Hinduism and Sikhism

Hinduism and Sikhism are both Dharmic religions that originated in the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is an older religion, while Sikhism was founded in the 15th-century by Guru Nanak.

Both religions share many philosophical concepts such as Karma, Dharma, Mukti, Maya and Saṃsāra. In the days of the Mughal Empire, the Sikh community came to the defence of Hindus who were being forcibly converted to Islam.

Guru Nanak with Hindu holymen.

Guru Nanak with Hindu holymen

History of similarities and differences

Scholars state that the origins of Sikhism were influenced by the nirgun (“without form”) and not sagun (“with form”) conception of God of the Bhakti movement in medieval India. The roots of Sikhism can be traced to the Sants of northern India, whose ideology grew to become the Bhakti movement. Furthermore, “Indic mythology permeates the Sikh Sacred canon, the Guru Granth Sahib and the secondary canon, the Dasam Granth and adds delicate nuance and substance to the sacred symbolic universe of the Sikhs of today and of their past ancestors”.

Iconography

Ik Onkar, iconically represented as  in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (although sometimes spelt out in full as ਓਅੰਕਾਰ) is the iconographic statement in Sikhism that is ‘there is one God’. The phrase is an expression of monotheistic unity of God.

Ik Onkār, a Sikh symbol representing "the One Supreme Reality"

Ik Onkār, a Sikh symbol representing “the One Supreme Reality”

The Onkar in (ੴ) of Sikhism is related to Om (ॐ) of Hinduism. Some Sikhs disagree that Ik Onkar is same as Om. Onkar is, states Wazir Singh, a “variation of Om (Aum) of the ancient Indian scriptures (with a slight change in its orthography), implying the seed-force that evolves as the universe”. In Ek Onkar, explains Gulati, “Ek” means One, and Onkar is “equivalent of the Hindu “Om” (Aum)”.

However, both of them are different as far as sikhs believe because Oankar refers to the total primary lord God.

Oankar (‘the Primal Sound’) created Brahma, Oankar fashioned the consciousness,
From Oankar came mountains and ages, Oankar produced the Vedas,
By the grace of Oankar, people were saved through the divine word,
By the grace of Oankar, they were liberated through the teachings of the Guru.
— Ramakali Dakkhani, Adi Granth 929-930, Translated by Pashaura Singh

Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji

During the Mughal Empire period, the Sikh and Hindu traditions believe that Sikhs helped protect Hindus from Islamic persecution, and this caused martyrdom of their Guru. The Sikh historians, for example, record that the Sikh movement was rapidly growing in northwest India, and Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji was openly encouraging Sikhs to, “be fearless in their pursuit of just society: he who holds none in fear, nor is afraid of anyone, is acknowledged as a man of true wisdom”, a statement recorded in Adi Granth 1427. While Guru Tegh Bahadur influence was rising, Aurangzeb had imposed Islamic laws, demolished Hindu schools and temples, and enforced new taxes on non-Muslims.

According to records written by his son Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the Guru had resisted persecution, adopted and promised to protect Kashmiri Hindus. The Guru was summoned to Delhi by Aurangzeb on a pretext, but when he arrived with his colleagues, he was offered, “to abandon his faith, and convert to Islam”. Guru Tegh Bahadur and his colleagues refused, he and his associates were arrested, tortured for many weeks. The Guru himself was beheaded in public.

Differences

Monotheism versus pluralism

Main articles: Monotheism and pluralism

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion; Sikhs believe there is only one God, who has infinite qualities and names. According to Eleanor Nesbitt, English renderings of Sikhism as a monotheistic religion “tend misleadingly to reinforce a Semitic understanding of monotheism, rather than Guru Nanak’s mystical awareness of the one that is expressed through the many. However, what is not in doubt is the emphasis on ‘one'”.

Hinduism is a diverse system of thought with beliefs spanning monotheism, polytheism, panentheism, pantheism, monism, agnosticism, deism and atheism.

Caste System

Hinduism splits people into 4 groups, namely Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishyas and Shudras. But the terms varna (theoretical classification based on occupation) and jāti (caste) are two distinct concepts. Jāti (community) refers to the thousands of endogamous groups prevalent across the subcontinent. A jati may be divided into exogamous groups based on the same gotras. The classical authors scarcely speak of anything other than the varnas; even Indologists sometimes confuse the two.

Sikhism treats all people equally and founds systems such as Langar and Pangat to help play this out in daily life. Once a person initiates into the Khalsa (Sikh Baptism) it is said that they no longer belong to any caste. This, however, does not imply that the practice of caste hierarchy is absent within the adherents of Sikhism. Caste hierarchy is generally a social reality within the Indian subcontinent regardless of religious affiliation.

Vedantic Philosophy for all Castes

Guru Gobind Singh founded the Nirmale school to help teach Sanskrit and classical Hindu literature, which was then was primarily only available to the higher caste Brahmins, the Guru in this way translated many Hindu works into Punjabi.

Rituals

Sikhs believe in naam jap (meditation), and focus on listening to the hymns from Guru Granth Sahib, the central religious scripture of Sikh faith. The Guru is the focal point of worship in any Sikh Gurdwara, and the worshippers bow before it. Guru Granth Sahib is installed every morning and put to bed at night in many Gurdwaras.

Different schools of Hinduism have different theories about rituals and on salvation (moksha). However, they are primarily based around Puja (devotional worship to a personal deity, often using an idol or Murthi), and Yajna (ritual non-human/non-animal sacrifice).

Idol worship

Main article: Idolatry in Sikhism

Sikhs shun idol worship as a part of their faith.

Hindus accept the worship facilitated with images or murtis (idols), particularly in Agamic traditions, such as Vaishnavism and Shaivism. Some scholars state it is incorrect to state that all Hindus worship idols, and more correct to state that for some the idol is a means to focus their thoughts, for some idol is a manifestation of spirituality that is everywhere, and for some even a linga, a sunrise or a river or a flower serves the same purpose. Hindu temples are called Mandirs, while Sikh temples are called Gurdwaras. However, the most famous Sikh shrine is called Harmandir Sahib

Soteriology

Main article: Soteriology

The Sikh concept of salvation is similar to some schools of Hinduism, and it is called mukti (moksha) referring to spiritual liberation. It is described in Sikhism as the state that breaks the cycle of rebirths.Mukti is obtained according to Sikhism, states Singha, through “God’s grace”. In the teachings of the Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib, the devotion to God is viewed as more important than the desire for Mukti.

I desire neither worldly power nor liberation. I desire nothing but seeing the Lord.
Brahma, Shiva, the Siddhas, the silent sages and Indra – I seek only the Blessed Vision of my Lord and Master’s Darshan.
I have come, helpless, to Your Door, O Lord Master; I am exhausted – I seek the Sanctuary of the Saints.
Says Nanak, I have met my Enticing Lord God; my mind is cooled and soothed – it blossoms forth in joy.
— Guru Granth Sahib, P534

Sikhism recommends Naam Simran as the way to mukti, which is meditating.

The six major orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy offer diverse soteriological views on moksha, including whether moksha can be achieved in this life, or after this life. The Nyaya, Vaisesika and Mimamsa schools of Hinduism consider moksha as possible only after death. Samkhya and Yoga schools consider moksha as possible in this life. In Vedanta school, the Advaita sub-school concludes moksha is possible in this life. The Dvaita and Visistadvaita sub-schools of Vedanta tradition, highlighted by many poet-saints of the Bhakti movement, believe that moksha is a continuous event, one assisted by loving devotion to God, that extends from this life to post-mortem. Beyond these six orthodox schools, some heterodox schools of Hindu tradition, such as Carvaka, deny there is a soul or after life moksha.

Dietary requirements

Sikh women prepare bread during Nagar Kirtan celebrations at Gurdwara Guru Angad Darbar in Bakersfield. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Sikh women prepare bread during Nagar Kirtan celebrations at Gurdwara Guru Angad Darbar in Bakersfield. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Hinduism does not explicitly prohibit eating meat, but it does strongly recommend Ahimsa – the concept of non-violence against all life forms including animals. As a consequence, many Hindus prefer vegetarian or lacto-vegetarian lifestyle, and methods of food production that is in harmony with nature and compassionate, respectful of other life forms as well as nature.

The tenets of Sikhism do not advocate a particular stance on either vegetarianism or the consumption of meat, but rather leave the decision of diet to the individual. Sikh sects and groups that have a “Vashnavite” influence (AKJ, GNNSJ, 3HO, Namdhari’s etc.) tend to be vegetarians. Other Sikhs eat meat that has been prepared by the Jhatka method (meat prepared by sudden death of the animal), and consider only that meat as expressly forbidden that is ritually slaughtered like Kosher or Halal (Kutha meat, the meat of animals prepared by slowly bleeding it to death). HS Singha explains the Jhatka meat requirement to have support in the Hindu tradition as well, as follows,

According to the ancient Aryan Hindu tradition, only such meat as is obtained from an animal which is killed with one stroke of the weapon causing instantaneous death is fit for human consumption. However, with the coming of Islam into India and the Muslim political hegemony, it became a state policy not to permit slaughter of animals for food, in any other manner, except as laid down in the Quran – the halal meat prepared by severing the main blood artery of the throat of the animal while reciting verses from the Quran. Guru Gobind Singh took a rather serious view of this aspect of the whole matter. He, therefore, while permitting flesh to be taken as food repudiated the whole theory of this expiatory sacrifice and the right of ruling Muslims to impose it on the non-Muslims. Accordingly, he made jhatka meat obligatory for those Sikhs who may be interested in taking meat as a part of their food.
— HS Singha, Sikhism, A Complete Introduction

Heaven and Hell

Svarga (स्वर्ग) is the Hindu equivalent of Heaven. It is one of the seven higher lokas (esotericism plane) in Hindu cosmology. The seven lokas consist of Bhuloka, Bhuvar loka, Svarga loka (Indraloka), Maharloka, Janaloka, Taparloka, Satyaloka. Naraka (नरक) is the Hindu equivalent of Hell, where sinners are tormented after death. It is also the abode of Yama, the god of Death. It is described as located in the south of the universe and beneath the earth. The number and names of hells, as well as the type of sinners sent to a particular hell, varies from text to text; however, many scriptures describe 28 hells. After death, messengers of Yama called Yamadutas bring all beings to the court of Yama, where he weighs the virtues and the vices of the being and passes a judgement, sending the virtuous to heaven and the sinners to one of the hells. The stay in Swarga or Naraka is generally described as temporary. After the quantum of punishment is over, the souls are reborn as lower or higher beings as per their merits.

In Sikh thought, heaven and hell are not places for living hereafter, they are part of spiritual topography of man and do not exist otherwise. They refer to good and evil stages of life respectively and can be lived now and here during our earthly existence.

Pilgrimage

According to Karel Werner’s Popular Dictionary of Hinduism, “most Hindu places of pilgrimage are associated with legendary events from the lives of various gods. Almost any place can become a focus for pilgrimage, but in most cases they are sacred cities, rivers, lakes, and mountains.” Hindus are encouraged to undertake pilgrimages during their lifetime, though this practice is not considered absolutely mandatory.

The Sikh religion does not place great importance on pilgrimage.

Menstruation

In Hinduism, menstruating women are traditionally advised rules to follow. During menstruation, women are advised not to “enter temple, work in kitchen, wear flowers, have sex, touch other males or females, or come in contact with any creative energies to ensure free flow of Apana.” Menstruation is seen as a period of purification, and women are often separated from place of worship or any object pertaining to it, for the length of their period. This forms the basis of most of the cultural practices and restrictions around menstruation in Hinduism.

Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, condemned the practice of treating women as impure while menstruating. In The Feminine Principle in the Sikh vision of the transcendent, Nikky Guninder Kaur-Singh writes:

‘The denigration of the female body “expressed in many cultural and religious taboos surrounding menstruation and child-Birth” is absent in the Sikh worldview. Guru Nanak openly chides those who attribute pollution to women because of menstruation’.

Fasting

Fasting

Fasting

Fasting is an integral part of Hinduism. Fasting during religious festivals is very common. Common examples are Maha Shivaratri (Most people conduct a strict fast on Maha Shivratri, not even consuming a drop of water ), or the nine days of Navratri (which occurs twice a year in the months of April and October/November during Vijayadashami just before Diwali, as per the Hindu calendar). Karwa Chauth is a form of fasting practised in some parts of India where married women undertake a fast for the well-being, prosperity, and longevity of their husbands. The fast is broken after the wife views the moon through a sieve. In the fifth month (Shravan Maas) of the Hindu calendar, many celebrate Shraavana. During this time some will fast on the day of the week that is reserved for worship of their chosen god(s), while others will fast during the entire month.

Sikhism does not promote fasting except for medical reasons. Fasting as an austerity, as a ritual, as the mortification of the body by wilful hunger is condemned as Sikh Gurus proclaimed that it “brings no spiritual benefit to the person”.

Śrāddha

Śrāddha (श्राद्ध), in Hinduism, is a ritual that one performs to pay homage to one’s ancestors, especially to one’s dead parents. Conceptually, it is a way for people to express heartfelt gratitude and thanks towards their parents and ancestors, for having helped them to be what they are and praying for their peace. It also can be thought of as a “day of remembrance”. It is performed for both the father and mother separately, on their respective ‘thithi’ – death anniversaries as per Indian calender. In addition it is performed for the entire community of ‘pitr’ – both from paternal and maternal side – collectively during the Pitru Paksha or Shraaddha Paksha (Fortnight of ancestors), right before Sharad Navaratri in autumn.

Sikh Gurus proclaimed that the ritual of Śrāddha has no religious merit.

Auspicious Days

It is a common practice in Hinduism to perform or avoid activities like important religious ceremonies on the basis of the quality of a particular Muhurta. One or more Muhūrtas are recommended by the Vedic scriptures when performing rituals and other ceremonies. Akshaya Tritiya is an annual spring time festival of the Hindus. It falls on the third Tithi (lunar day) of Bright Half (Shukla Paksha) of Vaisakha (Chaitra or Chithira) month. The day is considered auspicious by Hindus in many regions of India for new ventures, marriages, expensive investments such as in gold or other property, and any new beginnings. It is also a day of remembrance for the loved ones who have died.

Sikh Gurus rejected the theory that certain days are auspicious while some others are not.

Slavery

Hindu Vedas regard liberation to be the ultimate goal which is contrary to slavery. Hindu Smritis condemn slavery. The term “dasa” (dāsa) in ancient Hindu text is loosely translated as “slave.” However, the meaning of the term varied over time. R. S. Sharma, in his 1958 book, for example, states that the only word which could possibly mean slave in Rigveda is dāsa, and this sense of use is traceable to four later verses in Rigveda. The word dāsi is found in Rigveda and Atharvaveda, states R.S. Sharma, which he states represented “a small servile class of women slaves”. Slavery in Vedic period, according to him, was mostly confined to women employed as domestic workers. Towards the end of the Vedic period (600 BCE), a new system of varnas had appeared, with people called shudras replacing the erstwhile dasas. Some of the shudras were employed as labouring masses on farm land. The term dasa was now employed to designate such enslaved people. Slavery arose out of debt, sale by parents or oneself (due to famines), judicial decree or fear. While this could happen to a person of any varnashudras were much more likely to be reduced to slavery.

Sikh Gurus vehemently protested against the institution of slavery and preached that the multitudes of slaves were not supposed to toil and sweat in the tireless service of privileged one. Many Sikh warriors of 18th century played an important role in fight against slavery and freeing of slaves. For example, Banda Singh Bahadur is known to have halted the Zamindari and Taluqdari system in the time he was active and gave the farmers proprietorship of their own land. The Zamindars, or landlords, were usually from the higher castes. Lower caste individuals borrowed money against their holdings from the landlords for marriage expenses, housing, or farming costs. On defaulting, they would find themselves obliged to repay the debt through labour. Hereditary relationships continued between debtors and their masters, as generations found themselves in debt bondage, leading to slavery. During Ahmad Shah Abdali’s invasion of 1757, Sikhs, under the leadership of Baba Deep Singh, not only plundered his loot and but also rescued captive Hindu women. These women were captured by Ahmad Shah Abdali to sell them as maidens and slaves.

Veil

In Indian subcontinent, from 1st century B.C., societies advocated the use of the veil for married Hindu women which came to be known as Ghoonghat. Buddhists attempted to counter this growing practice around 3rd century CE. Rational opposition against veiling and seclusion from spirited ladies resulted in system not becoming popular for several centuries. Under the Medieval Islamic Mughal Empire, various aspects of veiling and seclusion of women was adopted, such as the concept of Purdah and Zenana, partly as an additional protection for women. Purdah became common in the 15th and 16th century, as both Vidyāpati and Chaitanya mention it.

Sikhism is highly critical of all forms of strict veiling, Sikh Gurus condemned it and rejected seclusion and veiling of women, which saw decline of veiling among some classes during late medieval period.

Similarities

  • Both Hindus and Sikh are cremated after death
  • Both believe in karma
  • Both Sikhs and Hindus revere the concept of a Guru.
  • Hindus and Sikhs use the word Atma or atman to describe the “Self, Soul”.

In the Hindu and Sikh traditions, there is a distinction between religion and culture, and ethical decisions are grounded in both religious beliefs and cultural values. Both Hindu and Sikh ethics are primarily duty based. Traditional teachings deal with the duties of individuals and families to maintain a lifestyle conducive to physical, mental and spiritual health. These traditions share a culture and world view that includes ideas of karma and rebirth, collective versus individual identity, and a strong emphasis on spiritual purity.

The notion of dharma, karma, moksha are very important for both Hindus and Sikhs. Unlike the linear view of life, death, heaven or hell taken in Abrahamic religions, for Hindus and Sikhs believe in the concept of Saṃsāra, that is life, birth and death are repeated, for each soul, in a cycle until one reaches mukti or moksha.

Culture and intermarriage

There is an organic relation of Sikhs to Hindus, states Zaehner, both in religious thought and their communities, and virtually all Sikhs’ ancestors were Hindus.Some Hindu groups, like the BJP and related nationalist organizations, view Sikhism as a tradition within Hinduism along with other Dharmic faiths (such as some Hindus referring to Sikhs as Keshdhari Hindus), even though the Sikh faith is a distinct religion. Historically, Sikhs were seen as the protectors of Hindus, among others, and were even considered by some right-wing Hindu political organizations like the RSS as the “sword arm” of Hinduism. This status as protectors of Hindus was strong enough that Punjabi Hindus would often raise their eldest son as a Sikh. Most Sikhs are ethnically Punjabis, whereas Hindus belong to a variety of ethnic groups worldwide (including Punjabis).

Marriages between Sikhs and Hindus, particularly among Khatris, are frequent. Dogra states that there has always been inter-marriage between the Hindu and the Sikh communities. Charing and Cole state that “Sikhism originated and developed within Hinduism. Hindus and Sikhs, in initial years of Sikhism, used to have what is termed as Roti Beti di Sanjh; that is they eat together and intermarry”. William Owen Cole and Piara Singh Sambhi state that for some Sikhs, intermarriage between Hindus and Sikhs of same community was preferable than other communities.

Sikh scriptures are venerated by certain Hindu communities, often by syncretic sects.

See also

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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