Guru Nanak

Guru Nanak (1469-1539) was the first teacher of the community of disciples that became known as the Sikhs. His songs in praise of the formless and transcendent God are a cherished part of the Sikh scripture, the Adi Granth.

Golden Temple

From 1581 to 1603 Guru Arjan, the fifth Sikh Guru, oversaw construction of the Darbar Sahib, the great gurdwara at Amritsar. Darbar Sahib means “Divine Court.” After completion of the present structure in the early 19th century, the gurdwara became popularly known as the “Golden Temple” because of its massive gilded dome.


Amrit means “immortal nectar,” and “taking amrit” is a term used for initiation into the Khalsa, the order of fully committed Sikhs. A bowl of water with sugar crystals is stirred with a double-edged sword, while sacred hymns are recited, infusing the solution with the power of the Divine Word. This water, which has now become immortal nectar (amrit), is sipped by each of the initiates, giving the rite its common name.


Sikh men wear a turban and Sikh women wear a long head scarf known as a chunni in fulfillment of one of the basic vows taken when joining the Khalsa (the order of committed Sikhs)—to leave the hair uncut as a sign of complete dedication to God. This is one of the five important markers of Sikh identity.


The term sadhana is used in the various religious traditions of India to refer to particular disciplines of religious practice to which one commits oneself, whether such practices be meditation, asceticism, ethical living, or the faithful worship of a personal deity.


The kirpan is a sword, more commonly a small knife, carried by initiated Sikhs who have become members of the Khalsa, the order of fully committed Sikhs. It is one of five symbols of Sikh identity.


Baisakhi is held on the first day of the lunar month of Baisakh, which falls in the month of April. One of the main events of the day is the raising of a new Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag. Baisakhi also marks the anniversary of the first initiations into the Khalsa, the special company of the faithful to which most adult Sikhs belong. Hence, the initiation rite called “taking amrit” frequently occurs on this day.

shabad kirtan

In the Sikh tradition, shabad, literally “word,” refers to the divinely-inspired Word of God, especially as it was first sung by the ten Gurus and subsequently recorded in the Adi Granth or Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh scripture. There are gurbani, or hymns of the gurus, and bhagatbani, the hymns of the saints. All of the shabads are set to particular traditional musical scales called ragas, each meant to be played at a particular time of day or to evoke a particular mood. The term “kirtan” refers to singing the praises of God in communal worship. Such singing of shabads, usually to the... Read more about shabad kirtan


According to the Sikh tradition, God cannot be known in any image for God, the Nirankar, is invisible, infinite, beyond the confines of form. This transcendent God can nonetheless be known through the voice, or “unstuck sound,” that has been mediated through the Guru—initially the ten human Gurus and subsequently the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh scripture).

Japji; Japji Sahib

Sikhs recite five prayers daily, the most important being the morning prayer, the “Japji,” which was recited by Guru Nanak (1469-1539) each morning. The opening stanza of the Japji, known as the “Mul Mantar” affirms that there is one God, without form (Nirankar), but known through the grace and voice of the Guru.

Guru Gobind Singh

Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708) was the tenth Guru of the Sikh tradition. He is primarily known for establishing the community of Sikh initiates called the Khalsa and for installing the Adi Granth as his successor, thereby closing the line of Gurus.


Dharma means religion, religious duty, religious teaching. The word dharma comes from a Sanskrit root meaning “to uphold, support, bear,” thus dharma is that order of things which informs the whole world, from the laws of nature to the inner workings of conscience. For the Buddhist tradition, the Dharma (or Dhamma in Pali) refers especially to the teachings of the Buddha. This body of teachings constitutes one element of the “Three Jewels” in which Buddhists take refuge: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha (the community). For Hindus, ... Read more about Dharma

Akal Takht

In 1606 the Sikhs established their own royal court, similar to the Mughal court of the time, with the Guru as the royal and spiritual head. The temporal role of the Sikh Guru was symbolized by the seat called Akal Takht, “The Throne of the Almighty.”


Upon initiation into the Khalsa, Sikh men assume the name Singh, “Lion.”


In the Sikh tradition, the term rehras refers to evening prayers.