Who is a Sikh?

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The word Sikh literally means "a learner" and is derived from the Sanskrit word "shishya" which means disciple or student or learner; the term is also related to "Saknoti" which means "able and strong".

In the Punjabi language the word Sikh literally means to learn. A Sikh is a follower of the religion called Sikhi or Sikhism, which is the fifth largest organised religion in the world. A Sikh is a disciple of the Guru Granth Sahib which is more than a Holy book for the Sikhs - It is their perpetual and living spiritual teacher and guide.

Who is a Sikh?

Fortunately for us, this question has been answered by the Sikh Gurus who created this word; so it is not difficult to arrive at an answer. However, it appears that many politicians and the legal system in India have taken it upon themselves to redefine this word. This is not a wise move. It is always dangerous when some small section of the global community decides to redefine a term that has overtaken them and has now become an international term.

The word now does not just apply to people who reside in India; many millions of Sikhs live outside India and many will have never seen India and many will never ever go to India! Further, there are many non-Sikhs who love and follow the teaching of Guru Nanak and are drawn to the faith; how can a few politicians in a small state of India called Punjab decide on the terminology used worldwide?

The founder Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak first used the word 'Sikh' in about 1500; since then during the time of the first 9 Guru's, many millions of Sikhs roamed Punjab and the rest of the Indian sub-continent. Many Sikhs were found in surrounding countries like Afghanistan, Nepal, etc. All these Sikhs understood who they were and what there faith was; they knew the message of the Sikh Gurus and they followed it as best as possible.

Word established over 239 years

The Sikh Gurus over a period of 239 years established the faith known as Sikhi and in so doing gave meaning to the word "Sikh". It appears that the politicians are not satisfied with what the Gurus have said and wish to make their own definitions. This cannot be acceptable to the follower of the Sikh Gurus. Sikhi is an inclusive religion and the term Sikh has a wide coverage; it is not an exclusive term. The meaning of the word has been a reality and a certainty for many hundreds of years; the meaning of the word has been established by the Gurus and must remain so forever. It should be our task to understand what meaning the Gurus gave to this word rather than to tinker it to suit our present political needs.

The word "Sikh" appears in the Guru Granth Sahib English translation 156 times as Sikh, Sikhs, Gursikh(s), Sikh(s) of the Guru, etc. In some of these places, the Guru explains and defines this word. The definition of this word is a combination of all these explanations found in the holy Granth in these 156 locations.

Only the careful study of these verses, where this word appears would yield a good idea of the meaning of the term. However, one could also, combine with this the explanations found in the Dasam Granth and also the text by historic scholars like Bhai Gurdas, {{Bhai Nand Lal]], etc.

2 Words: "Sikh" and "Khalsa"

The word "Sikh" and "Khalsa" are treated differently in the holy Granth and must be treated separately in real life. Although there is some overlap in the definitions of these words, they are two different and distinct terms. There is considerable confusion in some Sikh sections about this distinction and some elements in the restricted establishment have lost the vision to cater for the global Sikh community. This is a un-welcomed situation which could be extremely detrimental to the Sikh panth and to the spread of the universal message of Guru Nanak and the Sikh Gurus.

Rather than get unnecessarily involved in any ugly proceedings of the current drama taking place the the Courts and the political arena in India, let us turn to what has been said in the Guru Granth Sahib regarding this word - Sikh or Gursikh?

Summary of the message of Gurbani

The list below summarises the Shabads found in the next section dealing with Gurbani. Only Shabads that offer an explanation of the term and are different from previous Shabads mentioned are listed. In taking all the Gurbani's definition of a Sikh into cosideration, one can summarise these as follows:

  • 1. A true Sikh of the Guru mediates on the Lord's Name regularly early everyday.
  • 2. The Guru's Sikh stays away from evil deeds.
  • 3. Instead of just pursuing the gathering of wealth and property, the Guru's Sikh is happy to meet the Guru and follow the teachings of the Guru.
  • 4. The true Gursikh will side with the Guru always and not turn his back when things get hard.
  • 5. Have faith in Gurbani and trust what it says as ordained by the Lord.
  • 6. Adhere to the path of righteousness as stipulated by the Gurus and never mingle with the false.
  • 7. Remember the Guru (the Lord) at all times and act according to his instructions.
  • 8. Do not keep company with anyone who wants to deceive and be involved in deception.
  • 9. Recognise that the mission of the Sikh is the same as that of the Sikh Gurus - to spread the teachings of Gurbani.
  • 10. Keep your mind clear; do not let your emotional attachments cloud your judgement.
  • 11. Respect all the people and their implements of those who walk on the path of righteousness for this is the sacred mission of the Sikh.
  • 12. Conquer the mind and do not let it distract you from the path of Dharam.
  • 13. Respect and accept Gurbani as the path of the Lord; do not be doubtful!
  • 14. Only by embracing love for the Lord will this priceless human life's mission be accomplished.


1. This Shabad by the fourth Sikh Guru, Guru Ram Das gives in one compact paragraph the precise definition of a Gursikh. What is interesting is that most of the condition pertain to the frame of mind and the habits that endear the Sikh to the Guru rather than to the physical form. It is accepted that this may have been developed by later Gurus, but what is important to understand where the importance was laid by the Gurus in the initial stage of Sikhism. Further, the later Gurus did not modify this shabad or add anything very different to the holy Granth to reflect any major change in this definition.

The important of meditating on the Lord's Name is central and main theme of the whole hymn. Then comes the need to do this yourself and to encourage others to do it; finally the prefered ways to carry out this practise. In the early hours; after bathing but standing or sitting is not important to meditate on His name. Keep the Lord in your mind at all times!

ਮ: ੪ ॥
ਗ੝ਰ ਸਤਿਗ੝ਰ ਕਾ ਜੋ ਸਿਖ੝ ਅਖਾਝ ਸ੝ ਭਲਕੇ ਉਠਿ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮ੝ ਧਿਆਵੈ ॥

ਉਦਮ੝ ਕਰੇ ਭਲਕੇ ਪਰਭਾਤੀ ਇਸਨਾਨ੝ ਕਰੇ ਅੰਮ੝ਰਿਤ ਸਰਿ ਨਾਵੈ ॥
ਉਪਦੇਸਿ ਗ੝ਰੂ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਜਪ੝ ਜਾਪੈ ਸਭਿ ਕਿਲਵਿਖ ਪਾਪ ਦੋਖ ਲਹਿ ਜਾਵੈ ॥
ਫਿਰਿ ਚੜੈ ਦਿਵਸ੝ ਗ੝ਰਬਾਣੀ ਗਾਵੈ ਬਹਦਿਆ ਉਠਦਿਆ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮ੝ ਧਿਆਵੈ ॥
ਜੋ ਸਾਸਿ ਗਿਰਾਸਿ ਧਿਆਝ ਮੇਰਾ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਸੋ ਗ੝ਰਸਿਖ੝ ਗ੝ਰੂ ਮਨਿ ਭਾਵੈ ॥
ਜਿਸ ਨੋ ਦਇਆਲ੝ ਹੋਵੈ ਮੇਰਾ ਸ੝ਆਮੀ ਤਿਸ੝ ਗ੝ਰਸਿਖ ਗ੝ਰੂ ਉਪਦੇਸ੝ ਸ੝ਣਾਵੈ ॥
ਜਨ੝ ਨਾਨਕ੝ ਧੂੜਿ ਮੰਗੈ ਤਿਸ੝ ਗ੝ਰਸਿਖ ਕੀ ਜੋ ਆਪਿ ਜਪੈ ਅਵਰਹ ਨਾਮ੝ ਜਪਾਵੈ ॥੨॥

Mėhlĝ 4.
Gur saṯgur kĝ jo sikẖ akẖĝ▫e so bẖalke uṯẖ har nĝm ḝẖi▫ĝvai.

Uḝam kare bẖalke parbẖĝṯī isnĝn kare amriṯ sar nĝvai.
Upḝes gurū har har jap jĝpai sabẖ kilvikẖ pĝp ḝokẖ lėh jĝvai.
Fir cẖaṛai ḝivas gurbĝṇī gĝvai bahḝi▫ĝ uṯẖ▫ḝi▫ĝ har nĝm ḝẖi▫ĝvai.
Jo sĝs girĝs ḝẖi▫ĝ▫e merĝ har har so gursikẖ gurū man bẖĝvai.
Jis no ḝa▫i▫ĝl hovai merĝ su▫ĝmī ṯis gursikẖ gurū upḝes suṇĝvai.
Jan Nĝnak ḝẖūṛ mangai ṯis gursikẖ kī jo ĝp japai avrah nĝm japĝvai. (2)

Fourth Mehl:
One who calls himself a Sikh of the Guru, the True Guru, shall rise in the early morning hours and meditate on the Lord's Name.

Upon arising early in the morning, he is to bathe, and cleanse himself in the pool of nectar.
Following the Instructions of the Guru, he is to chant the Name of the Lord, Har, Har. All sins, misdeeds and negativity shall be erased.
Then, at the rising of the sun, he is to sing Gurbani; whether sitting down or standing up, he is to meditate on the Lord's Name.
One who meditates on my Lord, Har, Har, with every breath and every morsel of food - that GurSikh becomes pleasing to the Guru's Mind.
That person, unto whom my Lord and Master is kind and compassionate - upon that GurSikh, the Guru's Teachings are bestowed.
Servant Nanak begs for the dust of the feet of that GurSikh, who himself chants the Naam, and inspires others to chant it. (2)


ਗ੝ਰ ਕਾ ਸਿਖ੝ ਬਿਕਾਰ ਤੇ ਹਾਟੈ ॥
Gur kĝ sikẖ bikĝr ṯe hĝtai.
The Sikh of the Guru abstains from evil deeds.


ਨਰ ਪ੝ਰਾਣੀ ਪ੝ਰੀਤਿ ਮਾਇਆ ਧਨ੝ ਖਾਟੇ ॥ ਗ੝ਰਸਿਖ ਪ੝ਰੀਤਿ ਗ੝ਰ੝ ਮਿਲੈ ਗਲਾਟੇ ॥
Nar parĝṇī parīṯ mĝ▫i▫ĝ ḝẖan kẖĝte. Gursikẖ parīṯ gur milai galĝte.
The mortal man loves to accumulate wealth and property. The GurSikh loves to meet and embrace the Guru.


ਸਚਿਆਰ ਸਿਖ ਬਹਿ ਸਤਿਗ੝ਰ ਪਾਸਿ ਘਾਲਨਿ ਕੂੜਿਆਰ ਨ ਲਭਨੀ ਕਿਤੈ ਥਾਇ ਭਾਲੇ ॥
Sacẖiĝr sikẖ bahi saṯgur pĝs gẖĝlan kūṛi▫ĝr na labẖnī kiṯai thĝ▫e bẖĝle.
The truthful Sikhs sit by the True Guru's side and serve Him. The false ones search, but find no place of rest.


ਸਤਿਗ੝ਰ ਕੀ ਬਾਣੀ ਸਤਿ ਸਤਿ ਕਰਿ ਜਾਣਹ੝ ਗ੝ਰਸਿਖਹ੝ ਹਰਿ ਕਰਤਾ ਆਪਿ ਮ੝ਹਹ੝ ਕਢਾਝ ॥
Saṯgur kī baṇī saṯ saṯ kar jĝṇhu gursikẖahu har karṯĝ ĝp muhhu kadẖĝ▫e.
O GurSikhs, know that the Bani, the Word of the True Guru, is true, absolutely true. The Creator Lord Himself causes the Guru to chant it.


ਕੂੜਿਆਰ ਕੂੜਿਆਰੀ ਜਾਇ ਰਲੇ ਸਚਿਆਰ ਸਿਖ ਬੈਠੇ ਸਤਿਗ੝ਰ ਪਾਸਿ ॥੨੬॥
Kūṛi▫ĝr kẖūṛi▫ĝrī jĝ▫e rale sacẖiĝr sikẖ baiṯẖe saṯgur pĝs. (26)
The false go and mingle with the false, while the truthful Sikhs sit by the side of the True Guru. (26)


ਗ੝ਰਸਿਖਾਂ ਅੰਦਰਿ ਸਤਿਗ੝ਰੂ ਵਰਤੈ ਜੋ ਸਿਖਾਂ ਨੋ ਲੋਚੈ ਸੋ ਗ੝ਰ ਖ੝ਸੀ ਆਵੈ ॥ ਸਤਿਗ੝ਰ੝ ਆਖੈ ਸ੝ ਕਾਰ ਕਮਾਵਨਿ ਸ੝ ਜਪ੝ ਕਮਾਵਹਿ ਗ੝ਰਸਿਖਾਂ ਕੀ ਘਾਲ ਸਚਾ ਥਾਇ ਪਾਵੈ ॥
Gursikẖĝʼn anḝar saṯgurū varṯai jo sikẖĝʼn no locẖai so gur kẖusī ĝvai.

Saṯgur ĝkẖai so kĝr kamĝvan so jap kamĝvėh gursikẖĝʼn kī gẖĝl sacẖĝ thĝ▫e pĝvai.

Deep within the hearts of His GurSikhs, the True Guru is pervading. The Guru is pleased with those who long for His Sikhs.

As the True Guru directs them, they do their work and chant their prayers. The True Lord accepts the service of His GurSikhs.


ਜਿ ਠਗੀ ਆਵੈ ਠਗੀ ਉਠਿ ਜਾਇ ਤਿਸ੝ ਨੇੜੈ ਗ੝ਰਸਿਖ੝ ਮੂਲਿ ਨ ਆਵੈ ॥
Jė ṯẖagī ĝvai ṯẖagī uṯẖ jĝ▫e ṯis neṛai gursikẖ mūl na ĝvai.
One who comes to deceive, who rises up and goes out to deceive - the GurSikhs shall never come near him.


ਗ੝ਰੂ ਸਿਖ੝ ਸਿਖ੝ ਗ੝ਰੂ ਹੈ ਝਕੋ ਗ੝ਰ ਉਪਦੇਸ੝ ਚਲਾਝ ॥
Gurū sikẖ sikẖ gurū hai eko gur upḝes cẖalĝ▫e.
The Guru's Sikh, and the Sikh's Guru, are one and the same; both spread the Guru's Teachings.


ਸੋ ਗ੝ਰੂ ਸੋ ਸਿਖ੝ ਕਥੀਅਲੇ ਸੋ ਵੈਦ੝ ਜਿ ਜਾਣੈ ਰੋਗੀ ॥ ਤਿਸ੝ ਕਾਰਣਿ ਕੰਮ੝ ਨ ਧੰਧਾ ਨਾਹੀ ਧੰਧੈ ਗਿਰਹੀ ਜੋਗੀ ॥੫॥
So gurū so sikẖ kathī▫ale so vaiḝ jė jĝṇai rogī. Ŧis kĝraṇ kamm na ḝẖanḝẖĝ nĝhī ḝẖanḝẖai girhī jogī. (5)
He alone is said to be a Guru, he alone is said to be a Sikh, and he alone is said to be a physician, who knows the patient's illness.

He is not affected by actions, responsibilities and entanglements; in the entanglements of his household, he maintains the detachment of Yoga. (5)


ਤਿਨ ਕਾ ਖਾਧਾ ਪੈਧਾ ਮਾਇਆ ਸਭ੝ ਪਵਿਤ੝ ਹੈ ਜੋ ਨਾਮਿ ਹਰਿ ਰਾਤੇ ॥

ਤਿਨ ਕੇ ਘਰ ਮੰਦਰ ਮਹਲ ਸਰਾਈ ਸਭਿ ਪਵਿਤ੝ ਹਹਿ ਜਿਨੀ ਗ੝ਰਮ੝ਖਿ ਸੇਵਕ ਸਿਖ ਅਭਿਆਗਤ ਜਾਇ ਵਰਸਾਤੇ ॥
ਤਿਨ ਕੇ ਤ੝ਰੇ ਜੀਨ ਖ੝ਰਗੀਰ ਸਭਿ ਪਵਿਤ੝ ਹਹਿ ਜਿਨੀ ਗ੝ਰਮ੝ਖਿ ਸਿਖ ਸਾਧ ਸੰਤ ਚੜਿ ਜਾਤੇ ॥
ਤਿਨ ਕੇ ਕਰਮ ਧਰਮ ਕਾਰਜ ਸਭਿ ਪਵਿਤ੝ ਹਹਿ ਜੋ ਬੋਲਹਿ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਰਾਮ ਨਾਮ੝ ਹਰਿ ਸਾਤੇ ॥
ਜਿਨ ਕੈ ਪੋਤੈ ਪ੝ੰਨ੝ ਹੈ ਸੇ ਗ੝ਰਮ੝ਖਿ ਸਿਖ ਗ੝ਰੂ ਪਹਿ ਜਾਤੇ ॥੧੬॥

Ŧin kĝ kẖĝḝẖĝ paiḝẖĝ mĝ▫i▫ĝ sabẖ paviṯ hai jo nĝm har rĝṯe.

Ŧin ke gẖar manḝar mahal sarĝ▫ī sabẖ paviṯ hėh jinī gurmukẖ sevak sikẖ abẖi▫ĝgaṯ jĝ▫e varsĝṯe.
Ŧin ke ṯure jīn kẖurgīr sabẖ paviṯ hėh jinī gurmukẖ sikẖ sĝḝẖ sanṯ cẖaṛ jĝṯe.
Ŧin ke karam ḝẖaram kĝraj sabẖ paviṯ hėh jo bolėh har har rĝm nĝm har sĝṯe.
Jin kai poṯai punn hai se gurmukẖ sikẖ gurū pėh jĝṯe. (16)

The food and clothes, and all the worldly possessions of those who are attuned to the Lord's Name are sacred.

All the homes, temples, palaces and way-stations are sacred, where the Gurmukhs, the selfless servants, the Sikhs and the renouncers of the world, go and take their rest.
All the horses, saddles and horse blankets are sacred, upon which the Gurmukhs, the Sikhs, the Holy and the Saints, mount and ride.
All the rituals and Dharmic practices and deeds are sacred, for those who utter the Name of the Lord, Har, Har, the True Name of the Lord.
Those Gurmukhs, those Sikhs, who have purity as their treasure, go to their Guru. (16)


ਧਨ੝ ਧਨ੝ ਭਾਗ ਤਿਨਾ ਗ੝ਰਮ੝ਖਾ ਜੋ ਗ੝ਰਸਿਖ ਲੈ ਮਨ੝ ਜਿਣਤਿਆ ॥ ਸਭ ਦੂ ਵਡੇ ਭਾਗ ਗ੝ਰਸਿਖਾ ਕੇ ਜੋ ਗ੝ਰ ਚਰਣੀ ਸਿਖ ਪੜਤਿਆ ॥੧੮॥
Ḏẖan ḝẖan bẖĝg ṯinĝ gurmukẖĝ jo gursikẖ lai man jiṇṯi▫ĝ. Sabẖ ḝū vade bẖĝg gursikẖĝ ke jo gur cẖarṇī sikẖ paṛ▫ṯi▫ĝ. (18)
Blessed, blessed is the good fortune of those Gurmukhs, who live as Gursikhs, and conquer their minds.

But the greatest good fortune of all, is that of the Guru's Sikhs, who fall at the Guru's feet. (18)


ਗ੝ਰਸਿਖ ਮੀਤ ਚਲਹ੝ ਗ੝ਰ ਚਾਲੀ ॥ ਜੋ ਗ੝ਰ੝ ਕਹੈ ਸੋਈ ਭਲ ਮਾਨਹ੝ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਕਥਾ ਨਿਰਾਲੀ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
Gursikẖ mīṯ cẖalhu gur cẖĝlī. Jo gur kahai so▫ī bẖal mĝnhu har har kathĝ nirĝlī. (1) rahĝ▫o.
O Sikhs of the Guru, O friends, walk on the Guru's Path.

Whatever the Guru says, accept that as good; the sermon of the Lord, Har, Har, is unique and wonderful.(1)(Pause)


ਉਪਦੇਸ੝ ਸ੝ਣਹ੝ ਤ੝ਮ ਗ੝ਰਸਿਖਹ੝ ਸਚਾ ਇਹੈ ਸ੝ਆਉ ॥ ਜਨਮ੝ ਪਦਾਰਥ੝ ਸਫਲ੝ ਹੋਇ ਮਨ ਮਹਿ ਲਾਇਹ੝ ਭਾਉ ॥
Upḝes suṇhu ṯum gursikẖahu sacẖĝ ihai su▫ĝ▫o. Janam paḝĝrath safal ho▫e man mėh lĝ▫ihu bẖĝ▫o.
Listen to these Teachings, O Sikhs of the Guru. This is the true purpose of life.

This priceless human life will be made fruitful; embrace love for the Lord in your mind.

This article is part of the series on the "Message of Gurbani"

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