Sikh Things: Sacred and Ceremonial Objects
The most sacred object in Sikhism is the Guru Granth Sahib (also called the Adi Granth), the Sikh holy book. Unlike the New Testament or the Bhagavad-Gita, which are often carried around, dog-eared and placed on a shelf with other books, there are strict rules and procedures for handling the Adi Granth. For this reason, most Sikhs keep a smaller manual at home containing the main passages from the Adi Granth used in daily prayers.
The tenth and last human Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, designated as his successor the holy book of Sikhism as the enduring and living Guru. Accordingly, the Guru Granth Sahib is treated with the same respect one would show a human Guru.
The Guru Granth Sahib is kept under a canopy and on a throne, covered in decorative cloths (rumalas) at night, and a chauri (whisk) is waved over it while it is being read. When entering the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib, one must be barefoot, have his or her head covered, and prostrate before the book. When moved, the book is wrapped in cloth and carried on someone's head as a sign of its honored status.
The Adi Granth is printed in Gurmukhi script, a form of Hindi dating to the middle ages. The pages often have ornate decorations, but it is a fundamental principle of the Sikh faith that Truth is much more important than ritual and only what is written in the book really matters.
As mentioned above, a whisk is waved over the Guru Granth Sahib whenever it is read. This whisk is caleld a chauri and is usually made of yak tail hair or artificial fiber, set in a wooden or metal holder. The use of the chauri derives from the practice of retainers keeping dignitaries cool with a whisk or fan, which became a symbol of sovereignty and honor.
When Guru Gobind Singh established the Khalsa in 1699, he asked all Sikhs to wear five symbols expressing their allegiance to the new Sikh community. These five symbols are known as the five Ks.
Kesh is uncut hair on the head and body, symbolizing acceptance of God's will. This gave rise to the distinctive Sikh turban, which arose as a way to keep the long hair clean and tidy.
Kachh is a pair of white cotton shorts worn as an undergarment. It is practical in battle, and therefore symbolizes moral strength and chastity.
Kara is a steel bracelet symbolizing responsibility and allegiance to God.
Kangha is a wodden comb that represents personal care and cleanliness.
Kirpan is a steel dagger, a symbol of resistance against evil and defense of truth.
The Nishan Sahib ("respected emblem") is the Sikh flag. It is triangle-shaped, bright orange or saffron in color, and bears the Khanda, the symbol of Sikhism. The Nishan Sahib is flown outside gurdwaras (temples) and often inside as well. A gurdwara is not authentic without a Nishan Sahib. The flag is also carried in processions and on special occasions, and it is raised and lowered with special rituals. Sikh devotees respectfully place flowers on the parapet at its base and light candles beneath it on the days of celebrations.
The flag is normally replaced annually on Vaisakhi in April, which celebrates the birthday of the Khalsa. The old flag is not thrown away, but divided into pieces which people take as gift from the Guru. These pieces of the Nishan Sahib are used to stitch the chola (long shirt) of infants. An old flag or worn out clothes made out of it is burned and the ashes are placed in flowing water.
- John Bowker, ed., World Religions (DK Publishing, 1997).
- "Nishan Sahib." Sikh History. 2005 <http://www.sikh-history.co.uk/nishan_sahib.htm>.