Kids Corner


Who Is A Sikh?




A Sikh is supposed to follow the path laid down by the Gurus, believe in the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib, keep the five k’s … all this is widely known.

However, when it comes to defining who a Sikh is, there is a degree of ambiguity that crops up from time to time, often fuelled by vested political interests.

In defining a Sikh, we go back to the rehat-namas issued after Guru Gobind Singh in which the teachings of the Gurus were given as Code of Conduct by prominent Sikhs. In modern times, the need of defining who a Sikh became largely legalistic, in response, for example, to a perceived need for having a Sikh body manage the affairs of historical gurdwaras which were in the hands of the mahants.

In 1915, Sikhs got together to define a Sikh and their definition had a bearing on the Sikh Gurdwaras Act which was adopted in 1925. It says:

If any question arises as to whether any living person is or is not a Sikh, he shall be deemed respectively to be or not to be a Sikh according as he makes or refuses to make in such manner as the (State) Government may prescribe the following declaration:

I solemnly affirm that I am a Sikh, that I believe in the Guru Granth Sahib, that I believe in the Ten Gurus, and that I have no other religion.

In the 1930s, prominent scholars, leaders and organisations participated in the proceedings of the S.G.P.C.’s Code of Conduct and Conventions Sub-Committee. They included such luminaries such as Giani Thakar Singh, Amritsar, Giani Sher Singh, Bhai Budh Singh, Akali Kaur Singh, Sant Sangat Singh of Kamaliya, Bhai Kahn Singh of Nabha, Pandit Basant Singh of Patiala, Bhai Vir Singh of Amritsar, Bawa Harkishan Singh, Principal, Guru Nanak Khalsa College, Gujranwala, Pandit Kartar Singh of Dakha, Ludhiana, the Jathedars of Sri Akal Takht, Takht Sri Kesgarh Sahib, Takht Sri Patna Sahib, Prof Ganga Singh, Prof Jodh Singh, Justice Teja Singh, Bhai Randhir Singh and Prof Teja Singh ( who was conveneor of the sub-committee).

Rehat Maryada

The Sikh Rehat Maryada, issued by the S.G.P.C. in 1945 after deliberations, terms Sikh as: “Any human being who faithfully believes in: (i) the One Immortal Being. (ii) Ten Gurus, from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh. (iii) Guru Granth Sahib. (iv) the utterance and teachings of the Ten Gurus and (v) the baptism bequeathed by the Tenth Guru; and who does not owe allegiance to any other religion, is a Sikh.”

Amritdhari Sikh

The Sikh Gurdwaras Act says that Amritdhari Sikh means and includes every person who has taken khande-ka-amrit or Khanda Pahul prepared and administered according to the tenets of the Sikh religion and rites at the hands of the Punj Pyare.

Sehajdhari Sikh

A Sehajdhari Sikh means a person: (i) who performs ceremonies according to Sikh rites; (ii) who does not use tobacco or kutha (halal meat) in any form; (iii) who is not a patit; and (iv) who can recite Mool Mantar .

Meaning of Patit

“Patit” means a person who being a Keshdhari Sikh trims or shaves his beard or kesh or who, after taking amrit commits any one or more of the four kurahits (breach of code) (a) trimming or shaving hair, (2) eating halal meat; (3) sexual contact with a person other than one’s spouse; and (4) using tobacco.


[Courtesy: Tribune]

September 20, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: Ravinder Singh (Mumbai, India), September 20, 2011, 11:51 AM.

A Sikh is one who believes in Ik Oankar, believes in the Ten Gurus as one and accepts the Guru Granth Sahib as his shabad Guru, and follows no other. A Khalsa is one who, in addition to the above, takes khande da pahul and accepts the rehat maryada for the Khalsa as given by Guru Gobind Singh. The Guru who resides in all of us is the best decider of who a patit is. God, Guru and gurbani are one for the Sikhs and decisions taken should be taken accordingly by the panth in light of the Gurus' teachings.

2: Ravinder Singh (Mumbai, India), September 20, 2011, 12:41 PM.

I also want to add that our eternal Guru Granth Sahib tells us about our rehat in each and every one of its shabads, if we are open to it.

3: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), September 20, 2011, 9:47 PM.

You are a Sikh if ... you earn an honest living, recite the Name of the Creator, and share your earnings with your fellow humans ... follow, understand and have faith in the House of Nanak and so walk on the path of Truth (no lying, cheating, stealing, etc.); respect the female, see all humanity as one; don't discriminate on any basis; have control over mind and body (lust, anger, greed, attachment and egotism); use knowledge and intelligence for the good of humankind; have goodwill for ALL people and are devoid of superstition and fear ...

4: Happy Singh (Bangkok, Thailand), September 20, 2011, 11:55 PM.

A Sikh is a Sikh. The answer lies in the question itself. We as Sikhs will continue to learn, to accept everyone in every form, for we believe that God is One. This is just my own humble belief. I am a nobody to question saints and scholars. For me that is where my Sikhi lies, there is no good and there is no bad.

5: Loveneet Kaur (Australia), September 21, 2011, 1:15 AM.

Sikhs are they who sacrifice their all to serve and protect others.

6: Selina and Isabella Ahluwalia (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), September 21, 2011, 8:17 AM.

We are ten-year-old sisters and would like to know "Who is a Sikh" as defined and enshrined in our scriptures. We know that the Khalsa was proclaimed by Guru Gobind Singh ji - we have read the various definitions of a Sikh by the law, scholars, committees. Our father has told us who a Sikh is, but would like to know more. Simple answers, please. Please tell us what our Gurus, including Guru Granth Sahib, tell us of who a Sikh is.

7: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), September 21, 2011, 9:35 AM.

Selina and Isabella beta, Sat Sri Akal. To answer your question: a Sikh is a 'special' and pure person who does not defile the body (with alcohol, tobacco, drugs, etc.) or even thinks of committing 'sin' or acts of any violence against any creature, apart from self-defence. Most importantly, a Sikh knows that women are equal to men in every respect. That is why, every Sikh girl and woman is a Kaur - Princess!

8: Gurjender Singh (Maryland, U.S.A.), September 21, 2011, 11:02 AM.

I believe that if every one follows the rules initiated by Guru Nanak and locked in by Guru Gobind Singh for Sikhs, there would not be questions about who is a Sikh. Accordingly, there were so many Hindus and Muslims who were considered Gurus' Sikhs.

9: Ravinder Singh Ubhi (London, United Kingdom), September 21, 2011, 11:29 AM.

Would it be easier to ask "Who is not a Sikh?" or "Who is a Singh, Who is a Kaur?" The Tenth Guru took baptism of amrit from the Punj Pyare to become Guru Gobind Singh, and was no longer Gobind Rai. Today, how many people stick to Singh and Kaur, and are willing to let go the surname of the village, family, etc. In today's society, people say we need to use them to distinguish ourselves. That's rubbish. How many John Smiths are there in the world or Mohammed Islam's? Truth of the matter is we would have to defeat the ego within and embark on a journey to learn (seek) understand and commit to fully being what a Singh/Kaur is. My personal view is that to fully understand Sikhi in scholarly detail, you have to learn Gurmukhi, Persian, Arabic and Hindi and then read the actual hand-written texts. Don't buy into anything printed by the S.G.P.C. unless they tried to destroy it. You have to remember that Sikhism dates prior to 1913 when the British created the S.G.P.C. The British disarmed the Sikhs and wrested control of Sikh places of worship as well as texts and installed their own people in place to continue to spread misinformation throughout the Sikh nation. Divide and Conquer was always their favoured tactic. Keep an open mind and stay objective; don't follow anyone. Don't rely on so-called leaders of today. Each one of you is 'Savaa Lukh'; you have the strength that the Guru's bani gives you. The only leader a Sikh needs is Guru Granth Sahib. If you cannot utterly devote yourself into believing in the living Guru or the Gurus' teachings, then you are not a Sikh and could never be a Singh/Kaur. Remember, as a Singh/Kaur, your duty is to protect the weak and those that need leaders and look to follow others ... even if these 'followers' number in the majority.

10: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), September 21, 2011, 12:16 PM.

This question for me personally is extremely emotive because I am told by Sikhs and non-Sikhs around the world, including professors of theology, that my household's ideology of following the Guru is 'unbeatable by any person!' (and I'm not even a 'practicing' Sikh!). So the glory goes straight to Guru Nanak-Gobind Singh for their extraordinary teachings and humility.

11: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), September 21, 2011, 4:13 PM.

Selina and Isabella: "He alone is a Sikh, a relative and a friend, who lives according to Guru's will" [GGS:601.18]. Thus: a Sikh is someone who follows the Ten Sikh Gurus' teachings, and does not follow any other spiritual teacher or guru.

12: Bibek Singh (Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.A.), September 21, 2011, 4:47 PM.

Selina and Isabella: As per dictionary, 'Guru' means 'teacher' and 'Sikh' means 'student' or 'disciple'. So in simple terms, a Sikh is a person who is every-ready to learn ... a constant learner. 'Guru Granth Sahib' is the Sikh's Guru (teacher), that shows us the way to live our life. Hope this helps.

13: Rupreet Kaur (Sacramento, California, U.S.A.), September 21, 2011, 5:44 PM.

Selina and Isabella Ahluwalia are precociously articulate and inquisitive. That's being on the path of Sikhi ...

14: Sundeep Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), September 21, 2011, 6:57 PM.

It is interesting to see that all of the comments are based upon a religious identity of Sikhs. What about those of us who may not be particularly religious but consider ourselves cultural Sikhs? That is to say that my identity causes me to see myself as part of a greater community rather than apart from it.

15: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), September 21, 2011, 8:03 PM.

A Sikh is a life-time learner through gurbani. Live life according to gurmat - that is the Guru's message. Wund ke chhukkna is bandagi, Lukko ke chhukkna is sharmindagi; thuggi-chori kar ke chhuakkna is gandagee. To eat gandagee is to fall sick.

16: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), September 21, 2011, 9:33 PM.

"Who is a Sikh?" is a question that needs to be asked and debated to get rid of all the charlatans and egomaniacs using Sikhi for monetary gain and fame. If there is no allegiance or basic respect for the Guru in daily living, then there is no need to use the label of Sikh.

17: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), September 22, 2011, 1:32 AM.

According to gurbani, everyone is a Sikh considering his/her relationship with the Guru right from conception.

18: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), September 22, 2011, 9:34 AM.

Selina and Isabella Beta: You have asked some excellent questions. To begin with: you are young. At this stage in your life, your father is the best guide as to what being a Sikh means. Listen to him ... he knows best. As you grow older, you'll want to learn more ... and that is exactly what a Sikh is, and is meant to do - seek and learn. It is a life-long process, as we constantly strive to make ourselves better. Now for your question: "Who is a Sikh?" Two simple and brief pointers. There are two aspects of being a Sikh. The first involves your inner self and your spiritual life. The Guru Granth Sahib, on page 633, clearly tells us what we are to strive for: "One who in suffering feels not affliction;/ Is by pleasures, attachment and fear unaffected,/ And holds gold and dust alike;/ Who by slander and praise is not affected,/ Nor by avarice, attachment and pride,/ Who to joy and sorrow keeps unattached,/ Nor by honour and dishonour is swayed;/ Who renounces lure of the world and covetousness,/ And frees himself from all desire;/ Abjures lust and wrath -/ In the mind of such a one dwells the Supreme Being." Now, beta, this is what we strive for in being Sikhs, and getting there is a life-long journey. There is much more to it, but you'll have to find out for yourself, as you grow older, by doing your own research, study, thinking and practice. The second aspect - recognized by Sikhism as being equally important - is the temporal and worldly side of our lives. If we put value to what we believe in, if we want to protect our rights to practice our faith as we see it fit, and be able to pass it on to our children, we need to identify ourselves publicly as Sikhs. Democracy, you will learn soon, is a numbers game. And in that process, there needs to be some clarity as to who can call himself/herself a Sikh. For example, we do not want our enemies and detractors to decide, by just calling themselves Sikh, how our affairs are to be run. Hence the need for a public definition. For that purpose, the definition provided by the Rehat Maryada is the best guide. When you are older and have done much study and contemplation on these issues, you'll find that all of these definitions are mere early lessons, and you'll find you have moved beyond to greater spiritual heights. This entire process, starting with your asking questions and seeking answers, all the way to finding your own answers, is the path of Sikhi. This, in a thumb-nail sketch, is what being a Sikh means.

19: Manjit (Dallas, Texas, U.S.A.), September 22, 2011, 11:54 AM.

If Guru Gobind Singh had to kneel in front of the Punj Pyare and only then changed from Rai to Singh, who are we to use the name "Singh" as a mere birth right?

20: Harinder (Uttar Pradesh, India), September 22, 2011, 12:51 PM.

A Sikh is a time/space traveler. Just like Guru Nanak.

21: Harpreet Singh (Delhi, India), September 22, 2011, 3:20 PM.

In his autobiography, a great gursikh - Bhai Randhir Singh - referred to himself as only a candidate in the school of Sikhi, and not a Sikh. Likewise, a Sikh once told Sant Attar Singh ji Mastuana that the census was going on and the number of Sikhs was four million. Sant ji replied that he knew of only four Sikhs! We need to learn from the wise who have gone before us. One of my Sikh friends (who was born in a Hindu Sehajdhari family) used to say that in the ardaas, "Sikhi daan" is prayed for before "kes daan", signifying - he said - that sehajdharis deserve every respect. May Waheguru bless Selina and Isabella and all our children.

22: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), September 23, 2011, 10:37 AM.

Let us correctly define a Sikh for the adults: Just as the word 'baby' bears witness to existence of a mother, the word 'Sikh' bears witness to having a Guru. People cite various virtues from gurbani but they are not unique to Sikhi. Sikhi is an inner state of reciprocity. A Sikh is someone who, constantly, strives to take what the Guru strives to give, and adheres to very specific and unique Sikh rules: among other things, rises before dawn, takes a shower, meditates on Waheguru, sings gurbani, engages in simran of Waheguru all day, and stays mentally in the presence of the Guru during all activity. As Harpreet Singh said above, true Sikhs are only a handful. It is much easier to parrot the adage "Naam juppo, Kirat karo, Wund chhakko", but these are only basic terms of engagement for everyone who wants to walk on this path, not just the Sikhs.

23: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), September 23, 2011, 10:41 AM.

A Sikh without the kesh is a lame Sikh, but not a dead Sikh. There is always hope. We find it easy to point fingers at those who breach this cardinal external rule, because it is difficult to spot those who keep kesh but do not admit their shortcomings in some other equally vital areas. Labeling others as 'sehajdhari', 'patit', etc. is against gurbani. The Guru is like the sun, shines on everyone equally and does not discriminate. Only we do so. Glorifying a group as 'sehajdhari' is only politically correct. One has never stepped forward while the other has stepped backward. The only difference between the two is the magnitude of guilt associated with the error. Guru ji says, "I am the greatest sinner (paapi) fallen (patit) and fraud (pakhandi)" [GGS:596.17]. We are not better than the Guru. So, by Guru's measure, we are all worse than patit.

24: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), September 23, 2011, 10:44 AM.

We are free to label ourselves. But finger-pointing is against gurmat (Guru's teaching). It is true that the political debates hinge on identity. But gurmat does not recognize a born Sikh, cultural Sikh, political Sikh, half Sikh / full Sikh, slow Sikh, fast Sikh, etc. or a Sikh by appearance alone. The term "pooran Sikh" is often used for those who keep "full" kesh, when in fact a pooran (perfect) Sikh is an extremely rare soul. "Sikhism" is another misnomer. But the Sikhs are now considered a religion (amalgam of people who are born in it) and everyone wants to be recognized as some sort of Sikh, regardless. We need to find a common name to include everyone in this amorphous population of Sikhs, without trying to modify the meaning of 'Sikh' given by the Guru. Misuse of terminology fuels further confusion.

25: O. (Surrey, British Columbia, Canada), September 23, 2011, 11:36 PM.

A Sikh is one who follows the teachings of the Guru (Granth Sahib).

26: Ravinder Singh (Mumbai, India), September 25, 2011, 2:20 AM.

Any person who takes the shelter of the Guru; listens, accepts and learns from Him; and has faith in the Guru, may call himself a Sikh of the Guru, irrespective of which religion he follows, which caste he belongs to, whatever the colour of his skin, whatever his external appearance, whichever country he belongs to, whether rich or poor, regardless of which social status he belongs to, etc. Sikhi is about the fatherhood of the One and the brotherhood of man. If a person takes one step forward as a Sikh, all other steps will be taken care of by the Guru, as per his divine will. Sikhi is meant for the entire human race.

27: Sundeep Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), September 25, 2011, 2:57 AM.

There is a problem that plagues the Sikh community from Amritsar to Vancouver. We come from a people with a glorious history yet the number of individuals who are well versed in this history are few. Khalsa Sikhs have always been in the minority. Always. Period. Yet this small community has taken it upon itself to tell the rest of us what constitutes a "true" Sikh. The Khalsa was always intended for those who chose to join it, it was not an open club that every Sikh could claim to be born into. This idea developed during the "Sikh Reformation" period of the Singh Sabha movement. A combination of a loss of our empire, coupled with pressure from the mischief of the Arya Samaj led our leaders to forge a common identity for our somewhat diverse people. The problem however is that this "rigid" identity does not allow space for those who are not standing at the center. Centuries of enduring oppression and celebrating victory has forged an ethno-religious community.

28: Anju (Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.), September 25, 2011, 8:30 PM.

As far as I know, a Sikh is a person who is born in a Sikh family! What is a Sikh family? A Sikh family is one that goes to the gurdwara to follow the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib.

29: Ravinder Singh (Mumbai, India), September 26, 2011, 7:04 AM.

Any definition of who is a Sikh will be incomplete without defining the Khalsa. If a Sikh and a Khalsa is absolutely the same, then we should be defining the Khalsa. If there is a subtle difference between the two, we have to define them accordingly. This we owe it to ourselves and future generations so that there is no scope left for slow Sikhs, fast Sikhs, half-Sikhs, Sikhs by appearance, etc. etc. As far as the position of the S.G.P.C. in defining a Sikh as being a Khande da Pahul Khalsa, I believe it is wrong.

30: Harpreet Singh (Delhi, India), September 27, 2011, 4:31 PM.

I know many devout Sikh men and women in Delhi, mostly young, who were not born in a Sikh family but embraced Sikhi in spite of very tough opposition from their families, relatives and friends. Many great historical Sikhs were also not born in Sikh families, e.g. Bhagat Puran Singh, Prof. Sahib Singh, Nanak Singh (the Novelist), Master Tara Singh, etc.

31: Selina and Isabella Ahluwalia (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), September 28, 2011, 7:41 AM.

Thank you, everybody, for responding to our question. It helps us, and will help other children too, in better understanding and practicing Sikhi. Once again, many thanks. And thanks to Dad, who has helped too.

32: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), September 29, 2011, 7:21 PM.

As we see above, the definition of (spiritual) Sikh will vary when it is meant for a 5-year old, an adolescent, a historian, a warrior, a politician or a spiritual seeker. Similarly, 'Khalsa' has many incidental (but erroneous) meanings. 'Khalsa Panth' is an elite subgroup of Sikhs who are formally committed to the Guru in thought, word and deed. They wear Guru's relics. A member of Khalsa Panth is courteously called Khalsa by humble Sikhs. But calling everyone Khalsa is not correct. As defined by Guru Gobind Singh, Khalsa is a rare soul: "jaagat jot japai nis basur ... pooran jot jagai ghat mai ..." [Dasam Granth:33 Swayyas, verse 1] - "When the perfect light illuminates the heart, only then someone is known as immaculate Khalsa".

33: Ravinder Singh (Mumbai, India), October 01, 2011, 6:19 AM.

A clarification re what I said earlier: One is a Khalsa only if one has taken the amrit, otherwise not.

34: Ravinder Singh (Mumbai, India), November 20, 2011, 12:46 AM.

Sikhi is learning the Guru's thought. 1Onkar is the Guru in Sikhi, Nanak to Gobind Singh are the Ten Gurus in Sikhi, Guru Granth Sahib is the eternal ShabadGuru in Sikhi. Sikhi is Oneness of God, Guru and Gurbani. A person whose faith is Sikhi and who believes and calls himself a Sikh is a Sikh. A Sikh who takes the Khande da Pahul, accepts the rehat of the Pahul accordingly, is a Khalsa. Also, every Sikh is khalsa - meaning, every Sikh is pure. The eternal Guru Granth Sahib tells us rehat through each and every one of of its shabads. The collectivity of Sikhs constitutes the Guru Panth, also known as the Sikh Panth, also known as the Khalsa Panth.

35: P. Sandhu (Adelaide, Australia), February 07, 2012, 12:06 PM.

A person who goes to the Guru's door every day to learn how to be a sant-sipahi of miri and piri so as to operate in the physical realm with the highest, illumined spiritual moral values for the well being of all ... without enmity and fear ... in all walks of earthly life ... and sets his goal to join the highest association of like-minded souls ... has the will and courage to carry through the teachings of our Gurus ... with kindness and dignity ... earns the trust of the Guru through seva and truthful living ... he/she indeed may be accepted by the guru as a true Sikh of the Guru!

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