Profiles in Faith: Sikhism

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EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a part of a series of features in which we explore the many religious groups in the area and the people in them.

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A worshipper pays her respects to the holy book of Sikhism by waving a chaur sahib during the service.  Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
A worshipper pays her respects to the holy book of Sikhism by waving a chaur sahib during the service.

Surrounded by a standard mix of suburban homes and other buildings on Evans to Locks Road, one house of worship, Guru Singh Sabha, is an attention-grabber with its gold domes.

On the inside of the Sikh gurdwara (place of worship), songs in the Punjabi language grab the attention of visitors.

The Sikh faith started in India in the 15th century. Sikhs believe in one God and focus on the teachings of their 10 gurus and holy book, considered the 11th guru, Guru Granth Sahib. On Friday, members began celebrating the birthday of the 10th guru. Guru Gobind Singh, and will continue through Sunday.

For services, worshippers must wear head covers and remove shoes. On a recent Sunday, they sat cross-legged on white sheets on the floor, men on the left, women and children on the right. They focused on a teenager who was accompanied by other singing youths as she sat playing a harmonium and sang hymns in a mature voice while the English translation flashed across a projection screen.

Combined with the incessant rhythmic beats created by a man seated next to her as he tapped on a tabla (bongo-like drums), the music seemed mesmerizing.

Augusta resident Narinder Pal Singh Malik said getting young boys and girls involved in the service is a common practice.

"Sikh religion is for equality; men and women are treated equally. With that philosophy, children are also treated equally," he said. "On many occasions, they organize service for the entire program. This is a practice to get them involved and learn about the religious services, as they are our future."

Front and center in the worship room is the holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, which worshippers walk up and bow down to. It is concealed by fabric and topped with a shrine. During the service, someone stands at the back of the shrine with a chaur sahib, a device made of yak hair with a metal base that is waved back and forth above the holy book to show reverence for the message, said Mr. Malik's wife, Amarjit Kaur Malik.

"We all sit on the floor to show that we're all equal, that no one is above anybody," she said. "We keep the holy book elevated."

Following the service is the langar, or free kitchen, another significant way Sikhs express equality, Mrs. Malik said. The vegetarian meal brings people together regardless of their sex, age or socioeconomic status to sit on the floor and eat.

The practice was started by Sikhism's founder, Guru Nanak Dev.

langar is being offered continuously each day of this celebration weekend.

"The big thing for us is to work, share and to live honest, truthful lives and be humble," she said. "Humility is important."

J.D. Singh, Dr. Harinderjit Singh, Dr. Rajwinder Singh Manhiani and Mr. Malik are devoted Sikhs, mainly because of their respect for Guru Nanak.

Around the time Sikhism was started, "lots of atrocities" were going on, including conflict between Muslims and Hindus, discrimination and separation by class, Mr. Malik said.

Mr. Singh, of Augusta, said that Guru Nanak became one of the earliest people to speak out against discrimination of women and separation by class, caste, social status, gender and race.

"He stood for righteousness. He taught (us) to get out of rituals, that prayer is important. But you cannot just sit and pray all the time; you've got to fight for the right thing, too," he said. "He taught to do good, to have a family and take care of it, to work and live and make a difference in society."

The word Sikh means "student" or "disciple," Dr. Singh said. Guru Nanak traveled all over India teaching Sikhs that there is one God and about serving and getting rid of egos.

He spoke against some Muslim and Hindu practices at that time, Dr. Manhiani said.

"It's not that he was against Muslims or Hindus," he said. "He was against a tyranny where one ruler forced conversion to a religion. He was for freedom of religion and of speech."

Guru Nanak passed the guruship on to a follower, a practice that continued until the 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh. Over the years, gurus had compiled teachings into the holy book, which Guru Singh completed and passed the guruship to rather than to another person.

With teachings from so many wise and righteous leaders, the book has been revered and honored ever since, Mr. Singh said.

Sikhism affects all aspects of life.

"It makes me strong, gives me individualism, purifies my mind," he said. "It's honest living, just a strong belief that gets me out of bed in the morning."

Dr. Singh, a retina and laser surgery physician, agreed, and said prayer is a constant and important part of Sikh life.

"We pray all the time. I pray before I do surgery for no suffering of the patient," he said. "It gives me satisfaction, courage, helps me make the right decisions. We believe you have a direct connection to God. You don't need a middle man."

Mr. Malik said that "prayer gives me strength and self-respect to respect others and do my job honestly."

Dr. Manhiani said: "This religion is about respect and simplicity. Spirituality is only one aspect. There's also social aspects. It's a way of life."

Reach C. Samantha McKevie at (706) 823-3552 or samantha.mckevie@augustachronicle.com.

SIKHISM

There are many traditions involved with Sikhism, including:


KARA: A thin iron bracelet worn by all Sikhs as a symbol of equality because iron is an affordable metal. The round bracelet signifies that it has no beginning or end.


HUKAMNAMA: A Scripture or section from the holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, that Sikhs read each day. A different one is selected, read and focused on daily.


COVERING OF THE HEAD: Men and women must always cover their heads, particularly when in the gurdwara, as a sign of respect for the Guru Granth Sahib.


PARSHAD: A sweet, puddingike food given to visitors of the gurdwara. Parshad is served from a large bowl by a volunteer who walks around to guests and congregants, scoops out a bit with bare hands and places it into their hands. It is considered rude to refuse.


GOLDEN TEMPLE: A gold-and-marble temple in Amritsar, India, is considered sacred because it is home of the original 1,430-page holy book, Guru Granth Sahib.


EQUALITY : It's important that everyone is looked upon and treated equally, regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic status.


MONOTHEISTIC : One God is supreme.


FREEDOM: Sikhs believe in respecting people's right to believe what they want and do not try to convert others to their religion.


INTOXICANTS: Sikhs refrain from the use of any tobacco or alcohol.


MAIN TEACHINGS : Three essentials to founder Guru Nanak Dev were to work, share and live an honest and truthful life.


BY THE NUMBERS : Sikhism is considered one of the youngest world religions, about 500 years old. It is the fifth-largest world religion, with about 23 million adherents. There are about 30-40 Sikh families in Macon and the Aiken-Augusta area.


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