Sikhism vis-à-vis Other Religions in India
Indians are known to be deeply spiritual minded people. India is, therefore, the home of many important religions. Among them, Sikhism occupies an honourable place not only in Punjab but also in India and many other countries. Punjabi Sikh is rightly called the protector of India. These are mainly the Sikhs who have always been the real defenders of Indian borders. They have made sacrifices not only for the independence of India but also for the liberty of the European countries like France, Belgium, Italy etc. They have also contributed much to the prosperity of United States, Great Britain, Germany , Australia, etc. Before discussing Sikhism as a religion and its contribution to various aspects of life, it would not be without interest to have a quick look at some other religions practiced in our part of the world and at the impact they have on the mind.
Of all the religions, Hinduism is surely the oldest religion of the region and its roots fall back in the prehistoric times. The word ‘Hindu’ actually comes from ‘Sindhu’, the river on the banks of which was centred the Indus valley civilization. A linga-yoni, like the one worshipped by Hindus today has been found in the excavations of Indus valley civilization. It is a recorded fact that Hinduism accounts for 80% of population of this country.
After Hinduism, Islam is the next prominent faith of the land. The number of Muslims is, however, not as large as it was in the pre-independence period. The Muslim population flourished the most in India in the days of the Mughal rule. Both Hindus and Muslims shared a common fraternity but on account of the ‘divide-and-rule’ policy of the British they were divided into two nations: India and Pakistan. Since then, the two countries are at daggers’ drawn. The religious sentiments infuriated at the time of partition continue to slur the lives of people. The government of Pakistan still exploits the emotions of the innocent youth and promotes terrorism in India, chiefly, in the J&K region of Muslim majority.
Christianity is the third largest religion of India. The main pockets of Christian population are North-East, South India and Konkan Coast. The Christians claim that Christianity in India is as old as Christianity itself. It is believed to have been brought in India by St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. A good number of Brahmin families are said to have been converted to Christianity even at a time when Christianity had not touched many European nations. Inspite of being an old religion in India, Christians continue to be targeted by the fanatics of other religions. It is probably the result of the misconception that Christianity in India was contributed only by European colonists. Their hatred for the colonial rule is clearly visible in their attitude towards Christians. Christians are, however, a peaceful community and they have mingled in all walks of Indian society. If they are growing in number in India, they should not be looked upon with an envious eye.
Buddhism in India was founded by a Kshatriya prince, Siddhartha Gautama. As a religion it had spread from India to Northern, Central and South-East Asia. In India, it is the common religion in Himalayan regions of Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. It is a matter of surprise that Buddhism which had greatly flourished in India and had even spread outside India, gradually disappeared from its place of its birth in the thirteenth century. Historians cite various reasons for that; the chief cause was the opposition from the Brahmins. Buddha’s doctrine of ‘ahimsa’ or non-violence and the principle of equality of all human beings had attracted the oppressed classes in large number for conversion. By becoming Buddhists, even the Dalits and the Shudras were gaining higher status in society. Buddha was against the oppressive Brahmin rituals and the prevalent caste discrimination of the society. With the increasing popularity of Buddhism, Brahmins were getting insecure and jealous. Soon they started assaulting Buddhists both physically and mentally. The Buddhists were further victimized by the invading armies of Prophet Mohammed, who plundered Buddhist temples and murdered monks. But Hinduism had a tendency to absorb rival faiths. It had incorporated in itself the Buddhist philosophy of universal brotherhood and equality. It is asserted by some Buddhist scholars that the present day Hinduism is another form of ancient Buddhism. It is pertinent to mention that Hindus today realize their responsibility towards Buddhists. Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh is the home of not only Dalai Lama but also many of his Buddhist followers.
Jainism is a minority religion in India. Though their population is marginal, they have contributed greatly to Indian culture. The Jains form just 0.42% of the Indian population yet their contribution to the state exchequer is 24%. The Jains are amongst the richest and most educated Indians. Their contribution in the field of literature is incredible. The famous Jain writers Adikani Pampa, Sri Ponna and Ranna are known as the ‘three gems of Kanada literature’. Jain monks and nuns obtain higher education. They make their own contributions to literature. Researchers show that the philosophical concepts of Karma, Ahimsa and Mokasha were developed by Jain and Buddhist preachers. Many Jains claim that these concepts, when practiced, help the soul in obtaining knowledge, perception and power. Strict Jains are morally upright people with a high sensibility of spirituality.
Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak Devji as it was revealed to him by the Almighty. In Sikhism, service in any form is a cardinal virtue. A Sikh does not do service under any constraint or coercion, it is rather a matter of pride for him. One can see Sikhs in thousands doing ‘Kar Sewa’ in which all participate equally with the greatest zeal, devotion and pride, to whichever strata of society they may belong. It is remarkable that each Sikh tries to surpass others by participating in one or the other service.
The concept of ‘sharing with others’ is also specific to Sikhism. A Sikh gets pleasure by offering a part of his income for a social or a religious cause. He likes to participate in the social activities, to the best of his abilities. ‘Daswandh’ is a unique institution in Sikhism. It is a pious duty for a Sikh to offer a part of his honestly acquired income for the needy, poor and weak. While doing so, he does not show off in any manner, nor does he expect any material or spiritual gain.
In Sikhism, meditation is not a simple ritual or a formality. A Sikh does not need to give up the world for the purpose of achieving liberation or union with God. He can reach a high spiritual level even as a head of family. He does not believe in the cult of gods, goddesses, idols, prophets, martyrs or heroes. He worships only the Almighty. The way of living as a Sikh consists of focusing on God, meditating in the name of the Almighty and loving the human beings. A Sikh is a direct subject of Almighty and there is none between him and God.
‘Gurdwara’ plays a significant role in the life of a Sikh. For him, the Gurdwara is a spiritual centre. This is the door of the abode of Almighty. It is here that a Sikh learns to live among the other members of the society. The ‘Langar’ hall (sacred kitchen) and an inn are generally part of any important Gurdwara. This is shelter for the travellers and other needy people.
In Sikhism, Amrit (nectar of initiation) has a miraculous power which transforms a coward into a courageous, a lazy into vigorous, a weak into strong, a hauty into polite human being.
Prof. Puran Singh has rightly said, “Punjab na Hindu na Muslman da, Punjab jiunda ai Guru de nam te” (Punjab belongs neither to the Hindus, nor to the Muslims. Punjab lives in the name of the Gurus). Thus a Sikh feels and enjoys, all the time, the blessings of his Gurus on account of which he is always active, agile, robust, vigorous and full of enthusiasm.
It is because of their qualities of head and heart that Sikhs have largely contributed to the economy of different countries. Wherever they live, they are known for their initiative, courage and progressive nature. It is important to note that the Sikhs have played an important role in the improvement and progress of their country. It is a known fact that Punjab ensures 70% of Indian production of wheat, rice and other cereals.
To conclude, Sikhism has contributed a great deal to the development of human thought as well as to the progress of mankind in almost all walks of life. It is due to certain distinguishing characteristics and humanitarian traits of this religion that its followers are looked upon everywhere in the world with great respect, awe and admiration.
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2. Paul, Bowen, Themes and Issues in Hinduism, Cassell, World Religion Series; 1998.
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4. Bentley Hart David, The Story of Christianity. Penguin, 1998.
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6. Singh, Harjinder, Qui Sont Les Sikhs, Belgium, The Sikh University Centre, 2001.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2012, All