I can surmise from this that the small town and the agricultural aspects of Suffolk were similar to what they had seen and been used to in India.

Bapu ji was an Entrepreneur and, in 1959, opened a grocery store at 87 Bramford Road called 'Kashmir General Store'.  The store moved to 15 Bramford Road in 1968.

At the time of her passing, Bobo Ji was 88 years old.  She had 8 sons and 3 daughters.  She also had 49 grandchildren, 67 great grandchildren, and 2 great great grandchildren, making a total of 129 descendants.

I am sure that many of you here today have your own memories of Bobo and how she has touched our lives.  She was a caring person and was proud of her family

The passing of Bobo Ji marks the end of an era, but it's important to remember that everything we are today is because of what our elders have taught us and the sacrifices that they have made.

Bobo was able to attend and celebrate her grandson's wedding in the last 6 weeks of her life in December 2012.  This was the last event that Bobo celebrated with all her family.

We pray that, as a family, we carry on remembering her and remain united as one.  We also ask that Waheguru.  (The Almighty) blesses us all with the strength to accept his will in deciding that it was our Bobo's time to make that special journey, back to the Creator.

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Fateh (The Khalsa; Sikh Brotherhood belongs to God, Victory belongs to God).

By All the Grandchildren in loving memory of Bobo ji


*My experience of taking Amrit and becoming a Baptised Sikh.

I had wished to take Amrit from a long time. I used to see my older sister and nieces who were Amritdahari (a person who has taken Amrit) who wore a KHESKI (a small form of a turban.) When I visited them their way of life was different from ours. They would wake up in the early hours of the morning and be reciting prayers. Although, at home we would always do morning prayers before starting our daily routine, to me it seemed they had more a peaceful way of life. At that time we had a grocery store which was very long hours for 7 days a week. The store was run by my husband, children and me and it was very hard work.  For this reason, my time was taken up mostly with raising a family and running the store leaving little time for spirituality.

I was raised in Manchester and recall that in the 1960s, my parents read prayers morning and evening and also played Kirtan (melodic Sikh hymns) on the big spool tapes . We went to the Gurdwara (place of worship) regularly with our parents.   The love for Gurbani (sayings of the Gurus) and Kirtan (spiritual chanting) started from there. My Gran was a devoted religious person and when I was about 8 or 9, lying in bed, I used to listen to her reciting prayers when we went and stayed in our school holidays.  Although at the time I didn’t understand the prayers, later when I grew older I recognised them and this early introduction to prayers helped guide me in taking the path towards spirituality.  My Gran also used to tell us stories about the Gurus.

I got married in 1964 and came to Ipswich.  At the time, I couldn’t understand why Ipswich didn’t have a Gurdwara.  My father in law would make Prasad (made from semolina, butter, and sugar) and recite prayers at home on a Sunday. There was not a large Sikh Community in Ipswich at that time.

Years later, the Sikh families of Ipswich got funds together and bought a house which they made into a Gurdwara. I used to go to Manchester or London if I wanted to go to an all-night Kirtan called Raensbai, where one would see a lot of Sangat (spiritual communities) and when they would recite Vaheguru (God’s name),  it appeared that they couldn’t stop  and it was like they were in a trance . My yearning to take Amrit and follow a spiritual path grew as the years went by.   Years later in 1994, we closed our shop and some of our children had got married and moved away and life was less busy.   However, years had gone passed and I was growing older.

In 1998, My daughter-in-law had gone to visit her parents in Southall when she phoned to say they are doing a Amrit Sanchar programme (Baptism ceremony), on Sunday at the Gurdwara.  She said that she wanted to take Amrit and wanted my son to take it as well.

I felt like this was my chance finally to take Amrit.  I asked my husband if he wanted to take it as well but he said he was not ready for it yet.  I went with my son and daughter in law and stayed round her parents’ house. We were really excited and got up at 2.30 am, bathed and went to the Gurdwara by 3 am. There wasa Shri Akhand Paath Sahib which involved the Guru Granth Sahib being read by Granthis (learned people who are able to read the Guru Granth Sahib), from start to finish without stopping and it takes approximately 48 hrs.     After the recital had finished, there was Kirtan.  Then we were called to a room and before we entered a Bhai Sahib (a spiritual Sikh person) stopped me and asked where my husband was. I explained that he said that he was not ready to take Amrit yet. He said we like to give Amrit to couples only so that they lead the same way of life together as an Amritdahari (Baptised Sikh) couple. I was so disappointed but who was I to oppose the Spiritual one’s decision so I did not take Amrit that day. However, my son and his wife then took Amrit.

I can understand now why it was said that a couple should take Amrit together. I left eating meat and became a vegetarian from that day, and waited for my turn as I was still very determined.  It had changed my way life as I tried to get up early and recited the prayers. The following year was 1999 and in April 1999, it was a very special year for our Sikhs as it was going to be 300 years to the Birth of the Khalsa which happened in 1699.  In January that year (1999), I heard on the radio that they were doing Amrit Sanchar (Sikh initiation ceremony) at Southall Gurdwara.  I decided this was my chance. I told my family and two of my sons with their wives wished to go with me.  It had been snowing the night before and was a very cold day but I got up early and bathed and washed my hair and wore my new Khachera (undergarment, one of the 5 k’s).

We started  our journey to Southall.  I was so excited thinking - is it really happening?  We arrived at the Gurdwara and a couple of hours later, we went to the Deewan Hall (main prayer hall), paid respects to the Guru Granth Sahib Ji and received prasad. The Bhai Sahib announced that those members of the Sangat that wished to take Amrit should take the five Ks, which were Kara( steeL bracelet), Khanga (comb), Khecheraa (undergarment), and Kirpan (plus uncut hair)if they needed them before taking Amrit.  Some of the sangat had already received a kirpan and ghatharaa (a holder for the kirpan) as well as a khangaa.  I bowed down to the Guru Granth Sahib ji and asked  god, “Vaheguru, please bless me with your precious gift of Amrit”.  We went back upstairs in a special room where the Sangat were receiving Amrit.  This time, there were a lot of ladies alone and men as well.  The Bhai Shib didn’t say anything.  We were taken into a White painted room where in the middle was the holy book, Guru Granth Sahib Jee and were told to pay respects and sit down.  The atmosphere was so amazing and peaceful.  The Panj Pyara (5 baptised Sikhs) came in and dressed in their robes of orange and royal blue, and carrying large kirpans.  They brought the large steel bowl filled with water and into the bowl they put pattasea (a type of Punjabi sugar cube).

We sat and watched the Panj Pyara recite prayers.  Each prayer, Japji sahib, Jaap sahib, Tav Prasad Savaiye, Chaupai Sahib, Anand Sahib - it took over an hour to recite them.  Then we were told one by a Bhai Sahib to go to one of the Panj Pyaraa. When it was my turn, they gave Amrit in my hands, five times to drink and say to Vaheguru: ji- khalsa Vaheguru ji ki Fateh (The Khalsa belongs to the Lord and victory belongs to the Lord also.   I drank the Amrit and then a Panj Pyara poured Amrit five times on my head and five times into my eyes.  It was sugary water so quite tasty. I recited Vaheguru ji ka Khalsa ,Vaheguru ji ki Fateh each time.

Once everyone had finished taking the Amrit, they then explained to us about the Sikh code of conduct and what you should and shouldn’t do as an Amritdahari Sikh.  We were told to wake up in the early hours of the morning and recite the five prayers that the Panj Pyaraa had recited which were,  Japji Sahib, Jaap Shib, Tav Prasad Savaiye, Chaupai Sahib, Anand Sahib.  In addition, Reharas Sahib was to be recited in the evening and Kirtan sohila was recited before going to sleep   You were also told to repeat Vaheguru as many times as you can in the day .

It has been 14 years since I took Amrit and it has been a wonderful journey.  I am still learning as a Sikh.  In fact, Sikh means learner and I learn something about my faith every day.  I still love listening to Kirtan and reciting prayers with Guru jee’s blessings .

Prabjot Kaur


Gurmeet's Sikh Perspective.


My name is Gurmeet Singh Sually.  I am 20 years old and I am a practising Sikh.

If you ask me "What does Sikhism mean to you?" I have to say first that there are many different viewpoints and beliefs within the Sikh community not only nationally but also internationally.

For me, firstly, as a practising Sikh, the main points of reference are:- the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh scriptures) and the Dasam Granth (a separate book ascribed to Guru Gobind Sikh and/or his poets).

The key generic beliefs in Sikhism are as follows:

·        God is One and is the Creator of all things

·        All human beings are equal in God’s sight

Basic principles for living as a Sikh include:

·        Pure vegetarianism- no eggs, no meat, no fish (and no other animal product)

·        Teetotalism so definitely no alcohol.

·        No smoking or illegal drug use

·        Uncut hair.

These few beliefs above are truly the bedrock principles of Sikhism, especially in the 21st century.

As a young person and like many other young Sikhs, I see a clear difference between religious and spiritual learning and understanding compared to historic political discourse.  The who’s, why's and when's of Sikh history are very important and have their place; however, they should not compromise the messages and day to day practices of a Sikh.

Sikhism in its entirety is and should be understood in its simplest form.  Basically this means applying the teachings of the Gurus from the scriptures to day to day living.  A key theme and fundamental concept in Sikhism is to be a better human being, not just for your own benefit but also for those around you, such as family and friends.

Humility, kindness and Seva are and should be a few of the characteristics of Sikhs.  Seva translates in English to selfless service, but the concept of Seva can be misinterpreted greatly.  This fundamental belief is in a way the DNA of Sikhism.

The place of worship for Sikhs is the Gurdwara and this is where Seva begins to become more profound and is given much clearer understanding.  A Gurdwara is a place that serves its community, regardless of an individual's race, religion, hair colour, political beliefs etc.

The basic rules when in a Gurdwara are, remove shoes upon entrance, wash hands and cover head before entering either the prayer room or the langar hall (food hall).  Depending on the location of the Gurdwara, meaning town, city or country, some things may vary; however the following are universal.

There will be a large functional kitchen to make pure vegetarian food.  There will be a langar hall, where the community can eat and of course a prayer room, usually situated upstairs.  In India for instance, some Gurdwara also have large rooms for people to rest or sleep, areas for people to work or study, a pharmacy or even an area for medical attention.  These things all vary depending on the size and the location of the Gurdwara.

However, we must not portray the Gurdwara as a Sikh temple, for in its pure translation it is the "door to The Lord" (gur from the word guru meaning teacher and dwara meaning door).  This deeper meaning reflects the clear message of Guru Ram Das who gave the name Gurdwara to emphasise equality amongst people, not to create segregation within a multicultural country.  This is a key example of how Sikh history and spiritual practices work together.

Having a solid understanding of these things above allows us to build a stronger foundation for both our individual spirituality and also that of the wider sangat.  (sangat = community)

I sometimes attend the Gurdwara in Ipswich, however ,more often than not, we attend the Gurdwara in London where my grandmother and most of my family live or in Leicester where my brother lives.  In these big cities Gurdwaras are open all the time and are rarely closed.

In Ipswich the Sikh community is quite small, but because of the Internet I am able to keep in touch with the wider Sikh community nationally and internationally.  I spend a lot of time on Facebook, which has a page focused on topical Sikh issues for young Sikhs.  This is called the Sikh Youth Project.

Equality does not just surround gender and age but especially today sexual orientation is a "hot topic".  As a young Sikh today, from my understanding as a Sikh, a core belief is that God has created everything and everyone exactly how he wishes them to be.  We as human beings do not have the right to judge others or to question the Creator's grand design.

People are very surprised when they find out that my father is a Sikh and my mother is a Hindu.  They married each other regardless of their respective faiths and despite their different backgrounds; even at the time in the mid 80s when there were strong social conflicts due to the then prime ministers, and exacerbated by Indra Ghandhi's assassination.

As a result of my upbringing I can respect and understand people of many different backgrounds, and am comfortable in any place of worship.


The Sikh Way of Life – A personal Perspective

This essay presents an overview of the Sikh way of life and how the author’s life experiences in the Punjab and England have influenced his understanding of religious life.  This material is used to address the issue of personal identity and why the author has not been able to fully embrace the Sikh way of life.

Guru Nanak was the founder of the Sikh religion and he had his first mystic experience in 1499 at the age of thirty nine years (Singh, 2004, pp31).  The core message of Guru Nanak was to go into the world to pray and teach mankind how to pray and that it was important to let one’s life embrace the praise of the Word, charity, ablution, service and prayer.  Guru Nanak travelled extensively throughout India and as far as Baghdad.  On his travels he was accompanied by a Muslim minstrel, Mardana.  During the next 200 years, the nine Gurus who followed Guru Nanak helped to establish the Sikh community.  This included the composition of the Sikh holy book, the Granth Sahib, and the building of the Golden Temple as the main Sikh shrine.

During this period the Punjab was ruled by the Mughals and Emperor Aurangzeb had started converting Hindus and Sikhs to Islam by force.  They had no one to defend them! On the occasion of the first day of Vaisakhi in 1699, the tenth Guru decided to raise a new community to be called the Khalsa.  He baptised five men in a new manner.  The five who had until then belonged to different castes were made to drink out of one bowl to signify their initiation into a casteless fraternity of the Khalsa.  Their Hindu names were changed and they were given one family name “Singh”.  The baptism symbolized rebirth, by which the initiated were considered as having renounced their previous occupations and become soldiers.  They were prescribed five emblems – unshorn hair; a comb, knee length breeches; a steel bracelet; and to be ever armed with a sabre.  In addition to this the Khalsa were not to smoke; chew tobacco or consume alcoholic drinks or to eat an animal which had been slaughtered by bleeding to death.  Having initiated the five Sikhs, the Guru asked them to baptise him into the new fraternity.  The Guru was no longer their superior; he had merged his entity in the Khalsa (Singh, 2004 pp.  85).

For the Sikh community in Punjab, the Gurdwara plays a pivotal role.  It is a focal point for all religious, cultural and educational activities.  The whole community would gather at the monthly celebrations, important religious occasions, births, deaths and weddings.  On important occasions, of either adversity or a visit by an important person, the community would gather at the Gurdwara.  The author’s first fourteen years of life were spent in a village, populated by refugee Sikh farmers, uprooted from what became Pakistan.  They were allocated land and houses previously occupied by Muslim families.  The village had a beautiful Mosque, but there was no fully functional Gurdwara until 1973.  The other community in the village was the untouchables who worked mainly for the Sikh farmers, but there was no social interaction between the two communities. 

All the author’s relatives were Sikhs and he was brought up socially in the Sikh way.  Family members did read from parts of Guru Granth Sahib and attended Sikh gatherings in other villages.  The males in the extended family had grown their hair and the author wore a turban all these years.  The authors’ father emigrated to England in 1954 and he next saw him after six years when he visited the family and stayed for six months.  He was the first family member who had cut his hair and, on joining his father in England in 1964, the author cut his hair also and removed his turban.  In the 1960s there were very few Sikhs in the local community where we lived.

Since its birth over the 500 years ago, the Sikh way of life has evolved.  In 1950, a manual of Sikh conduct was published by a committee set up by the Golden Temple leaders.  Article I states that any human being who faithfully believes in One Immortal being, the Ten Gurus, The Guru Granth Sahib, the utterances and teachings of the Gurus, the Baptism bequeathed by the Tenth Guru, and who does not owe allegiance to any other religion is a Sikh (McLeod, 1997, pp450].  The daily routine requires that a Sikh will rise at dawn and after taking a bath will meditate by reciting hymns composed by Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Sahib.  Next at sunset, a follower will recite the Rahiras and before going to bed, will repeat a prayer called Sohilla. 

In modern India, the Sikh community has been politicized and the main party Akali Dal controls the main Sikh shrines and is responsible for providing religious guidance.  The recent separatist movement for an independent homeland for the Sikhs has polarised the Sikh community, at home and abroad.  In the Gurdwaras controlled by the militants, people take the communal meal sitting on the floor while in those under moderates’ control normally people use tables and chairs.  What has been previously discussed is the Sikh way of life which has evolved mainly for the Sikh farming community living in Punjab.  In England the author has studied and mixed with followers of many religious traditions and thought systems.  One of these influences was the trade union movement and progressive organisations, like the Indian Workers Association (IWA) of Great Britain.  The IWA presented an analysis of society in terms of the class system and religion was seen only to divide and to control the ordinary people.

During his university days, the author experienced a liberal education which encouraged the study and exploration of new ideas.  The English environment also provided opportunities to mix socially with Muslims, Hindus and Christians.  The present religious studies course has provided a platform for reflection and discussion. 

According to McLeod (1998), the Sikh way of life can be divided into a number of traditions.  The adoption of the Khalsa tradition and the associated baptism has limited relevance in a society where the freedom to religious practice is enshrined in law.  One can be a Sikh, without the outward symbols of the faith (Gatrad, et al, 2005).  The author practises the core teachings of the Gurus, including prayer, belief in equality, and service to the community.  My belief in one eternal God, the ten Gurus and accepting the Guru Granth Sahib as the eternal Guru, leads me to the conclusion that I am moving closer to becoming a proud member of the Sikh family. 


Gatrad, A.R.  et al.  (eds) (2005), Palliative Care for South Asians: Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, London: Quay Books.

Jhutti-Johal, J.  (2011), Sikhism Today, Continum International Publishing Group, London.

McLeod, H.  (1998), The Sikh Tradition, (ed.) Beckerlegge, G.  in The World Religions Reader, Routledge, London.

Singh, K.  (2004), A History of the Sikhs, Volume I: 1469-1839, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

This material is based on an essay written for SIFRE’s “Religions in Contemporary Society” course, by Punna Athwall - April 2013


Sikhism, Love, Amrit

I was hurled into a loving, cruel world.  The cruelty followed the loving, the loving followed cruelty and I swam, sank and swam.  Sometimes I dragged my feet.

"The British, such politeness – what a nation!" savoured mum.  She admired the British finesse in really enjoying life for the here and now.  Not worrying about what will happen to sons and daughters and their sons and daughters.  She liked their queuing for things and the fact that they really didn't ask you for dinner on a willy nilly basis.  If they did, it meant something.

Mum is an assertive, charming woman, not the archetypal Asian female.  She would have been the first Asian alternative comedienne in England.  She's known as the life and soul of any party.  I personally think that she and my entire maternal family would have been a troupe of latter-day Ben Eltons, renowned, amusing prima donnas who always have a story to tell.  At the Gurudwara (Sikh temple) she's the first to start singing along to Kirtan (hymns), the first to tell me and my brothers Sarabjit and Harinderpal to go to the front of the Gurudwara and sing hymns.  She's a true Kirtan agent.  'Well of course they want to hear more hymns' she would exclaim as all I could wonder was whether the congregation were gazing at their watches or whether they were in meditative bliss.  She would have made an excellent priestess, as in Sikhism she could lead the congregation.  As a woman she could become a priest and even lead the Akal Takhat (Sikh equivalent of the Vatican) but she didn't.

As a family we would get out our table and harmonium (Indian musical instruments) and the like, a rebellious rock band, 'practising' together singing Kirtan (hymns).  Sarabjit on the tabla, Harinderpal singing with me, mum and dad singing at a distance.  I sometimes felt sorry for our neighbours, thank goodness for the last few years they were Sikhs too.  To sing Kirtan, is to lift the cobwebs away, for try as we might to live life perfectly – we're barraged, well I am anyway, barraged by throttling brigands of cobwebs and ropes.

Sangat (community, congregation) – how divine! My family were my Sangat, part of the same spiritual Sangat.  None felt obliged or forced.  It was as if we were all friends in a past life, and we all decided that we would be born in our final life as Sikhs in one family, to be together.

Dad is a true gentleman, never raising his voice.  My Art teacher thought him so elegant.  Tall, broad-shouldered, with a snow white beard and gentle eyes.  He's always had an affinity to Waheguru (God) and the world.  He is a priest but living within family; he is a monk but not without community; he is a Sikh but not without humanity for all.

His sentences sometimes began "Sorry but ….” Typical Asian obsequiousness or Sikh humility? "Why do you have to begin in such an apologetic manner, dad! We don't have to apologise for everything you know, next you'll be thanking Them for giving us air to breathe.  ".  "But we have a lot to be grateful for in this democratic country." I suppose that when I look at the human rights situation for Sikhs since 1984 and that Amnesty International have never been allowed access to the Punjab.  I have to agree.  But I still kept my self-protecting, all-identity seeking stance in life.

"Well I'll be grateful for things which are given to me as a Brit, this is my country, and the first thing we have to do is to stop apologising for being here!" Those were my self-liberated words when I was an adolescent.  They only liberated me verbally not emotionally.

Before that I felt that I was on another planet.  I mean Hounslow, Middlesex didn't amount to another planet but it may as well have been and I was the alien to this planet.  Despite my mother giving birth to me in Hounslow, Middlesex, I didn't realise what a battle she had set me up for.  To fight my neuroticism in thinking every white person really probably did feel disdainful towards me, was hard; to feel I wasn't getting in other people's way, was hard; to make myself as small and unobtrusive as possible, tall and broad as I am, was hard; to shed my skin was hard.  I met a wonderful Sikh, my 'bestest' friend in life, Hari Singh.  He taught me years later how to walk tall, how to be happy.  Hari Singh is a true Saint Soldier, he'd fought many battles, but most of all he would say to me, 'Take from life”.  He brought the beauty of Sikhism into my real, business, educated, so-called dynamic, so-called whizz of a life and I will never forget him.

As I say the world is cruel and loving to me, but it is cruel and loving to you too, probably.  Or are you OK? I suppose I'm wondering are we all OK in the Transactional Analysis and Gestalt sense, "I'm OK you're OK, " well never mind, it's a great book.  I suppose I'm wondering if I'm OK in the grandest sense of being.

I know I have dragged my feet through the tumultuous, rocking between love and cruelty.  Sometimes I did sprint.  I could have sworn I did.  There were just moments of wild running, just wild moments of freedom when your spirit reaches and is connected with life and in Chardikala - when we can really dance through life.

My paternal grandfather, Sardar Hazara Singh, won the George Cross.  Sardar is a title of respect to Sikhs, especially elders.  In the Middle Eastern desert the cavalry resorted to eating their horses and anything moving.  Because my grandfather was such a staunch vegetarian, he refused, and carried on fighting and living on dried grass.  Ultimately when the supplies were thrown from the sky, they only contained grass seeds.  So everyone, even those who had eaten insects and all sorts, ended up having to eat grass seeds.  Hence my paternal family have huge voluntary streaks of vegetarianism running through their veins.  Sardar Hazara Singh and his brothers, Mahant Bhagwan Dass and Darshan Dass, were great worshippers of Waheguru.

My maternal grandfather, Sardar Budh Singh, lived in Pakistan before the partition.  He was an impressive, humorous man with a great zest for life.  When my maternal family became refugees at the time of Partition and lost generations of inheritance, they survived on a small cup of milk for tea all day, between ten of them.  But Sardar Budh Singh was larger than life.  One night he gambled his fortune of generations by just upping and leaving, with the clothes on his back, his children clutching a few rupees and name tags in case they were separated.  When they arrived in India they heard that all the Sikhs they had known, who felt they could not leave their homes of so many years, had been slaughtered.  I'm not sure he ever recovered from losing his dreams in his heart.  But his character was so amiable and jolly that he hid his sadness.  The neighbourhood would talk of my mum and her sisters who always appeared radiant with laughter.  'What do they eat? Why do they look so good in cheap khadar (linen)?' their friends would say.  They were always laughing.

Up and down so life went on until .  .  .  one day I looked into the eyes of a Sikh.  He was going to drink the Guru's Amrit (Nectar in Baptism).  He would belong to the Khalsa (Baptised Sikhs), be joined in marriage to Waheguru.  Waheguru, the most beautiful, unbelievable power in this and in other worlds and lives.  He knew he might never attain salvation.  The very same salvation that the fervently religious talk of ruthlessly.  As if salvation is something we have got front row tickets to just because we are self-ordained and we are self-proclaimed.  As if we will all get there a lot quicker.

Once as I lay in bed, in Bonn, I saw the tree outside my window quiver.  The leaves were whispering and dying to break free of the very body that had given them life.  I realised that what Guru Nanak said: "Hukam Rajai Chalna, Nanak likia nal" (that nothing, not you, not me, not us, nothing can happen without the Will of Waheguru), was true.  Not a leaf in the world can move without the Will of God.

We can't even say "I prayed".  Truthfully did I pray from my bible, from my heart? Did I? Surely not.  The countless times that the bibles, iron rosaries encircled me, did I pray? No.  The countless times I passed the churches, Gurudwaras and temples did I stop my car? Truthfully? Not if it wasn't in my 'To Do' list of the day or even in my filofax!

Well no.  If that were the case, the great I would have read all the books and journals in the library, the great I would have climbed many mountains, the great I would have achieved everything in life with ease.  Yes I would have done lots more by now and I would have drunk happiness forever.

The fact is nothing, not even our remembrance of Waheguru can take place without the Will of Waheguru.  We just make meagre attempts.  We pick up the bible, the iron rosaries and we sure as heck do try.  No-one has the front row tickets, because the irony is that salvation cannot be guaranteed to those who think they have a headstart.  Waheguru is all powerful and we the religiously or spiritually rich and self-seeking can be dethroned, dethroned as easily as those egotistical people we talk of who do not believe in His Name.

The Sikh knew drinking Amrit was just the beginning.

Anyway I asked this Soldier of God, whose enigmatic turban wrapped his mind wrapped in Nam (Waheguru), looking into those piercing dark eyes, "Are you taking Amrit tomorrow?"

He looked away wistfully, "Don't know, " shrugged his shoulders and walked off towards the Langar Hall (Open Kitchen).  We went to eat Langar, food that anyone who entered the Gurudwara could eat.  No-one would leave the house of God, hungry - spiritually , emotionally or physically.

He wouldn't say yes he was taking Amrit.  If he had I would have too, for he was a friend and a brother to me.  I looked up to him.  Out of love I would have drunk the Amrit of eternity.  I was severely disappointed.  It would have been nice to have had something to do tomorrow.  I could have fitted in Baptism.  At the age of 13 I expected to be a highly sought after item for all religions.  My friend, my brother, the Sikh hadn't even sold me Sikhism.  I really wanted to know if he would, take the plunge.  I went home to watch some TV after the Langar.

There was no vision.  There was no mind-blowing event.  I envy all those who have such momentous inspirations.  Surely you can question, or envy, but I'm being frank, I envy them all.  But then I took the first step.  A cold, calculated decision with no angels coming down to inspire me.  But what I didn't realise was that with this first step began a passionate, momentous spiritual life.  That my spirit was going to dance freely.

Please don't laugh.  I honestly can't tell you if I fell in love slowly or whether it was quick.  I wasn't sure if it was going to be just an infatuation, a crush or a life­long affair, but my affair did begin.

"I want to take Amrit.  " Mum and dad were worried.  They were Amrit Dharis.  "It's a big commitment.  " People I have met since that day, years later, who shy away from Amrit, tell me – “What a struggle! What a commitment it is.  What if you ever put a foot wrong? Forgot to do your prayers? Forgot something, became lazy, procrastinate? Curses and damnation you'd be worse off than someone who hadn't taken Amrit but had carried on forgetting their conscience and themselves.  A commitment that cages you...what if? What a terrifying prospect!” But I don't think they would put on hush puppies if they were climbing the Everest terrain of life as, beautiful as it is, it is cruel too.  I don't think worrying about your sun tan lotion for fear of catching skin cancer would occur if it were a choice between sun tan lotion and a strong helmet or climbing boots.  Do you?

My heart thought, yes, and sometimes your heart can do as much thinking as your mind.  Come to think of it your soul can think too, sometimes.

My heart thought it is hard to love, to untemper your frail soul and leave it vulnerable to Waheguru.  But has the fear of failing ever stopped you from falling in love?

If it has stopped anyone then I suggest you seek out a good counsellor or a compassionate friend, what unhappiness! A good counsellor is like a good surgeon.  S/he can reconstruct you, create beauty after the crashes your body and soul endures, drop pearls of radiance into your world, as mine did to me, but then I never said I was perfect.  After all Waheguru created good surgeons and counsellors too, so don't suffer unnecessarily.

OK, now you're thinking, well fear of failing's never stopped me, thank you, or perhaps it was a sensible fear for your self preservation.  But tell me honestly has it ever stopped you from wanting to be loved? Has it ever stopped you from hungering for love, from friends, companions, husbands, wives, children, parents, strangers, those who live and those who have gone from this world, from yourself, from the sun, the moon?

My Religious Education teacher at school, a devout Christian, had a soul that mirrored mine.  He read of the ninth prophet's life and martyrdom, Guru Tegh Bahadur's supreme sacrifice in demanding the freedom of people to believe in what they wished and not be forcefully converted to the 'only path' in life.  You see between us we had telepathy, spiritual telepathy.  We couldn't see the differences in religion, culture.  We could only see Waheguru and God in Guru Nanak and Waheguru and God in Jesus Christ.  We didn't know how to brand our love even though we had taken first steps on our chosen path.  For if you were to climb the Everest of life, you can't practise going through all paths, it would take more than a lifetime for that! And you do want to live a little too, don't you.  All paths leading to the same goal as Guru Nanak said.  We didn't think that either of us had front row tickets to Salvation.  Perhaps we were stupid.

Perhaps the Reverend was madly in love with Waheguru, perhaps I was madly in love with God.  Ultimately each loving relationship is unique.  You're unique so why should our love not be unique? Between You and me, Waheguru.

I didn't love a distant Hegelian God.  And I didn't care if Waheguru was my opium, a great high and none of the side effects.  The spirit of Waheguru held me close when life crumbled out of my hands.  When cruelty struck and no-one could see my tears, the spirit of Waheguru put sweetness into bitterness.  The spirit of Waheguru held me close, when life blossomed, and my heart began soaring.  The spirit of Waheguru made the world overwhelmingly contagious and downright beautiful.

But hadn't that always been the case? Hadn't Waheguru always been there for me before I drank the Ainrit?

When I drank Amrit and breathed "Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh! (the Khalsa of Purity is inseparable from Waheguru and the Lord's Everlasting Grace prevails), " Amrit pulsed into my heart and into the same body that had been battered by love and cruelty.  My head and ears tingled with adorning flowers, kisses and freedom as I knelt humbly, for once in all my life, vulnerable in soul, and sat before my Love.

My Kes, hair, flowed in steely strength like Samson's before him and tingled in holy reverence.  Never would I be able to deny that I was a Sikh and that I did not know or love Waheguru.  I would help others in the fight against cruelty, and never could I become someone else to suit myself as Peter (New Testament) betrayed the world.  Never would I be able to denounce that I loved the Ten Masters and that I loved the Guru Granth Sahib as my only Master and Guru that lived with me in this world.  Never would I be able to deny Waheguru was my true friend in life.

My Kirpan clung beside me as a force in life.  Saint Soldier.  I wouldn't be a coward for others, nor for myself.  My conscience would be as steely and strong as the force within my Kirpan, for Waheguru is the strength of us all.

My Kacchara would allow me to be freed from a world obsessed with feminine sexuality.  It wouldn't curb my sexuality but free me from the syndrome created by the media, by the world.  Are we as women sexy enough, are we beautiful enough?

Surely there is more that we can burden our bodies with, make us more awkward, more, more....  I would no longer be either a Madonna-like creature or a Whore-like woman, but be as morally free and equal in love as men.

My Kanga held my Kes, in spiritual braids, and cleansed my hair and feelings.  I hadn't become perfect.  My love grew each time I combed and brushed through my spirit.  My emotions rejuvenated.

My Kara embraced my hand and wrist.  Waheguru would not let go of me, even if I tried to wriggle free from Him.  When you're angry you want to wriggle free from those who hold you near to love.  I don't know if it's claustrophobia or fear of intimacy, perhaps you've never felt this, in which case you can miss this bit.

My Kara, my ring of love held on to Me.  Waheguru holds on to us even when we're angry and upset.  Waheguru held my hand sympathically.  Her/his arm around me as I sat feeling pretty pathetic.  Waheguru's eternity and power could never allow me to waste my life away as the eternity of torturous lives before in some cruel Karma (to have to be born again after so many births and deaths).  Oh I can hear you, who have not really come to terms with the philosophy of reincarnation, think, 'Oh to come back and to have a good time'.  To come back! For us to be born again and again in some uncontrollable cycle, to have no control over life, to live through the pain of life and death as animals, as anything or anyone, any person, as part of the food chain, is to have wasted our one chance as humans to connect to Waheguru.  It is to be hell in every sense of the word.  Because, you see, your conscience goes with you, as you relive and redie thousands of times and your heart becomes so weary (Guru Granth Sahib).  Like Ryder Haggard's 'She' burning, alone, all those you love die and then you have to love again.  Not an enticing prospect.  But that's what would happen if we lived like animals in this life, eating, drinking, procrastinating and not nurturing our conscience, our connection to Waheguru.  Well if we decided to stay ignorant of our Creator then, well, our buried soul after the grave of this life is really lost.  I suppose choice is not something we use well, nor the body of a human.

"Waheguru you are my Father and my Mother in the motion we know as life" (Guru Arian Dev Ji, Fifth Master).  I wasn't frightened of the future of this love affair.  For Waheguru is merciful and my Lord would allow me to grow on this path to love.  As with all love it would be an eternally poignant, volatile love affair.  But a love affair that would soothe my heart, an eternity when everything else crumbled away.

"Much too fragile to grip tightly anything I love.  I have been waiting all my life to be loved.  Love is a gift which the kind ones give me, not because I deserve it, but because such love as I need cannot last long...  Noble passion is a virtue if it sustains someone like me for a few flying moments.  I am a small thing with the soul of a flower, not of a man with its awful dead body, moral responsibilities...  Though years have passed and my hair has grown grey.  I still fall in love with many things.  I definitely have come to the conclusion that the love of men and women is always a volatile affair, it is an inspiration which comes in flashes and leaves us half dead to ourselves.  Every fresh visit of this angel, though rare and far between, makes us unselfish.  Nothing else...  This volatile unselfishness and that fascinating evanescent feeling for beauty is to me all the essence of religion and love".

'A Volatile Affair', On Paths of Life.  Puran Singh 1927.


When life snatched from me those I love, Waheguru still held on to me.  When I sat all alone in the darkness, crying angrily, well where are You? It's strange you know, people always talk of God and Light.  When I'm sheltering myself in some lonely but relatively safe darkness; sitting in a deep, dark cave of gloom, don't say "Oh look on the bright side" and don't tell me that God is Light.  I say relatively safe because, well life's got to be pretty bizarre and shaky for you to feel safe only in darkness.  I guess your fears and thoughts are veiled safely.  It does not help telling someone crying in a cave that God is Light because if any of you have been stuck in a pothole, light is not one of the most obvious things that you see.  So you see I felt all alone.

For if God is just Light and I'm down a metaphorical pothole in life, then where does that leave me? Not somewhere nice I can tell you.  When I prayed and thought of all this life and light it still did not help, because let's face it, an ugly dark pothole is ugly and dark, period.  So Light and Waheguru seemed very, very distant.

But not long ago I meditated whilst stuck in my metaphorical pothole.  It took a lot of effort but I thought I'd give it a go.  I'd tried everything else from - well I'd tried lots of things.  My personal ritual, call it new `ageish' if you wish, call it a love of candles, is to light candles.  Those unfortunate enough to know me used to be inundated with such burning materials.  I haven't a clue what they did with their candles or candleholders.  My personal ritual was to burn small candles, you know the ones you get six in a box, in front of a metal Khanda (Spiritual symbol of Sikhs) in the hazy start of a day, Amritvela.  In the gloomy winter mornings I love burning candles and incense sticks as much as I can, for surely a light bulb doesn't have the same charm! But this time instead of burning the candles in front of the Khanda, I burned them behind the Khanda.  I thought nothing of it.

Now you may think me simple.  If you do you can skip this bit, well perhaps you have skipped most of this anyway, in which case I can ignore you.  But aren't the most wondrous things in life simple? Shouldn't our devotion to Waheguru be simple, not stupid, but simple? Yes, an intelligent yet simple love.  Well something simple struck me.  The Khanda was no longer its bright metallic colour.  When the candles burned behind it, the Khanda was blazingly dark.

I was amazed.  I'd always thought, as I festered in my emotional pothole, that if the Khanda was Light and Waheguru was light, it was light years away from me.  Now I could see that God /Waheguru was not just Lightness but Pitch Darkness too.  I wasn't alone, I had the Dark, Dark strength of God around me.  God is everywhere. 

Simarjit Kaur Sandhu, former librarian at Suffolk College.

This piece was published in SIFRE’s book “Finding our Way and Sharing our Stories” and was subsequently included in the World Religions Reader” produced by the Open University.



In Respect of Older Sikh People


The Sikh community in Suffolk numbers around 640 of which about half live in Ipswich.  It mostly originates from two extended families, whose grandparents came here in the 1950s.  Family ties are generally very strong.  The centre of Sikh community life is the Gurdwara, which contains a Prayer Hall and a communal dining room and kitchen (langar).  The Ipswich Guru Nanak Gurdwara is situated in Bramford Road and is open on Sundays, at festival times (over three days) and for marriages and other rites of passage as well as for other events during the week including visits from local schools.  A few local Sikhs prefer to worship in London or elsewhere.

The Sikh faith stresses both the importance of family and community life, and the Suffolk community is bound very closely together because of their family connections.  Traditions which have supported them over the last 50 years or so are still strong, but these traditions may be more cultural than religious in origin.  For example, it is normally expected that the daughter-in-law will come to live with her husband, in the house of her in-laws and to share in the care of the older generation.  She may or may not go out to work, depending on what is expected of her by her husband’s parents.  This custom is beginning to change.

The older generation is usually treated with respect by the younger generation.  The younger generation is unlikely to disagree with their elders, especially in public.  Grandchildren may touch the feet of their grandparents when they greet them; grandmothers may dress the hair of their grand-daughters on their wedding day.  Younger females do not usually address older male relatives outside their immediate family.  They may keep their faces veiled in the Prayer Hall.  Respect and modesty are emphasised.

The oldest members of the community may not speak English.  The younger generation may only speak English. 

Family and the Care of Older People

Families are likely to want to manage the care of older members of their community themselves.  When parents are old, frail, or widowed, it is usually the duty of the youngest son and his family to take care of them.  The older person will usually be cherished, while perhaps missing out on some benefits and support systems that are available.  Occasionally, this could lead to situations of distress when real need is not acknowledged because the family would be ashamed to admit it within the community.

So far, it has not been the custom for old people to move into sheltered housing or nursing homes.  However, as more opportunities are given to sons, and daughters, to study and follow careers, there may be a gradual breakdown in this family support system.  It is, therefore, important to bear in mind the conflict of interests, and confused feelings, including some of guilt or resentment, that might accompany such changes in patterns of family life.

The need for intervention

As things are, within the cultural framework of what is acceptable, families may be unable to cope with the personal care needs of older members of their community or disabled relatives, when it appears there are enough adults in the household to do this.  For example, a frail or older woman may be trying to help her bed-ridden husband wash, dress and go to the toilet.  It is not acceptable for daughters-in-law to perform this service, although they live in the same household.  They would, however, be able to prepare and serve the food, and look after the home.

Personal Respect

Sikh personal names are not gender specific and are chosen from the holy book e.g.  Kulvinder, Seva, Indarjit.  In the case of a man this name is followed by Singh; a woman is called Kaur within the community.

Sikhs may see their homes as sacred places.  If the holy book (Guru Granth Sahib) is there, it will be placed in an honoured place in a special room.  It would not be appropriate to enter that room unless invited and given guidance on how to behave.  When entering a Sikh house, offer to remove your shoes.  It is customary to offer food and drink to visitors and it is polite to accept.

The 5 K’s, appointed as a sign by the 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, to distinguish and unite Sikhs, must always be treated with respect.  Some devout Sikhs may wear the 5 K’s all the time, and may be unwilling to remove them completely, even when they are washing, or in bed or ill.

It is important to remember that while the younger generation may have adopted many western ways, the older generation may still want to follow established and familiar traditions.

Care of the Hair

Although some Sikhs now choose to have their hair cut, the wearing of long uncut hair (Kesh) is one of the religious traditions that distinguish Sikhs.  It is compulsory for an initiated Sikh to have uncut hair, and this applies to all body hair.  Both men and women are equally bound to observe this.

A Sikh man with long hair wears it in a bun on top of his head, fixed with the comb (Kangha) and concealed under a turban.  Beards are usually worn rolled up.  They are held in place by a piece of muslin netting.  The hair and beard will usually have been washed, dried and combed on a daily basis before rolling onto the head.  Some devout Sikhs may choose to wear their beards loose at all times.  Some may hold their beards in place with a net, even in bed.  Long hair should never be cut and beards should never be shaved, except in an emergency.  This applies to all body hair.

Sikh women generally do not cut or trim their hair and may wear it fixed in a bun or a single plait.  A Kangha (comb) may be used to hold the hair in place.  Older Sikh women may keep their hair covered with a scarf.  Some Sikh women cover their head with a tight turban, which may be black or coloured.  Sikh women are likely to want to wash their hair on a daily basis.  Older women are unlikely to remove facial hair or shave their legs.  In rare cases, the use of a depilatory cream might be acceptable.  This possibility would need to be thoroughly discussed with the person.

In special circumstances, as for an operation, it may be considered necessary to shave the head or remove body hair.  Such a situation needs to be dealt with sensitively, with full explanation and discussion.

As a general guide, a carer should offer to wash and comb the hair, and dress it appropriately.  It is important to ask how to dispose of the hair left in the comb or shower.

Washing and Dressing

Cleanliness is very important to Sikhs.  Daily showering is customary and the use of free running water takes preference over bathing.  Some Sikhs may prefer to use a jug to pour water from the bucket over oneself, as a simple shower, taken within the bath, without the use of a plug.  Initiated Sikhs should purify themselves before beginning the first prayer of the day at sunrise.  Older Sikhs may have had to make some adjustments to this routine.

The appropriate undergarment for initiated Sikhs, both male and female, is undershorts (Kachera).  While washing the body, the person may wish to keep on those undershorts and exchange them for a clean, dry pair afterwards.  The wearer may wish to put on the fresh pair one leg at a time, while removing the previous pair in a similar way, so that Kachera always remain on the body.

Carers need to approach this aspect of personal care with sensitivity.  An older person may not be able to explain their practice with regard to this, and may not even consciously recall it, but there may well experience a deep-seated discomfort or distress if things are done inappropriately.  The younger generation may not know the reason behind certain practices which their elders take for granted.

Almost all Sikhs wear a steel bracelet (Karah) on their right wrist.  It has deep spiritual significance and should never be removed.  In cases of medical surgery or personal care, the Karah should be covered with tape if possible.  In extreme situations the Karah could be put on the other wrist or placed in a pocket under the pillow.  The procedure should be discussed with the person.

Many Sikhs wear a symbolic dagger (Kirpaan) which varies in length and may be worn under the clothes in a cloth sheath slung over the right shoulder and under the left arm at waist level.  In Britain the Kirpaan is usually quite small and might be worn round the neck as a pendant.  Some Sikhs take it off when they go to bed and keep it under their pillow, or within reach.

Food and Drink

An older Sikh is likely to be vegetarian, or at least to abstain from beef.  Initiated Sikhs must be teetotal and vegetarian.  At the Gurdwara, after worship, Sikhs will regularly eat together, sharing food which has been prepared by their members.  During the worship a special food based on semolina and ghee (kara prasad) will be passed round and this food must be treated with great respect and any remainders disposed of in a holy manner.  Such food might occasionally be found in the home.  An older person who could not go to the Gurdwara to share in the meal would feel deprived and isolated from the worship with the community.  This would particularly apply to religious festivals and to wedding celebrations.

Attitudes to illness and disability

Sickness and old age are likely to be accepted as natural aspects of life, part of the karma of the individual, which comes as a result of previous lives and which will in turn help to determine future lives.  As the attitude of the older generation to illness and disability, as to everything else, will be influenced by this doctrine, there may be a reluctance to accept help or even to acknowledge that help is needed.  In addition, the cultural practice of arranged marriages has tended to cause people’s disabilities to be played down or hidden.  However, there is no religious reason why medical and social support should not be accessed if it is available.

The needs of the older Sikh women may be more acute that those of the men.  Cultural traditions, at odds with the basic principles of Sikhism, have given the leadership of the community into the hands of the men.  Older women have thus been disadvantaged, have left the home less frequently and are often lacking in confidence.  They may not be used to making their needs known.  They may be embarrassed to talk about their physical ailments, and reticent about seeking help, even if they can speak English.  They may need a female chaperone.

Death and After

When a Sikh is dying a priest or granthi should be summoned to recite the Japji Sahib, the first 40 chapters of the Guru Granth Sahib.  The reading takes about 20 minutes.  The priest may be unavailable during the week.  Any member of the community, including the family, who can read the holy book, may act as Granthi and perform this service for the dying person.

After death the 5 K’s should not be removed.  The family will wash the body (sons attend to fathers, daughters to mothers), and they will put new clothes on the corpse.  Sikhs like Hindus, are cremated.  Death is not seen as final, merely a stage in the transmigration of the soul until it finally returns to its Creator.

Religious Life

The word Sikh means “saint solder” so in principle the whole of life is sacred for Sikhs and every aspect – food, washing, dress etc is lived within that framework.  This will obviously not apply equally to all Sikh families.  However, the community is bound together by its belief in One God.

An older person, particularly one who is bedridden or house-bound may wish to listen to sacred music, or to have the TV tuned to a Punjabi programme.  They may have a small prayer book containing extracts from the Guru Granth, which they will carry about or keep wrapped in a cloth or case.  They may also use devotional beads (rosaries originated in India).  Sacred hymns and prayers will have become familiar through regular chanting.  In particular, the name of God “Wahguru” may have become like a mantra, embedded in the heart and mind of the worshipper.


You may find the following helpful hints useful

Arrange for an interpreter or chaperone if necessary.

Offer to remove shoes when entering a Sikh household.

Treat the 5 K’s with respect and do not move or remove them without permission.

Make sure proper regard is given to diet – older Sikhs may be vegan.

Do not shave a client’s body hair unless permission is given and dispose of all hair in a respectful way.

Do not enter a prayer room in a house without being invited.

Do not mishandle kara prashed (sacred food) which may be in the house.

Be aware that younger women cannot attend to the very personal needs of older men in the household.

Be aware that older women may be reluctant to acknowledge their own medical and personal needs.

Be sensitive to unspoken needs and remember that there is always a great deal more to learn.

Remember that the extended family is very important and exerts a strong influence.

Remember that religious traditions and contemporary cultural practices do not always match.

All of the information in this section is for guidance only and is by no means meant to stereotype the Sikh Community.