Sikh holy day marks January birth of guru

Guru Gobind Singh influenced holy book, traditional religious attire

Jan. 1, 2013

Oak Creek - The big three religions have ended their winter holidays, but for Sikhs, one celebration is right around the corner.

Sikhism, the world's fifth-largest religion, has no major holidays like Hanukkah, Christmas or Ramadan, but they do celebrate important dates. Jan. 5 marks the celebration of the birth of their tenth and last guru, Gobind Singh.

Aside from his many attributions in the Sikh holy book and the eleven battles he fought, he is most popular for his creation of the Khalsa.

The Khalsa, or beloved ones, were created after Gobind Singh had 30,000 to 50,000 Sikhs gather at Anandpur, a town in India. At the gathering, Gobind Singh bellowed that he wanted someone from the Sikh crowd to give him their head. After a pause, one person agreed to relinquish his head. The two stepped into a tent and Gobind Singh emerged with a bloody sword, demanding another head.

He did this a total of five times before his intent was made clear: Five people - the first Khalsa - emerged from the tent dressed elegantly, with the full garb known as the five Ks.

The five Ks, now worn by modern Sikhs, stand for Kesh, which is uncut hair; Kanga, a comb for the hair; Kachha, long underwear to promote chastity; Kara, which is an iron bracelet; and Kirpan, which is a short sword.

The five and Gobind Singh then performed a ceremony called Charan Pauhal. The ceremony involves the guru stirring sugar water in an iron bowl with a double-edged sword, giving the water to be drunk and sprinkling it five times into the eyes and then hair of the others. The guru reads scripture while the hour-and-a-half ceremony takes place. The guru then asked the five to give him the ritual after bowing to them.

The creation of the Khalsa angered local authorities and many battles ensued, some nearly killing Gobind Singh. He was eventually assassinated on order of the local authorities he fought against. His legacy is in the five Ks and the Khalsa.

Sikh traditions

The five K's aren't the only attire the Sikhs are known for. The beard and turban, according to Mohan Dhariwal, are an outward expression of their faith.

"I'm a doctor," Dhariwal said. "Why do I have a white coat? It says I'm a doctor and these are the principals and values I stand for. It's exactly the same when I wear my turban."

Dhariwal's turban and beard mean the same to him as a police officer's badge. Having risen up and warred against the Hindu caste system, many Sikhs style themselves as saint-soldiers. The soldier half is a calling to fight for those being oppressed or victimized.

Dhariwal heard the call as he and his father came across a mugging in 1980s New York City. The two saw the crime in the distance and rushed toward the mugger without a second thought. A squad car hit the scene, scaring off the perpetrator before the father and son could stop the mugging.

Looking back, Dhariwal is happy that police stopped the mugging because, after studying in England, it never crossed his mind that a mugger could have a gun.

Wearing a turban took on a different meaning for Dhariwal after the Sept. 11 attacks. He has since been stopped at airports and to this day receives what he believes are dark looks and stares from strangers.

Dhariwal is not about to take off his turban, even though people have asked him to do so to assimilate with non-turban-wearing Americans.

"They (the hijackers) took their regalia off," he said. "They didn't look like Arabs and that's how they were able to attack. If I'm here to tell you that I'm for justice and equality and human rights. That's my prerogative and that's how I set myself apart from everybody else. This is a religious duty. It's no light task for me."

Sikhism adopted many celebrations from Punjab culture, where Sikhism sprang from. The large Punjab spring festivals take on a religious tone for Sikhs, with their games and food being similar yet sprinkled with prayer and song.

Many of the games played at the spring festival, which once served a militaristic goal, now have a goal of fun. The games include horseback riding, mock fights, mock wars and wrestling. Most notable among the games is Kabaddi. Kabaddi is much like football, with two teams trying to score points by getting to a certain goal area. To score in Kabaddi you must get into the "end zone" of the opposing team without being tackled, but the trick is that you have to do it on one breath.

Kabaddi is played on the professional level as well.

Tenets of the faith

Sikhism has three main tenets: Naam Japna, Kirt Karna and Vand Shakuq. Naam Japna means to keep God in your mind, Kirt Karna means to work hard and Vand Shakuq means to share with others.

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that has one holy book. That holy book, however, has direct influences from other religions like Hinduism and Islam. Sikhs do not have a set view on life after death. Their book refers to reincarnation. Those types of reincarnations are thought of as a daily death and rebirth, depending on your mental or spiritual mood.

Sikhism has no priests, but the Khalsa have yearly meetings to address grievances in their communities or to determine how Sikhism should influence the political realm. Influencing social life and change with Sikhism in mind has its own name in the religion: Miri Piri.

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