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Glossary Of Sikh Terms

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Adi Granth :the original name for the Guru Granth Sahib.

ahankar :false pride, one of the five evils a human can fall into. Pride in one's possessions, intelligence, power or wealth takes one away from God and gives a false sense of superiority over others.

akhand path :a complete, non-stop reading of the Guru Granth Sahib from beginning to end. This is usually undertaken in celebration for festivals and important events such as weddings and Khalsa baptisms. The reading begins two days before the event and is timed to coincide with the climax of the the festival. It may be carried out by relays of devout Sikhs, or by professional readers. It normally takes about 48 hours of continuous reading.

amrit :this word carries many meanings. It is essentially sugar water, made in a ceremonial bowl at the gurdwara and stirred with a kirpan to sanctify it. The sugar water plays an important part in Sikh ceremonies; for example, it is scattered over babies and traced onto their tongue during the naming ceremony, and used extensively during the initiation into the Khalsa (a ceremony also commonly known as 'the amrit ceremony'. The literal translation of the word means 'water of life' or 'holy water'.

Amritdhari :the full name for a Sikh who has been through the ceremony of initiation into the Sikh brotherhood of the Khalsa.

Amritsar :a town in Northern India where the Golden Temple sits on an island in the centre of a lake. This is the holiest place on earth for Sikhs, and the first place that the Adi Granth was installed in 1604.

ardas :the formal prayers recited by the congregation during a service at the gurdwara.

Baisakhi :the first month of the Sikh year, a celebration of new year and also the celebration of the formation of the Khalsa in 1699 by Guru Gobind Singh.

chuni :the large headscarf worn by Sikh women. It covers their head, neck and shoulders.

Diwali :the Festival of Lights, which is held in October/November and celebrates the foundation of Amritsar and the release of Guru Har Gobind (and 52 Hindu kings) from prison in the Gwalior Fort.

gangajal :holy water taken from the Ganges river and often sprinkled on the sick, newborn babies and the dead.

Ganges :the holy river in India, sacred to both Hindus and Sikhs. Many older Sikhs will wish to be cremated and have their ashes returned to India so that they can be scattered onto the waters of the Ganges; they believe that their journey back to the Waheguru will be easier in this way.

granthi :the closest thing to a community leader of the Sikhs. This man (or man and wife team – never a woman on her own) leads the reading during services at the gurdwara, organises visits to anyone who is sick, teaches the children, arbitrates in arguments and officiates at ceremonies. There is a granthi in every gurdwara.

Gurbani :the total sum of God's scripture, set down in the Adi Granth by the Gurus. By reading and understanding the Gurbani, one can approach the understanding the Gurus had of the will and way of God.

gurdwara :this literally translates as 'the door to the Guru' and is the name of the religious centres used by Sikhs. A gurdwara acts as a community centre, teaching hall, meeting place and somewhere to hold religious ceremonies. The gurdwara also has a kitchen (langar) where food is cooked and given freely to anyone who visits the gurdwara (also called langar). All Sikhs give a proportion of their income to the gurdwara so that the langar can continue to feed all who need to be fed. There are no chairs in the gurdwara; all who enter sit equally on the floor and lower than the Guru Granth Sahib, which rests on a special pedestal. Special seating is, however, always provided for disabled visitors.

Guru :a man blessed by God, who is born enlightened, without needing to learn how to be holy. Gu translates as 'evil darkness' and Ru as 'divine light'; a guru is a man perfectly poised above good and evil, who has already transcended to another level. The name is commonly used for a religious teacher.

Guru Granth Sahib :the ever-living Guru and last of the lineage of Gurus. This Sikh holy book is a collection of the writings and scripture of the Gurus, gathered together in 1604 by the fifth human Guru, Guru Arjan, and published by the last Guru, Guru Gobind Singh (with a few additions). It lays out the way of life for a Sikh.

Harmandir :the Golden Temple in Amritsar, which is the holiest place on earth for the Sikh nation. The first copy of the Guru Granth Sahib was installed here in 1604, and people from all over the world still travel here to bathe in the waters of the beautiful lake that surrounds the Temple, and to cross the causeway to it in order to listen to readings from the book. People dip into the holy water with faith that their impurities will be washed away – an act that is known as dukh bhanjan, and means to conquer illness.

Hukh/ Hukam :God's will. Readings in the gurdwara often go by the name of Hukamnama, which translates as 'Royal order' – this is literally the direct decree of God as given to the Gurus and laid down in their writings in the Guru Granth Sahib and other texts.

kaam (kam) :lust. One of the five moral evils of Sikhism, tempting people away from God and disrupting the smooth order of society and relationships.

kach (kaccha, kacchera) :the long pants worn by Sikh men and women as a symbol of their physical and spiritual purity and chastity. They are one of the five Ks of the Khalsa and should not be removed unless absolutely necessary.

Kaur :translates literally as 'Princess'. This is the name given to a female Sikh during her naming ceremony to signify that she is part of the family of Sikhs.

kesh :the long, uncut hair (this includes beard and body hair as well as the hair on the head) of a Sikh. It symbolises the higher consciousness attained by the Khalsa, and is tied in a special knot before being covered with a turban (the crown of spirituality). Young boys wear their hair tied up and covered with a keski or small turban, whereas girls wear their hair long and loose. Married women tend to plait their hair. You may see older men wearing a hairnet on their beard as well to help keep it under control. Sikhs do not cut any of their hair.

keski :a small, informal turban worn by male Sikhs when they are in private, at home relaxing.

Khalsa Panth :the full name for the Brotherhood of baptised Sikhs - those who have gone through the amrit ceremony of initiation and now wear the five Ks and live according to the Gurbani of the Gurus. This ceremony was first performed by Guru Gobind Singh, who was the last of the human Gurus, in 1699. It translates as 'Community of Pure Ones'.

khangha/kanga :the wooden comb that is used to smooth the long hair (kesh) and take the tangles out. It is tucked into the turban and carried at all times. It symbolises spiritual and physical cleanliness and the consequent smoothing of the way. It is another of the five Ks.

kirpan :the small sword worn by baptised Sikhs as one of the five Ks. Their right to carry this weapon is covered by the Race Relations Act, and it is a symbol of their willingness to fight in defence of what they believe in and the continued fight against evil. A kirpan is essentially a long knife with a double-edged blade and usually a decorated handle, and is worn beneath the clothing.

krodh :another of the five evils that beset humanity and divert their attention away from God. This is anger and harms not only the person feeling it, but potentially others as well.

kutha/jhatka :the name given to meat slaughtered in a way that is appropriate for another religion (such as halal or kosher). At the time the Sikh religion was established, Sikhs were under intense persecution from Muslims and Hindus, and – along with the desire to concentrate on the practice of faith rather than following the rituals – this desire to break free of other faiths included not eating meat prepared for them.

langar :the name for both the kitchen that is found in every gurdwara and the meals that a community shares there. The food in the langar is provided from the money that every Sikh gives to the gurdwara. Meals are vegetarian and served freely to anyone who visits the gurdwara – whether they are a Sikh or non-Sikh, king or leper. They are usually eaten in groups, sitting on the floor; the idea is that no one is above anyone else, and that everyone has a right to share a meal in good company.

lobh :greed, another of the five evils of humanity. It makes a person self-centred, causes jealousy and can lead them into falsehood and theft.

moh :over-attachment to worldly things, relationships and possessions. Such attachments blind the individual to the attachment they should have to God, and so is one of the evils of humanity.

moral evils :the Sikhs believe in five basic evils that lie at the root of most human misery. These are kaam (lust), ahankar (pride), moh (attachment), krodh (anger) and lobh (greed). They can all be overcome by practising the eight virtues and living a life of contemplation on the infinite good of God.

nam karan :the naming ceremony for newborn Sikh babies. The child is welcomed into the Sikh world with the symbol 'Om' painted onto its tongue with honey or sugar water (amrit). The Guru Granth Sahib is opened at random, and the first letter on the left-hand page is taken as the first letter of the child's name. They also adopt 'kaur' or 'Singh' as part of their name, signifying their entry into the Sikh community.

panch kakkas :the proper name for the 'five Ks', so called because their Punjabi names all begin with a 'K'. These are the outward symbols of a baptised Sikh's commitment to following the way of the Waheguru.

path :the liturgical reading of the Guru Granth Sahib. On special occasions the book is read non-stop from cover to cover by relays of people (akhand path). At other times, it can be read over seven days (for example, as part of the funeral and mourning period) or greater periods of time. All ordered reading of the book is called path.

prashad :part of every ceremony that takes place at the gurdwara involves the distribution of prashad. This is a sweet pudding made of flour, sugar and ghee (clarified butter) that has been blessed and is shared as a sign of community. People who are sick in hospital will have prashad brought to them to maintain their links with their community.

Reht maryada :the official Sikh Code of Conduct. It is not a spiritual guide as such, but rather a codified handbook on how to be a good Sikh. It was first drawn up in the 1930s as the Sikh community began to move out of Punjab and into the rest of the world, and covers every aspect of behaviour from how to cremate the dead to how to pray.

salwar :the long trousers and tunic worn by many Sikh women. It covers their arms and legs and does not reveal their body shape, but is still practical. The salwar is worn with the chuni – a headscarf that is wrapped around the head and neck and covers the shoulders as well.

sangat :this word is used generally to refer to any gathering of Sikhs to listen to a Guru, whether that be listening to the Guru Granth Sahib being read at the gurdwara, or a group of people listening to the teachings of a human guru.

sehjdhari :the term that is used to describe sikhs (with a lower-case 's') that have not undergone initiation into the Khalsa brotherhood by baptism (going through the amrit ceremony). Baptism is not allowed unless the granthi can be sure that the initiate is fully aware of the commitment they are about to undertake, and its implications. Because of this, there are many Sikhs – not just children and teenagers – who have not been fully initiated.

Singh :translates as 'lion'; this is the name adopted by male Sikhs, in the same way as Kaur is a female name. It is given to a child when they are named at the gurdawara a few weeks after their birth.

turban :a head cover worn by male Sikhs to cover their kesh or long hair. It is made from a long piece of cotton cloth, wound in a particular manner around the head. A new one is prepared every day, and it is rarely removed voluntarily, being the 'crown of the spirit'. A male child is taken to the gurdwara at about 11 or 12 years of age to undergo a simple ceremony at which his first turban is tied onto his head.

virtues :Sikhs have five moral evils that are traits in themselves and that they try to overcome. They do this by practising the eight virtues: gyan (wisdom), niaon (justice), santokh (temperance), himmat (courage), sat (truthful living), dhiraj (patience), sabar (contentment) and namarta (humility).

Waheguru :the 'Wonderful Lord'; one of the names of God.