The first Guru of the Sikhs, Nanak, experienced transformation through a mysterious encounter with the divine and went on to travel and teach about salvation through devotion to the Formless One. He established the importance of daily prayer and congregational hymn singing.
Nine Gurus in succession after Nanak further developed Sikhism, culminating in the founding of the Gold Temple at Amritsar. Since the time of the last Guru, the members of the Khalsa, the elite named by Guru Gobind Singh, are the acknowledged leaders of the religion.
Adi Granth, the core Sikh scripture, spells out the foundational beliefs of Sikhism and holds the status of a Guru itself. Other scriptures are comprised of writings from the tenth Guru and others.
Sikhs believe that everything in the universe works according to hukam, or God’s order. Living in accordance with hukam is the proper goal of human beings. While one must face the consequences of karma, one can transcend its limits and achieve release (moksha) through righteous deeds according to the teachings of the Gurus.
Daily worship for individuals involves bathing, singing hymns, and reciting prayers. At the gurdwara the congregation prays and sings together and then gathers for a communal meal. Festivals mark important anniversaries linked to the births and deaths of the most notable Gurus.
Sikh society is still organized by caste because of its traditional Indian roots, while the Sikh religion rejects the Hindu doctrine of caste. The extended family household is the basic unit of Sikh society in the Punjab, and divorce is frowned upon.
In modern times the Sikh reform movement urged a return to the traditions as laid down by the Gurus, partially in response to what was seen as undue influence from Hinduism. The most important voice within contemporary Sikhism is now an elected committee of male Sikhs who have control over the gurdwaras of the Punjab.Wright, Beth. Introduction to World Religions: Study Guide. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005. Print. “Sikh pilgrim” (cropped) by Wen-Yan King licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.