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A Sikh temple with a beige and white arched entrance and several small domes on the roof
A Sikh gurdwara in
San Jose, California

The Roots of Sikhism

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that emphasizes the importance of doing good actions instead of merely performing rituals. Sikhs believe that the way to lead a good life is to keep God in heart and mind at all times, treat everyone equally, be generous to the less fortunate and serve others. The Sikh Code of Conduct includes keeping uncut hair, refraining from alcohol or tobacco use and a prohibition on gambling.

One God

Sikhs believe that there is one God, who is present everywhere. As the Creator of the Universe, God isn’t born and will therefore never die. One basic Sikh principle for living a good life is to practice meditation, or Simran, which not only helps a person get closer to God, but also brings peace of mind.


Most Sikhs have three names. First names often incorporate sounds that are associated with God. Many names begin or end in -preet (love), -deep (light) or -jit (victory), and are compound names. For example, Amandeep means “light of peace”—aman (peace) combined with deep (light).

Middle names demonstrate Sikh identity as well as promote equality. Boys are given the middle name Singh (lion), and girls the name Kaur (princess, or daughter of king). This tradition dates back to 1699.

Last names are often a family tradition. However, many Sikhs choose not to use their family names and instead use Kaur or Singh as a last name.


Sikhism believes in the equality of all human beings. This is evidenced in practice by Sikh women’s equal status with men in religious services and ceremonies, and the fact that people of all religions are welcome in Sikh temples.

A peaceful people, Sikhs uphold non-violence, although they do believe that force can be used as a last resort, after all other peaceful means have failed.

An intricate illustration of yellow and blue surrounding a piece of text
Sri Guru Granth Sahib transcript circa late 17th to early 18th century

Social Responsibility

Sikhism stresses social responsibility and honest and hard work, or kirat karni. Sikhs believe they should only accept what they have earned, and should not take away what rightfully belongs to others. They are also required to make charitable donations to the poor and needy.

Seva, or service to humanity and God, is another major part of Sikhism. Sikhs believe that serving others—through monetary donations, serving food or just friendship—is the same as serving God. Sikhs perform seva both at temple and in daily life.

Siri Guru Granth Sahib

The sacred book of Sikhism is the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, which is also considered to be the last Guru, or a living guide. The book contains poetic verses by the 10 Sikh gurus that illustrate devotion to God and the world. Specific verses are included for events such as weddings or funerals. Sikhs must treat the Siri Guru Granth Sahib with respect.

The Gurdwara

A Gurdwara, or house of God, is the Sikh place of worship. All Gurdwaras around the world are open to all visitors, regardless of religion. They each contain a Siri Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book. Women and men traditionally sit on opposite sides of the room.

In addition to a prayer hall, a Gurdwara also has a langar hall, or community kitchen. Members of the congregation serve free meals here as a form of seva, or community service. All people are welcome to meditate in the prayer hall and eat in the langar hall.

The Five Ks

A steel bracelet, wooden comb and small sword
Three of the Five Ks, clockwise from top right: Kara, Kirpan and Kangha

In an effort to lead a pure life, initiated Sikhs commit to reading scriptures daily. They also undertake specific practices such as wearing the kakars, or “Five Ks,” articles of faith that begin with the letter k. These articles distinguish Sikhs and remind them of their obligation to live up to the religion’s moral standards.

A ceremonial sword that is normally worn on a cloth belt called a gatra, the kirpan symbolizes readiness to defend the defenseless and one's faith against persecution.

A steel bracelet that symbolizes moral strength and integrity, as well as resilience under stress.

A wooden comb that symbolizes cleanliness and order, the kangha is used to keep hair clean.

These cotton boxer shorts symbolize self-control and chastity, as well as the prohibition of adultery.

Sikhs maintain long, uncut hair that is covered by a turban.

A man with a trimmed beard and red turban

The Turban

The turban, or pagri, is a distinctive part of the Sikh identity. During the early days of Sikhism, only aristocrats and royalty wore turbans in India, as a sign of nobility and status. In 1699, Guru Gobind Singh introduced the order of the Khalsa, or initiated, Sikhs. These initiated Sikhs were to adhere to the Five Ks (see above) as part of their dress and wear turbans to cover their uncut hair. Through this religious uniform, Sikhs asserted the principle of equality amongst themselves and to members of other religions.

Many Sikhs start tying the under-turban, or patka, at pre-school age. They can choose to tie the larger turban or pagri, at any age. Most begin in high school or college. The cloth for a pagri is 10 to 15 feet long, and can take about 10 to 15 minutes to tie. Female Sikhs also wear a chuni, or scarf, draped over their hair, although many wear turbans regularly, like men.

Learn about the myths and realities surrounding Sikhism >>

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