Sikhism a monotheistic religion founded by guru nanak (1469-1538/9). Its followers are known as Sikh (meaning disciple). Sikhism believes that God is one, omnipotent, and formless. Sikhs refer to God as Sat Guru (true teacher). They have ten gurus, from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708). Their holy book is the granth sahib or Adi Granth. According to Sikhism, prayers, mantras, abstinence and yoga do not serve the purpose of worship, which can be better accomplished by leading a pure life. There is no casteism in this religion. Fully committed Sikhs belong to the Khalsa (pure). Sikh boys and girls are initiated into the Khalsa at puberty. Sikhs are expected to rise early, bathe and recite the Japji, a religious poem composed by Nanak.

Guru Nanak attempted to reform the moral life of human beings and to remove superstitions from society. He tried to reconcile Hindu and Muslim thoughts. He preached that God can be found within human beings and does not need the rituals and controversies of existing religions. Nanak was followed by nine other gurus. The first five gurus are known as panj-pyare. Apart from Nanak, they are Angad (1504-1552/3), Amardas (1479-1574), Ramdas (1534-1581) and Arjun Singh (1563-1606). Their thoughts and concepts have been collected and compiled into the Granth Sahib.

Guru Nanak travelled across India extensively in 1499 to propagate his teachings and ideals. Then he journeyed to China, Bhutan, and the Middle East before visiting Maldah and Krishnanagar in West Bengal and faridpur and dhaka in bangladesh. He first propagated Sikhism among the potters of Rayer Bazar in Dhaka, where he excavated a pond for drinking water. At Jafrabad he built a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship). But these works of Guru Nanak are no longer extant. The 9th Sikh guru, Teg Bahadur Singh (1621/2-75), came to Dhaka in 1665. He built a Sikh dharmashala at Bangla Bazar and stayed there for some time. After his death his son, Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708), the 10th and last guru, also visited Dhaka.

The gurdwara (literally the gateway of the Guru) is open to everyone. All gurdwaras fly a yellow flag known as nishan sahib. This flag carries the symbols of two curved swords, a double-edged dagger, and a discus. The flag symbolises the union of temporal and spiritual life and the bravery of the Sikhs. The main place of Sikh worship is the Golden Temple at Amritsar in the Punjab. From the Akal Takht Sahib temple, also at Amritsar, hukumnama, directives for religious and daily life, are issued. The main Sikh temple in Bangladesh is gurdwara nanak shahi, situated on the campus of the university of dhaka.

Male Sikhs carry five symbols: kes (uncut hair), khanga (small comb), krpan (steel sword), kara (steel bangle), kachh (loose drawers worn as an undergarment). Sikh men do not cut their hair, but tie it up and tuck it under their turbans. They neither shave nor trim their facial hair. The main Sikh festivals are observances of the birthdays of the gurus. Sikhs also observe the first day of Baishakh. The death anniversaries of their religious heroes are also observed. Sikhs burn their dead and throw their ashes into rivers or canals.

Sikhs constitute a small minority in Bangladesh. They usually come from abroad and live here temporarily. Sikh gurus also did not stay very long in Bangladesh to propagate their religion. During the Mughal and British rule, Sikh soldiers used to be posted to Bangladesh for short periods. They kept very much to themselves and did not develop close relationships with the local people from whom they differed not only in religion but also in language and lifestyle. [Sambaru Chandra Mohanta]

Bibliography JD Cunningham, Sikh Itihas, Durgadas Lahiri ed, Nabapatra Prakashan, Calcutta, 1987.