Fast Facts on Sikhism

An Overview of Sikhism

The word "Sikhism" derives from "Sikh," which means a strong and able disciple. There are about 23 million Sikhs worldwide, making Sikhism the 5th largest religion in the world. Approximately 19 million Sikhs live in India, primarily in the state of Punjab. Large populations of Sikhs can also be found in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. Sikhs are a significant minority in Malaysia and Singapore, where they are sometimes ridiculed for their distinctive appearance, but respected for their work ethic and high education standards. (See Sikh beliefs)

Sikhism emerged in 16th-century India in an environment heavily permeated with conflicts between the Hindu and Muslim religions. It was somewhat influenced by reform movements in Hinduism (e.g. Bhakti, monism, Vedic metaphysics, guru ideal, and bhajans) as well as some Sufi Muslim influences. While Sikhism reflects its cultural context, it certainly developed into a movement unique in India. Sikhs regard their faith as an authentic new divine revelation. (See Religion in India and Hinduism and Islam)

Guru Nanak

Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak Dev, who was born in 1469 to a Hindu family. After four epic journeys (north to Tibet, south to Sri Lanka, east to Bengal and west to Mecca and Baghdad), Guru Nanak preached to Hindus, Muslims and others, and in the process attracted a following of Sikhs (disciples). Religion, he taught, was a way to unite people, but in practice he found that it set men against one another. He particularly regretted the antagonism between Hindus and Muslims. Guru Nanak's most famous saying is, "There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim, so whose path shall I follow? I shall follow the path of God."

Retaining the Hindu doctrine of the transmigration of souls, together with its corollary, the law of karma, Guru Nanak advised his followers to end the cycle of reincarnation by living a disciplined life – that is, by moderating egoism and sensuous delights, to live in a balanced worldly manner, and by accepting ultimate reality. Thus, by the grace of Guru (Gurprasad) the cycle of reincarnation can be broken, and the Sikh can remain in the abode of the Love of God. Guru Nanak taught that salvation does not mean entering paradise after a last judgment, but a union and absorption into God, the True Name. Sikhs do not believe in a heaven or hell. Sikhs also reject the Hindu belief in incarnations (avatars) of God, believing instead that God makes his will know through the Gurus.

The most easily observable Sikh practices are the wearing of the turban and the Five Ks. Sikhs also pray regularly and meditate by repeating God's name, often with the aid of rosary beads. Sikhism rejects the Hindu notion of the four stages of life, teaching instead that the householder is the ideal for all people. A Sikh aims to live a life that balances work, worship and charity. Community is emphasized, and the Sikh temple (gurdwara) is the center of Sikh communal life.

Facts and Stats on Sikhism

From Punjabi sikh, "learner" or "disciple"
c. 1500 in India (also see Sikh history)
Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469-1538)
23 million (see more religion statistics)
Main location
Punjab region of India (also see religion in India)
Original language
Sacred text
Adi Granth (Sri Guru Granth Sahib)
Spiritual leaders
Granthi, giani
House of worship
Temple, gurdwara
Ultimate reality
God (Ik Onkar, Nam)
Purpose of life
Overcome the self, align life with will of God, and become a "saint soldier," fighting for good
Reincarnation until resolve karma and merge with God. (also see karma in Hinduism)
Major holidays
Vaisakhi Day Birthday of Guru Nanak Birthday of Guru Gobind Singh
Five cardinal vices
1. lust 2. anger 3. greed 4. worldly attachment 5. pride


  1. John Bowker, ed., World Religions (DK Publishing, 1997).
  2. "Ceremonies and Festivals." <>
  3. "Sikh Festival Dates 2004 and 2005." infoplease. <>
afterlife Reincarnation until resolve karma and merge with God.
human life Overcome the self, align life with will of God, and become a "saint soldier," fighting for good.
origins Founded by Guru Nanak, c. 1500, Punjab, India.
practices Prayer and meditation on God's name, services at temple (gurdwara), turban and five Ks. Balance work, worship, and charity. No monasticism or asceticism.
texts Adi Granth (Sri Guru Granth Sahib)
type of theism monotheism
adherents 23 million
god(s) one God: Ik Onkar
homosexual orientation Generally considered a manifestation of Lust, one of the "Five Thieves" or vices. A minority consider it an acceptable alternative.
homosexual activity Generally condemned in light of its association with Lust and the value of family life. But a minority believe the Sikh value of universal equality supports acceptance of homosexual relations.