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Thu Apr 22, 2010 11:57 am

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Sikhs trace their history to a small group of disciples of Guru Nanak (1469-1539) and his nine successors who lived after him in the area currently defined as north-west India and Pakistan (the Punjab).

In its original form, Sikhism contains a strong mystical and devotional basis. It grew out of a combination of devotional (bhakti) Hinduism and the monotheistic influence of Islam. Nanak held that God is the true Guru, unknowable in the transcendent sate, but manifested in certain earthly phenomena.

History and Spread
Most Sikh doctrines were developed during the stewardship of the first five Gurus. The fifth of these, Guru Arjan, established Amritsar as the capital of the Sikh world, and compiled the first authorised Sikh collection of sacred spiritual scriptures, known as the Adi Granth. At this time (17th century) there was an increase in tension between the Sikh community and the ruling Islamic majority in India. When Guru Arjan was executed, the Sikh community began to develop a military basis, preparing itself for the contingency of defending themselves if attacked.

In 1675, the ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, was killed for refusing to convert to Islam. In response, the tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, transferred his living authority as a guru to the Sikh community and to the Adi Granth. He initiated five soldiers, known as the Five Beloved, into a new community order called the Khalsa. Today, this term is used for the society of fully committed adult members of the Sikh community. Male adherents may be distinguished by their uncut hair and turbans.

Although the Sikhs were decisively defeated by the British in a number of battles in India, they actually prospered under 19th Century colonialism, playing an important role in Indian politics. When India gained independence from Britain in 1947 and was then partitioned, Sikhs sought to create an independent Sikh state in the Punjab, but were expelled en masse when Pakistan took control of her borders. In 1966, after years of Sikh lobbying, India divided the Punjab into three areas, re-creating a Punjab state with a Sikh majority. The 20th Century saw many Sikhs leave the Punjab area.

In Australia
The first Sikhs arrived in Australia from the Punjab in the late 19th Century, mainly as indentured labourers in the cane fields of northern NSW. Sikh religious activity was, and continues to be, strongly focused in this area; in the 1960s, Australia’s first two Sikh temples were built north of Coffs Harbour, NSW.

After a period of dormancy during the white Australia immigration policy, demand appeared for the first Sikh temple to be built in Sydney in 1970 and two further temples were built in Melbourne soon after. Although most Sikhs have come to Australia from India, there has also been some significant recent Sikh emigration from Malaysia. In the 1996 census, 12,017 Australians identified their religion as Sikh.

Key Movements
Although there are no sectarian divisions with Sikhism in Australia, there is a slight polarisation of the community over the political importance of the Punjabi struggle for independence, about which Malaysian Sikhs do not have the same cultural investment as Indian Sikhs.

Organisational Structure
In its historical phase, the Sikh religion was organised around the strong central figure of the living guru with authority passing to the Adi Granth and the wider community at the turn of the 18th Century. There is no ordained ministry, although some people (granthi, sometimes referred to as priests) are trained to read and expound the Adi Granth which lies at the centre of Sikh ritual. Sikh communities organise around temples (gurdwaras)and tend to be congregationally structured. There are also state-level organisations.

Key Beliefs
There is one creator God, whom Sikhs called Satnam (“true name”).

The idea of the Guru is central: God as guru; religious leaders as gurus; scripture as guru; community as guru.

Sikhs share with Hinduism a belief in karma, reincarnation and ultimate unreality of the world.

Dedicated (khalsa) Sikhs are distinguished by their uncut hair, comb, metal bangle, knee-length pants and small dagger.

They are opposed to parts of the caste system and their temples have communal kitchens where people are encouraged to eat together.

They encourage tolerance of other religious traditions, which Sikh temples symbolise by having four doors facing each point of the compass inviting anyone to enter.

They abstain from alcohol and tobacco.

Sikhism is not a missionary religion, but people can convert.

Key Festivals
Gurupurbas are remembrance days for the ten Sikh gurus in which the Adi Granth (the Sikh scripture) is read aloud. This takes approximately 48 hours and is designed to finish on the day of the festival itself. The most important Gurupurbas are:
The birthday of Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism (November)
The birthday of Guru Gobind Singh, founder of the Khalsa (January)
The martyrdom of Guru Arjan (June)
The martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur (November/December)
Amrit is the ritual in which young Sikhs pledge fealty to the spiritual path outlined by the gurus and to the wider Sikh community.
Vaisakhi (13/14 April): The Sikh New Year festival and the anniversary of the founding of the Khalsa in 1699 by Guru Gobind Singh.

Divali (end of October/early November): Sikhs share this autumn festival with Hindus. Small lamps are lit inside and outside houses to celebrate the release of Guru Hargobind.

Hola Mahalla: is a martial arts festival that follows the Hindu festival of Holi
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