Sikh Glossary of Gurmat terms

A

Akal eternal

Akal Purakh “The Being Beyond Time”, a name for God

Akal Takht “Eternal Throne”, the seat of temporal authority in the holy city of Amritsar. The building, which is located in the Golden Temple complex, was severely damaged in the Indian army attack in 1984.

Amrit Nectar Water mixed with sugar and stirred with a sword while prayers are being said. It is used to initiate new members into the Khalsa.

Amritsar “Pool of Nectar” – the holy city of the Sikhs, where the Golden Temple is located.

Anandpur Sahib the town in Punjab where the Khalsa was founded.


B

Baptism a misleading term borrowed from Christianity which is sometimes used to describe initiation into the Khalsa.

Bole So Nihaal Sat Sri Akal a spiritually uplifting cry and response often heard at Sikh gatherings. Literally translated, it means, “He will be spiritually uplifted who says – God’s truth is eternal.”


C

Chief Jathedar the highest-ranking decision-maker at the Akal Takhat, whose religious rulings are seen as binding for Sikhs worldwide.


E

Ek Onkaar “There is only one God and Creator” – first line of Guru Nanak’s Mool Mantra which is recited by every Khalsa Sikh each morning and has been called the creed of the Sikhs.


G

Gtka the Sikh martial arts form

Golden Temple holiest shrine of the Sikhs, located in Amritsar. Sikhs call it the Harimandir Sahib.

Gora Sikhs white converts to the Sikh faith

Granth short for Guru Granth Sahib Ji

Granthi the keeper and the reader of the Sikh scripture. The Granthi, who may be of either gender, performs the reading of the Guru Granth Sahib at religious occasions. The Granthi also performs the morning rites (prakash of Guru Granth Sahib), reading the paath and sukhasan.

Gurudwara a Sikh place of worship

Gurbani hymn

Gurmukhi the script used to write Punjabi

Guru a spiritual teacher. The Sikhs had 10 living Gurus, the last of whom, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, transferred the Guruship to the holy scriptures and the community. The scriptures are therefore also referred to as the Guru.

Guru Arjan Dev Ji the fifth Guru of the Sikhs and their first martyr. It was on his martyrdom day in June 1984 that the Indian army attacked the Golden Temple.

Guru Granth Sahib Ji the Sikh Holy Scriptures, which contain poetry by the Sikh Gurus as well as Hindus and Muslims.

Guru Gobind Singh Ji the 10th and last living Guru of the Sikhs who founded the Khalsa in 1699. An eminent linguist, poet and scholar, he decreed that there should be no further living gurus after him. He died in 1708.

Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji the 6th Guru of the Sikhs. Following the martyrdom of his father, Guru Arjan Dev Ji, he was the first Guru to maintain a standing army and symbolically wear two swords, representing spiritual and temporal power.

Guru Har Krishan Ji the 8th Guru of the Sikhs, who was only 5 years old when he became Guru in 1661 and died three years later.

Guru Nanak Dev Ji the founder of the Sikh faith. Born in 1469, he began his mission by proclaiming that there is “neither Hindu nor Muslim,” meaning that God is not interested in outward religious distinctions. He preached against caste and advocated the equality of women.

Guru Teg Bahadur Ji the 9th Guru of the Sikhs, who was killed by the Mugal rulers in 1675 for defending Hindus facing forcible conversion to Islam.


H

Harimandir Sahib – holiest shrine of the Sikhs, located in Amritsar. Sikhs also call it the Golden Temple.


J

Japji Sahib a prayer by Guru Nanak Dev Ji which marks the beginning of each day for every Khalsa Sikh.

Jatt land-owning farmer, one of Punjab’s occupational caste groups.


K

5 Ks ( Panj Kakaar ) are five religious symbols worn by every Khalsa Sikh. These symbols all begin with the letter K. (Kaccha, Kanga, Kara, Kesh, Kirpan)

Kaccha is a short baggy undergarment. A practical item of clothing, it also signifies sexual restraint.

Kanga, a comb is used to keep the uncut hair tidy, but also symbolizes disciplined living.

Kara a steel bangle protected the wrist in battle symbolizes God’s strength and infinity. It is usually worn on the right hand, the hand of action, as a reminder of the Khalsa commitment.

Kesh, uncut hair signifies acceptance of the natural form God gave the wearer, but also makes Sikhs (particularly men, who would cover it with a turban) stand out in a crowd.

Kirpan is a short sword. This symbol highlights the fact that Khalsa Sikhs should be prepared to defend the oppressed.

Kaur Princess the name taken by women initiated into the Khalsa.

Khalistan “Land of the Pure”, the independent Sikh homeland Sikh separatists are/were aiming to create in Punjab.

Khalsa “the Pure”. The core community of committed, initiated men and women within the wider Sikh faith. Khalsa Sikhs wear the 5Ks as an outward sign of their commitment and follow a code of conduct which amongst other things bans smoking and requires daily meditation on certain prayers. The Khalsa was founded by Guru Gobind Singh Ji in 1699 and has greatly influenced Sikh identity and ethics.

Khanda (two-edged sword) Khalsa symbol often seen on Sikh Gurudwaras, with a vertical two-edged sword, two kirpans on each side and a quoit surrounding it.

Khatri merchant, one of Punjab’s occupational caste groups


L

Langar the free community meal served at Sikh Gurudwara for all takers regardless of caste or creed. A potent symbol of the social equality taught by the Sikh Gurus. masands administrators used by the earlier Sikh Gurus. Many were corrupt, and Guru Gobind Singh Ji  disbanded them after the foundation of the Khalsa.


M

Mool mantra A short verse written by Guru Nanak Dev Ji which contains essential teachings about the nature of God and has been referred to as the creed of the Sikhs. It appears at the beginning of the Guru Granth Sahib.  Ek onkar satnam karta purukh, nirbhau, nirvair, akal murat, ajuni, saibhung, Gurprasad. It can be paraphrased, but is believed to be beyond translation. “One true and universal creator, all powerful, without fear and without hatred. God is eternal and infinite. Self existent and known only by grace.”


N

Namdhari Sikhs A reform group which developed in the 19th century. As Namdharis have a living Guru, many mainstream Sikhs do not accept them as Sikhs.

Nam simran the devotional practice of meditating on the Divine Name; being conscious of, and attentive to, God.

Nihangs Sikh warriors who are often heavily armed and wear elaborate turbans. They see themselves in the tradition of Guru Gobind Singh’s Khalsa army. Many lead a semi-nomadic lifestyle.


O

Operation Blue Star the Indian army attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar in June 1984.


P

Panj Piare “Five Beloved Ones”, originally the five men who volunteered to give their lives when the Khalsa was founded. Nowadays, five people symbolizing the panj piare officiate at Khalsa initiation ceremonies and on other occasions, such as Vaisakhi celebrations.

Panth the Sikh community as a whole. Guru Gobind Singh Ji passed on the guruship to the holy scriptures and the Khalsa Panth, meaning all Khalsa Sikhs.

Punjab region in South Asia which today straddles India and Pakistan. Birthplace of the Sikh faith.

Punjabi – Punjabi language is the mother tongue of Sikh religion.


R

Raag a musical form used in Sikh worship

Rahit Nama the Khalsa code of conduct Saint Soldiers With the foundation of the Khalsa, Guru Gobind Singh instructed all initiates to be saint soldiers – devoutly following the teachings of the 10 Gurus while being prepared to take up arms for the oppressed as a last resort.

S

Sat Nam “Your Name is Truth”, an expression which is part of Guru Nanak’s Mul mantra and often appears in Sikh chants.

Sat Sri Akal

Sewa community service

Shabad hymn

Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee abb. SGPC. A powerful religious committee in Amritsar which administers the historic gurdwaras in Punjab and appoints the chief jathedar. It also propagates the Sikh faith.

Sikh a learner or seeker; has come to denote a follower of the Sikh faith, who believes in the 10 Gurus and the Guru Granth Sahib and follows no other religion.

Singh – Lion. The surname all male initiates into the Khalsa are encouraged to take.


T

Tera the number 13 in Punjabi. Sounds like “I am yours”, which induced Guru Nanak Dev Ji to drop into meditation over his accountancy.

Turban not one of the 5Ks, but an additional symbol worn by male initiates into the Khalsa as well as many non-initiated male Sikhs who grow their hair long in the Khalsa tradition.


V

Vaisakhi the Spring harvest festival in Punjab. The Khalsa was founded on Vaisakhi day 1699. Today Vaisakhi is the time of year when Sikhs remember the foundation of the Khalsa with services at their gurudwaras and, in some places, colourful processions.


W

Waheguru “Glorious Lord”, a way of addressing God

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.