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Thursday, April 8, 1999 Published at 21:45 GMT 22:45 UK


World: South Asia

The cornerstones of Sikhism

The Golden Temple at Amritsar: reguilded for the anniversary

By BBC India correspondent Daniel Lak

For a short time every year, the tiny north Indian town of Anandpur Saheb becomes the centre of the Sikh faith.

This year, it is more significant than ever.


[ image: Sikhs have come from around the world for the celebrations]
Sikhs have come from around the world for the celebrations
Usually home to just about 10,000 people, millions are expected to pour through the streets during the month of April as Sikhs gather for the 300th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the Khalsa Panth - the cornerstone principles of Sikhism.

On 13th April, 1699, the 10th Sikh spiritual leader, Guru Gobind Singh changed the face of his religion.

He was responding to persecution by the Muslims Mughal emperors of Delhi, not least the execution of his father, Tegh Bahadur Singh, the ninth Guru.

The principles

Guru Gobind Singh laid down the principles of the Khalsa, the pure.

Sikhs, men and women, must never cut their hair - a symbol of their uniqueness as a faith. They must wear a comb to represent personal cleanliness, a pair of breeches to remind of the need for moral restraint, a steel bracelet to protect the sword arm, and a short sword or kirpan because a baptised Sikh must be ever ready to defend his faith and fight against oppression.

But the teachings of Sikhism are also peace-loving and socially liberal. One religious writer described a Khalsa Sikh as a blend of "sweetness and steel".

It is this tradition that is being celebrated at Anandpur Saheb.

Among those attending the weeklong celebrations are Sikhs whose families are settled in Canada or Britain. Some are seeing India and the symbols of their faith for the first time.

About a thousand Sikh converts, mainly Americans, Canadians and Britons, are also there. Sikhism's principles of social justice, equality between the sexes and hardy individualism are the main appeal for these people.

Young drift away

Bibi Jagir Kaur, the main priest at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, said young Sikhs were drifting away from the faith, especially those in cities and in second generation families in the West.


[ image: It's hoped the festival will bring
It's hoped the festival will bring "spiritual renewal"
She spoke of the hope of a "spiritual renewal" as a result of the festival. "Some are cutting their hair, others are smoking (Sikhs must never touch tobacco), this has to stop and this celebration should renew their faith," she said.

There are also hopes that a successful festival will help erase bitter memories of the Sikh separatist militancy of the 1980s.

Indian political observers warn that political squabbling over the festival involving the main Sikh political party and hardline priests might actually aggravate the divide.

Sikhism, India's youngest faith, still has many challenges ahead of it.

Sikhs are mostly unified on the need to meet those challenges, and keep their community's profile and respect as high as it has traditionally been.



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