The Punjabi – An Overview
Brendon Ward (2016)
In terms of people group, the Punjabi people of the Indian subcontinent are effectively a nation belonging to two countries. Their cultural and religious identification transcends those national borders so that one is first Punjabi, and Indian/Pakistani second.
The Punjabi are defined by common language and custom, as well as religious identification. Spanning India and Pakistan, they are neither Hindu, nor Muslim. Rather, they are Sikh, a word meaning “disciple”. They can thus be identified by the wearing of a turban and the possession of the last name Singh (which means lion).
Sikhism is a hybrid religion, incorporating aspects of both Islam and Hinduism. While it is monotheistic (i.e. one God), it is also pantheistic (i.e. God is all pervasive). Sikhism retains the idea of a karmic cycle while rejecting the Hindu cast system.
Sikhism is relatively new, being established by Guru Nanak in the 15th century. It is a mystic religion, that is, it does not appeal to empirical evidence for the basis of its tenants. At the age of 30, Guru Nanak is said to have had a heavenly vision. His report of that vision was captured in the words, “There is neither Hindu nor Mussulman (Muslim), but only man. So whose path shall I follow? I shall follow God’s path. God is neither Hindu nor Mussulman and the path which I follow is God’s.”
Guru Nanak was followed by 10 patrilineal Guru each of whom contributed to the evolution of Sikhism as a religion. The last of the human Guru, Guru Gobind Singh passed the guruship not to another human, but to the “First and Last, eternal living guru” Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh Scriptures.
The Guru Granth Sahib contains the writings (mostly hymns) of Guru Nanak and successive Guru as well as writings of both Muslim and Hindu religious leaders. In contemporary Sikh custom, the Guru Granth Sahib is venerated, having central place in processions and position within the Gurdwara. In terms of a daily procession, the Guru Granth Sahib is held above the head before being placed on a cushion in a special area of the Gurdwara, that has been previously washed with an ablution of water and milk. That special area becomes the focal point of the Gurdwara. To the Guru Granth Sahib money and food is offered.
A complete recitation of the Guru Granth Sahib takes place with major life events, which may include moving into a new house. The printing of the Guru Granth Sahib maintains a strict format in order to maintain the exact page numbering. This means that every copy of the Guru Granth Sahib must have exactly 1430 pages and so would take approximately 48 hours to recite from cover to cover.
Sikhism has neither liturgy nor clergy. Being a mystical religion, Sikh devotional practice is meditative in nature, centring on the singing of hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib. Meditation focuses on the Divine Name, viewed as a method of moving toward a life totally devoted to God. The God of Sikhism is known as Nam, or Name. Other synonyms include the Divine, Ultimate, Ultimate Reality, Infinity, the Formless, Truth, and other attributes of God.
In addition to meditation on the name, Sikhs adhere to two other basic principles: hard work and sharing what one has.
After services in the Gurdwara, all people, regardless of caste or social standing, sit on the floor in a straight line and eat a simple vegetarian meal together. This meal is served out of free kitchen that is attached to every Gurdwara.