Golden Temple at AmritsarThe Sikh religion is the youngest of all world religions. Founded in India, it traces its roots to the fifteenth century, when conflict was raging in Northwest India between Hindus and Muslims. Sikhism arose as an attempt to find a peaceful resolution to the Hindu and Muslim conflict, with a synthesis based on the teaching of both. Today there are about 12 million Sikhs in the world, about ninety percent of which reside in Punjab and the rest have spread around in other parts of India and the world. There are large Sikh populations in England, the United States, Canada, East Africa, the Arab Emirates, Iran, Malaysia, and Hong Kong. The word Sikh basically translates to "disciple". It is easy to distinguish a traditional Sikh because of the five K's.

In 1699 on Baisakhi, Guru Gobind Singh Ji initiated the five K's. Baisakhi marks the start of harvesting in Punjab. On this festival, Guru Gobind Singh Ji arrived dressed in battle gear and carrying a sword. Holding out the sword, Guru Gobind Singh Ji stated, "My sword wants a head, let any one of my true Sikhs come forward." This startled everyone present and silence filled the environment, then the guru repeated his words again. After a short period of time a Hindu man named Daya Ram stepped forward and the Guru took him into a tent, when the Guru returned his sword was bloody and a head was in his hands. Upon seeing this some people began to leave, and others protested; however, the Guru once again repeated the same words. This time Dharam Das offered his head to the Guru, he too was taken into the tent and the Guru came out, yet again, with the sword covered in blood and carrying a head in his hands. This action was repeated three more times. The other three men where Makham Chand, Himmat, and Sahib Chand.

The fifth time the Guru returned and showed the heads to the crowd present and went back into the tent. Soon to everyone's surprise the men came out dressed like the Guru and wearing swords. It was because of their valiant conduct that the Guru introduced them as the Panj Pyare -- literally translating to the five beloved. In order to make them pure Sikhs or Khalsa's the Guru had to baptize them. This baptism was done by pouring water into a steel bowl, and stirring it with the Guru's sword. This motion was done in conjunction with the reciting of verses from the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh's holy book), and with the assistance of his wife who dropped some sugar into the water, "the sweetness mingled with the steel creating Amrit". This nectar continues to be used in rituals of baptizing Sikhs today.

The five Khalsa's drank the Amrit from the bowl, pledging to equality and loyalty. It was with this pledge that the five K's were created. The five K's consists of:

  1. Kesh, the uncut hair and beard
  2. Kangha, a comb to care for the hair
  3. Kara, a steel bracelet representing strength and continuity
  4. Kacha, a loose short worn by soldiers, and
  5. the Kirpan which is a sword that symbolizes the fight against oppression.

In addition, to the five K's the Guru also made a bold move in regards to the caste system on this day. Each of the individual men who stepped forward came from various castes within India. A person's caste is easily distinguishable by the last name; hence, to prevent caste being associated with Sikhs the Guru started a general last name of Singh. It was the Guru's vision that other Sikhs would, too, adopt Singh, meaning "lion" or "lion hearted" in replacement to their original last names for men and Kaur, meaning "princess" for women. In reality, though, this concept has not truly enacted itself; instead, many Sikhs have used Singh and Kaur as their middle names.

Another social issue that has been addressed by the Sikh religion is that of equality among the sexes. In Sikhism, women traditionally hold an important place. Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first of the ten Gurus in Sikhism, raised a strong voice in support of women's role in society by the following famous passage:

Man is nourished in womb and born from a women.
He is betrothed and married with a woman.
Friendship is contacted with a woman and civilization originates from a woman.
When one woman dies, another woman is sought for because family affairs depend upon a woman.
Why call her bad? From whom are born kings.
From a woman another woman is born; none is born without a woman.

This simple passage illustrates the vision of women in Sikhism.

The Guru Granth Sahib -- the holy book of the Sikhs -- is vital to the Sikh religion. The holy book is meant to serve as the final guru and as the link between the natural and metaphysical world. The tenth guru told his disciples that they should not worship idols, but should worship the holy book for guidance for living and gaining salvation from the cycle of life. The Guru Granth Sahib starts out with a passage that states the fundamental beliefs of the Sikh religion:

Ek On KarThere is one BeingEk Onkar
Sat naamTruth is its name
Karta purkhCreator of all
Nir bhouWithout fear
Nir vairWithout enmity
Akal mooritTimeless in form
Gur prasadBy Satguru's Grace

In recent years there has been a push by many religious separatist who mainly because of political ambitions have attempted to divide the Sikh and Hindu communities. However, the truth will always be that these two groups are more alike then different. Many Sikh beliefs originate from the Hindu faith. For example, the name Singh derives from the Hindi Sanskrit meaning "lion". The Five K's that are so proudly used to distinguish Sikhs were borrowed from the Rajputs -- the famous Hindu warriors. Many of the Sikh Gurus names were also drawn from Hindu Gods. For example, Guru Ramdas (Ram's servants), Guru Harkrishan (Hari and Krishna are Hindu names for Vishnu), Guru Hargobind (Hari and Gobind also two names for Vishnu).

Most people of the Punjab know that the city of Lahore was built by the elder son of Ram, Luv, while the city of Kasur was built by Kush, the younger son. A powerful point is that Guru Gobind Singh states Guru Nanak as being a descendant of Kush, while himself a descendant of Luv. Also, Guru Gobind Singh Ji himself worshipped the Hindu goddess Durga in her manifest form. Furthermore, the famous "Golden Temple" is actually called Harmandir Sahib. Hari is another name for Vishnu, and Mandir means temple; literally translating into the temple of Vishnu.

Hinduism and Sikhism, then, are very closely related and even when it comes to festivals, although there are some differences, there are many commonly celebrated days such as Diwali. For Hindus this festival represents the festival of lights for the beginning of new year; for Sikhs it is the anniversary of the release from imprisonment of Guru Hargobind, the sixth guru. Maybe the key difference between the two religions is the fact that Sikhism is a monotheistic religion whereas Hinduism is polytheistic one.