Information About Sikhs in America for Educational Purpose

Sikhs from Punjab and India started migrating to the North
American West Coast in 1899?

Twenty-two million Sikhs worldwide trace the origin of their religion to Punjab.

Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world.

99% of the people who wear turbans in America are Sikh.


In 1899, Sikhs from Punjab region of India started migrating to Pacific Coast. It is estimated that 7,348 Indians, mostly Sikh, migrated to the United States and Canada between 1899 and 1920. Many had joined the British army and fought in World War I and had served in the trenches of Western Europe. This experience opened new possibilities to the Sikhs helped them to migrate to Hong Kong, China and the United States. Crossing the Pacific Ocean, they arrived on the West Coast of North America in search of railroad, lumber and agricultural jobs. Sikhs with their love of farming used their experience in agriculture to also establish themselves in the United States.

Punjabi settlements began in farming lands in the Sacramento valley, San Joaquin Valley and in the Imperial Valley in California. Most Sikhs worked here for a few years and established permanent homes. In 1909, four hundred Sikhs worked in the by 1919, about 60% of the arable land in the Imperial Valley was owned by non-residents resulting in tenant farmers running 88% of all ranches by 1924. Today, in Yuba and Sutter Counties, Sikh farmers grow 95% of the peaches, 60% of the prunes and 20% of the almonds and walnuts. In the Bakersfield and Fresno area, 20% of the grapes are grown by Sikhs. Showing great initiative, Sikhs were able to earn a regular profit from the land without supervision and were not content to remain just laborers anymore, so they started loans and pooling money to lease land. In places such as Fresno, ranchers considered Punjabis reliable in financial dealing and as Sikhs acquired som! e capital, their reputations for being hard workers and reliable borrowers was established. Many Punjabis decided to stay in the Imperial Valley and El Centro had at one time a mayor who was a third generation Punjabi-Mexican, his name was David Singh Dhillon.

Congressman Dalip Singh Saund, a Sikh, was the first Asian American to be elected to the US Congress and to date remains the only Indian American to hold such office. He was elected in 1956 from the 29th Congressional District which includes Riverside and Imperial Counties. Congressman Saund was reelected twice.

Long apart of the California landscape and well established as farmers, businessmen and solid citizens to place of Sikhs in our community changed dramatically on September 11th, 2001. Sikhs have had their identities mistaken due to their appearance, misidentified by their clothing, beards, and turbans.

What is sikhism?

Sikhism is one of the youngest of world religions. It is barely over 500 years old. Its founder, Guru Nanak, was born in 1469. Guru Nanak spread a simple message of "Ek Onkar": we are all one, created by One Creator of all Creation. This was at a time when India was being torn apart by castes, sectarianism, religious factions, and fanaticism. He aligned with no religion, and respected all religions. He expressed the reality that there is one God and many paths, and the name of God is Truth, "Sat Nam."

Guru Nanak's followers were Sikhs (students of Truth). He taught them to bow only before God. He encouraged then to live their lives in direct consciousness of God, experiencing no separation. Guru Nanak opposed superstition, injustice, and hypocrisy and inspired seekers by singing the divine songs which touched the hearts of the most callous listeners. These songs were recorded by hand, and formed the beginnings of the Sikhs' scared writings, later to become the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh Bible).

Guru Nanak's Way of Life
Nam Japo: To wake up each day before sunrise, clean the body, meditate on God's Name and recite the Guru's hymns to clean the mind. Throughout the day, continuously remember God's Name with every breath.

Kirat Karni: To work and earn by the sweat of the brow, live a family member's life, and practice truthfulness and honesty in all dealings.

Vand ke Chakna: To share the fruits of one's labor with others before considering oneself. Thus, to live as an inspiration and a supporter of the entire community.

The Khalsa
The Khalsa is a spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood devoted to purity of thought and action created by Guru Gobind Singh, who was the last Guru of the Sikhs. In order to preserve one's commitment to the Khalsa and help maintain an elevated state of consciousness, every baptized Sikh vows to wear the Five K's:

Kesh: uncut hair and beard, as given by God, to sustain him or her in higher consciousness. The Kesh is often kept in a turban, the crown of spirituality.

Kanga: a wooden comb to properly groom the hair as a symbol of cleanliness.

Kachera: specifically made cotton underwear as a reminder of the commitment to purity.

Kara: steel bracelet signifying bondage to Truth and freedom from every other entanglement.

Kirpan: the sword with which the Khalsa is committed to righteously defend the fine line of the Truth.

Philosophy and Beliefs

EK Onkar - There is only one God. He is the same for all people, of all faiths.

The soul goes through many cycles of births and deaths; the purpose of human form is to lead an exemplary existence and merge with God.

Sikhism condemns blind rituals such as fasting, visiting places of pilgrimage, superstitions, worship of the dead, idol worship.

Sikhism preaches that people of different races, religions, or sex are all equal in the eyes of God. It teaches the full equality of men and women. Women can participate in any religious function or perform any Sikh ceremony or lead the congregation in prayer.

Sikh Temple West Sacramento


Why all Sikhs are named Singh and Kaur?
Although all male Sikhs are Singhs and all female Sikhs are Kaurs, not all Singhs and Kaurs are Sikhs. The word Singh means a lion; its female counterpart Kaur means both princess and lioness. Both were common amongst Hindus long before Guru Gobind Singh made them obligatory for his followers as a way to make them into one casteless fraternity and to emphasize the martial traits which he hoped to infuse in them. Punjabi American Festival '96 pp. 5

Why Sikhs wear turbans?

To an orthodox Sikh with unshorn hair, to appear in public without a turban is considered rude. Turbans come in many shapes and sizes, with the standard length about 20 feet. Contrary to belief, the color of a Sikh's turban does not really signify anything, although older people and people in mourning will often wear white and pink is popular for weddings. It takes no more than a minute or two to tie a turban. There are innumerable styles of trying the turban, from careless to meticulous. Some people let a portion of the turban dangle over the spine like pony tails. Turbans have other benefits: they help keep the head cool in a hot climate.

Why Sikhs Wear a Turban? The dastaar, as the Sikh turban is known, is an article of faith that is central to Sikhism, not to be regarded as mere cultural paraphernalia!

When a Sikh man or woman dons a turban, the turban ceases to be just a piece of cloth and becomes one and the same with the Sikh's head. The turban as well as the other articles of faith worn by Sikhs have an immense spiritual as well as temporal significance. The symbolisms of wearing a turban are many from it being regarded as a symbol of sovereignty, dedication, self-respect, courage and piety but the reason all practicing Sikhs wear the turban is just one - out of love and obedience of the wishes of the founders of their faith.

The turban's importance can be found in just about every culture and religion, starting with the ancient Babylonians to western religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as eastern traditions. The Old Testament proclaims, "Once they enter the gates of the court", implying God's court, "they are to wear linen vestments. They shall wear linen turban."

Elsewhere in the Old Testament, the significance of the turban is further highlighted:
He put the turban upon his head and set the gold rosette as symbol of holy dedication on the front of the turban as the Lord had commanded him. Moses then took the anointing oil, anointed the Tabernacle, and all that was within it and consecrated it. (Leviticus 8,9)

Set the turban on his head and the symbol of holy dedication on the turban. Take the anointing oil, pour it on his head and anoint him. (Exodus 29-6)

The turban, since ancient times, has been of significant import in the Punjab, the land of the five rivers and the birthplace of Sikhism. There was a time when only kings, royalty, and those of high stature wore turbans. Two people would trade their turbans to show love or friendship towards each other.

At the time of Sikhism's birth, the majority of people in India, and even today, comprised the lower castes, mainly composed of peasants, laborers and servants. Many were literally owned by the upper castes and were severely maltreated. The Sikh Gurus (prophets/teachers) sought to uplift the downtrodden and make them the equals of the highest of the high. Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, states in his divine revelation:

"Nanak seeks the company of the lowest of the low class, the very lowest of the low. Where the lowly are cared for, there lies the Grace of the Merciful Bestower."

The Sikh Gurus sought to end all caste distinctions and vehemently opposed stratification of society by any means. They diligently worked to create an egalitarian society dedicated to justice and equality. The turban is certainly a gift of love from the founders of the Sikh religion and is symbolic of sovereignty that is of Divine concession. The turban has been an integral part of the Sikh Tradition since the time of Guru Nanak Dev. Historical accounts relay to us that all Sikh Gurus wore turbans and their followers --Sikhs-- have been wearing them since the formation of the faith.

The turban serves as a mark of commitment to the Sikh Gurus. It distinguishes a Sikh as an instrument of the Guru and decrees accountability for certain spiritual and temporal duties. It is a mark of the Guru and declares that the Sikh wearing a turban is a servant of the Divine Presence.

Wearing the turban gives much inner strength as well. Sikhs take this gift of the Guru with them everywhere they go. Just by being exposed to this regal quality, their attitudes and psyche get shaped in a certain way. At the same time, there is a great deal of responsibility accompanied by the turban. A person's actions are no longer just tied to him or her. Since Sikhs who wear the turban represent the Guru, their actions to reflect on the Guru and the Sikh Nation. In this sense, the turban serves to increase a Sikh's commitment to Sikhism and lends to him or her becoming a more disciplined and virtuous person.

Prophet Mohammed in one of his hadiths states that the turban is a frontier between faith and unbelief. This aptly describes the significance of the turban for a Sikh as well. It is a true mark of sovereignty and a crown.

Due to its distinguishable nature, the turban has often been a target during times of persecution. There have been times in the relatively brief history of the Sikh nation that if one wore a turban, it was reason enough for his or head to be cut off by the tyrannical regimes of the time. The collective response of the Sikh Nation was "You may take off my head but not my turban." When many discarded their turbans, those that proudly adorned them in those times, even though it meant certain death, fully appreciated its significance. After all, it is in times of adversity that faith is tested, and one must prove true to core values. By adorning their turbans, Sikhs serve as ambassadors of the Sikh faith and commit externally to following the path laid down by the Sikh Gurus. True submission, of course, occurs internally.

The next time you see a Sikh, greet him or her and know that the turban you see is the same turban and stood up against oppression against those identified as lower castes in India, tyranny in WWI, the Nazi empire in WWII. As Sikhs tie their turbans each day, they should be heedful that it represents a very real commitment to the founders of the Sikh faith. The turban is deeply intertwined with the Sikh identity and is a manifestation of the mission given to all Sikhs - to act as a divine prince or princess by standing firm against tyranny and protecting the downtrodden.

Instead of wearing a turban, Young children make a bun over their head.

Adults wear turban of different colors.

Basics of the Sikh Religion

Origin of Sikhism: Sikhism is a revealed, distinct, and unique religion. It is the world's fifth largest religion, and the youngest of the great religions of the world. It was founded in 1469 by Guru Nanak Dev in Northern India. After a revelatory experience at the age of 37, Guru Nanak traveled extensively to spread his word. Guru in Sikhism is the messenger of God and the Divine Teacher. The first Sikh Guru was succeeded by nine Gurus. All the ten Sikh Gurus nurtured Sikhism for 239 years. Sikh means a disciples-seeker of truth. At that time, India was enmeshed in slavery, inequalities, abuses and exploitation of the poor, and political and religious turmoil.

Against this background, Guru Nanak spoke out with a message of equality of mankind, devotion to One God who is to be remembered at all times, and righteous living. His teachings denounce social injustice, superstitions, and blind rituals. These teachings flew in the face of the customs of the time, which believed certain castes and all women to be inferior. The Sikh scripture is named Sri Guru Granth Sahib and was completed during the lifetime of the Founders of the Sikh religion. It is universal scripture that contains the Word of God. A unique feature of the Sikh Scripture is that it enshrines the Word of God as revealed to the Sikh Gurus. It also enshrines hymns of many saints from a variety of faiths including Hinduism and Islam. The 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh left for heavenly abode in 1708. He instructed Sikhs that there would be no further human Guru, but instead they should simply follow the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib (as their ultimate divine guide).

Basics of Sikhism: Sikhs, believe in one God, the Creator of all Creation. He is Eternal. Truth is His Name. Guru Nanak taught that human life is the opportunity for spiritual union with the Supreme Being and this stage of enlightenment can be achieved by God's grace. Any person, of whatever intellectual or economic level, may become enlightened through a life of single-minded devotion to God. Sikhs believe that one can attain spiritual enlightenment while staying engaged in family and in worldly affairs, while working for the social uplift of others. All races and both sexes are not only equal in the eyes of God, but have equal rights to participate in life. Sikhism is not an exclusive religion. It respects other religions. It sees other faiths as equal paths to God in their own way.

A strong family life is promoted. Sikhs are required to practice love, compassion, universal brotherhood, universal peace and prosperity. The use of alcohol, intoxicating drugs, and smoking are prohibited, as is adultery.

The Khalsa order (“The Pure”) initiated by Guru Nanak Dev was finally revealed by the last Guru. Those of this order are soldier-saints who are to uphold the highest Sikh virtues of commitment, dedication, and social consciousness. Those who chose to do this must undergo Amrit Chhakna (Sikh initiation ceremony). The Sikhs are required to adhere to The Sikh Code of Conduct and Conventions (Sikh Reht Maryada). They are to wear the prescribed articles of the Sikh faith as of what they believe. One of the more noticeable of these is the uncut hair, which is covered with a turban. Hair (Kes) is considered endowment of Lord, and not to be cut from any part of the body. A wooden comb (Kangha) is worn to keep hair clean and tidy which represent a clean body and mind. The sword (Kirpan) signifies freedom, the indomitable spirit and defense of the oppressed. The steel bracelet (Kara) represents the eternity of God: worn around the hands it reminds one not to misuse them. The short breeches (Kacchehra) remind one to maintain modesty and self-restrain.

Worship: Sikhs have a deep reverence for the Shabad Guru (Word of God) contained in the Guru Granth Sahib. Sikhs do not worship any worldly objects. Sri Guru Granth Sahib is the central object of reverence in a Gurdwara. A free community kitchen (Langar) can be found at every Gurdwara (Sikh temple), which welcomes people of all faiths. This tradition follows the principles of selfless service, humility and equality begun by Guru Nanak. Harmandar Sahib (Golden Temple) at Amritsar in Punjab, India, is the core and nerve center of the Sikhs.

Sikhism teaches: Sikhs believe that soul survives death and it is eternal. The goal of this life is to lead an exemplary existence so that one may merge with Supreme Soul. Sikhs should remember God at all times and practice living a virtuous and truthful life while balancing spiritual and temporal obligations. Sikhism stands for human liberty, equality and fraternity. The Sikhs pray daily for well-being of entire human race irrespective of caste, color or creed.

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