Brill's Encyclopedia of Sikhism Online

Purchase Access
Subject: Asian Studies

Edited by: Knut A. Jacobsen, University of Bergen, Gurinder Mann Singh, Global Institute of Sikh Studies, Kristina Myrvold, Linnaeus University, Eleanor Nesbitt professor emerita

Brill’s Encyclopedia of Sikhism aims to make available in-depth critical scholarship on all the main aspects of the Sikh traditions in a number of original essays written by the world's foremost scholars on Sikhs and Sikh traditions. Forthcoming sections will be (1) Religious Practices, (2) Arts and Performance Traditions, (3) Leadership, Representation, and Communication, and (4) Contemporary Issues.

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Since 1969, the five hundredth anniversary of the birth of Gurū (or Bābā) Nānak (1469-1539), global interest in the academic study of the Sikhs, their traditions, and their history has increased, and a legacy of academic scholarship has emerged. These developments have paralleled an expanding migration of Sikhs from Punjab and the rest of India, which has given them a global presence. The Sikhs have a dramatic political history in Punjab and since the late 19th century – and increasingly during the past 50 years – the Sikh religion has spread beyond Punjab, with Sikhs currently found in many countries. Many publications have appeared, including not only monographs and edited volumes but also several academic journals that specialize in Sikh studies. Furthermore, several sponsored professorships at universities in North America have been established to promote the teaching about the Sikh religion and encourage academic research in the tradition.

The academic scholarship has dealt with many components of Sikh history, society, and culture, including the lived experience of the Sikhs, their social structure and diversity, politics, language, migration, sacred texts and literature, practices and performances, arts and music, and education. Brill’s Encyclopedia of Sikhism builds and expands on this scholarship, and presents the latest research on Sikh history, society, and culture. Intellectual traditions dealing with history, society, culture, and religious ideas are of course always debated, contested, and conflicting as they represent the plurality of human interests, identities, and situations; the encyclopedia has accordingly adopted an inclusive and pluralistic approach to reflect these debates.

The relationship of the Sikh tradition to the other South Asian religions is complex. More research is needed in order to understand the early historical development. The 15th and 16th centuries in northwest India were characterized by religious change and the coexistence of many religious traditions – Islamic traditions originating in the Middle East and a plurality of traditions that later came to be classified as Hinduism originating in South Asia. Hinduization has been an ongoing process in South Asia, in which religious traditions and figures have become transformed into or joined with the dominant social traditions, but the Sikh religion has maintained a distinct line of teachers and produced separate texts. Some 20th-century scholarship presented the Sikhs as one of the many religious groups, rooted in traditions that emerged in northern India that later came to be classified as Hinduism. Historical sources that have come to light in the early 21st century call for a reexamination of this position. Previous knowledge about the details of the founding of the panth (community), including its beliefs, practices, and social structures, the nature of the Sikh relationships with the land and culture of Punjab, as well as the Sikhs’ religiopolitical aspirations and Sikhism’s links with Islamic and Hindu religious traditions needs to be revisited.

Gurū Nānak founded the Sikh panth around 1520. He saw himself as the conduit of divine wisdom that came to him in the medium of poetry, which was preserved in the form of a pothī (book). The line of nine personal successors that followed him contributed greatly to the expansion and consolidation of the Sikh panth. The personal leadership came to a close with Gurū Gobind Siṅgh (d. 1708), who renamed the Sikh panth the Khālsā Panth (“Community of the Pure/Pure One”). The Khālsā Panth was to accept only the authority of Vāhigurū (“The Great Gurū [i.e. God]”) and to seek guidance from the Gurū Granth, the revealed text that started with the compositions of Gurū Nānak and was expanded with additions by some of his successors.

The Sikhs challenged the authority of the Mughals, Iranians, Turks, and Afghans, and eventually succeeded in establishing their rule over the region of Punjab, which they regarded as their land by virtue of a divine gift to the Khālsā Panth. The Kingdom of Mahārāja Raṇjīt Siṅgh (the Khālsā Rāj) fell to the British in the 1840s. The initial difficulties encountered by the British in their efforts to overcome the tough resistance offered by the Sikhs as well as the Sikh surprise at having lost their rule, believed to be divinely ordained, eventually was followed by an era of cooperation in which the Sikhs played a much larger role in the British army and police than their numbers within the Indian population might have suggested.

Prefiguring subsequent scholarship, Gurū Nānak’s successors elaborated on his belief in the unity of the divine, and on the human relationship with the creator, family, community, and society as a whole, and with the natural environment. The bards at the Sikh court sang about the majesty of the gurūs and the elegance of their surroundings, while others wrote the life story of the founder of the Sikh tradition, interpreted his ideas, and created codes of discipline. These areas of literary activity developed over time, and with the Gurū Granth, believed to be the repository of divine wisdom, becoming the central authority within the Sikh panth around 1700, its history, concordances, and annotations developed into a major field of scholarship.

Working within this broad framework, the first volume of Brill’s Encyclopedia of Sikhism presents a way of looking at the emergence and development of the Sikh community that is not only fresh but also firmly rooted in primary sources of the tradition. The first section traces Sikh history; the second and third sections introduce the religious literature used in this reconstruction; the fourth, fifth, and sixth sections deal with Sikh society while giving adequate attention to its multilayered complexity; and the seventh section traces the Sikh movement outside Punjab both within South Asia and beyond. The second volume will have sections on practices, places, arts, and performances; on literature; on leadership and education; on concepts; and on contemporary issues. The encyclopedia not only records the past, but also shows how a (primarily) local Punjabi ethnic community has developed under the influence of nationalism, colonialism, modernism, and postmodernity, and has turned into a global community. Readers may expect to see articles on a number of subjects, such as the Dasam Granth, the Vārs of Bhāī Gurdās Bhallā, and the Sarbloh Granth – they will appear in the second volume. On some other subjects more research is still needed, so that articles on these may eventually be incorporated in the encyclopedia.

Terms borrowed from Indian and other languages are explained in the articles whenever they appear. However the following terms will not be explained in every article: Gurū (the title of the leaders of the community from Gurū Nānak to Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, though in some contexts it can denote the divine and/or Gurū Granth), gurū (when collectively referring to the human gurūs), Gurū Granth (the sacred text), gurdvārā (“the house of the Gurū,” with the Gurū Granth presiding in the congregation hall), the 5 k’s (five symbols carried by members of the Khālsā Panth), Khālsā (the institution founded by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh), and rāg (musical melody; the Gurū Granth is divided into 31 rāgs).

The letters of the Gurmukhi script are represented as follows: a, ā, i, ī, u, ū, e, ai, o, au, k, q, kh, g, ġ, gh, ṅ, c, ch, j, z, jh, ñ, ṭ, ṭh, ḍ, ṛ, ḍh, ṛh, ṇ, t, th, d, dh, n, p, f, ph, b, bh, m, y, r, l, ḷ, v, ś, s, and h. The letters of the Perso-Arabic/Shahmukhi script are represented as follows: a, ā, i, ī, u, ū, ē, ay, ō, aw, ʾ, b, p, ṯ, j, č, ḥ, ḫ, d, ẓ, r, z, ṡ, s, š, ṣ, ż, ṭ, ʿ, ġ, f, q, k, g, l, m, n, w, h, and y. In the Devanagari script, adjacent consonants such as kt, lk, pr, sr, tr, and rm can be represented in ways that show that there is no intervening vowel sound (e.g. dharma). In Gurmukhi, this distinction between conjunct and separate successive consonants is generally not indicated. In consequence, both muktī and mukatī are valid transliterations, as are both dharam and dharm, though the authoritative and implemented form in this encyclopedia is muktī and dharam. Compounds can be either disjuncted (e.g. sac khaṇḍ) or conjuncted (e.g. rahitnāmā). Furthermore, an authoritative form for this encyclopedia is determined (e.g. zāt), though in some primary sources it might be spelled differently (jāt or jāti). An accurate and consistent transliteration system of Gurmukhi is under scrutiny.

A few, general conventions adopted by the encyclopedia are that post-c. 1850 names of people, organizations, institutions, and so on have no diacritics; languages and scripts have no diacritics and are Anglicized; finally, regions, towns, cities, and villages have no diacritics, though rivers, mountains/hills, and forts have.

And finally, many thanks to the highly qualified project team at Brill. Thanks to Jean-Louis Ruijters, the project manager, for coordinating the project, for achieving consistency in the spelling in general and in the transliteration of the Indic and Perso-Arabic scripts, and for providing input to the authors to make the specialized scholarship of the encyclopedia accessible. Thanks to Sibylle Meyer, Mariya Mitova, Aniek van Marissing van Wirdum, and Werner van Rossum for copyediting to achieve consistency in the style and/or for administering the project. And a special thanks to Robert Meyer for copyediting on the use of English language. They are responsible for numerous improvements, and we want to express our deepest thanks for their invaluable assistance.

The Editors