What is the Sikh faith?

The Sikh faith is the fifth largest world religion with over 25 million devotees worldwide. It is a monotheistic religion founded in 1469, by Guru Nanak. It holds as its basic tenets, the equality of mankind, the equality of men and women, and the fundamental equality of all religions. Guru Nanak rejected idolatry and the caste system, and taught that there is a universal, genderless and formless God, who is accessible equally to all, irrespective of their race or religion.

Born in the Punjab region of South Asia, Guru Nanak travelled far during his lifetime and taught the principles that have become the core of Sikh belief. Everywhere he travelled, a community of disciples arose, called Sikhs. The term Sikh literally means a student or disciple.

Towards the end of his life, Guru Nanak nominated a successor to carry on his teachings. This successor, the second Guru of the Sikhs, in his turn nominated a successor towards the end of his life. The evolution of the religion continued in this manner for a period of about 200 years, with a succession of ten living Gurus from 1469 to 1708.

Guru Nanak and his successors wrote extensively, choosing spiritual poetry set to music as the primary form of disseminating their ideas. The fifth Guru, Guru Arjan, put together the complete set of writings of the Gurus in the form of the Adi Granth. In the Adi Granth, Guru Arjan also included the spiritual verses of individuals from different social, faith and cultural backgrounds, thereby firmly entrenching within Sikh ideology and practice Guru Nanak's philosophy of the universality of humanity.

The tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, took the final steps in codifying Guru Nanak's ideology within Sikh practice. He gave instruction that after him, there would be no more living Gurus, that instead the Adi Granth would become the 'Guru' for the Sikhs. The word 'Guru' itself means spiritual teacher or guide, and after Guru Gobind Singh, the Adi Granth became the Guru Granth, and is revered by Sikhs as such.

Guru Gobind Singh also created the contemporary ceremony by which an individual is formally initiated within the Sikh faith. This ceremony, called the Amrit ceremony, first took place in 1699, under Guru Gobind Singh's direction, and Guru Gobind Singh, in an act of humility, asked his disciples to formally induct him also through this ceremony.

A Sikh who has undergone the Amrit ceremony is called an Amritdhari Sikh. Both men and women are inducted similarly through this ceremony. Once inducted, an Amritdhari Sikh also adopts Five Articles of Faith.