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Wednesday, April 14, 1999 Published at 10:33 GMT 11:33 UK


British Sikhs mark 300 years

Britain is home to the largest Sikh community outside India

The Sikh community in the UK is preparing to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the movement as thousands of people flock to temples around the country.

The Sikh religion is the world's youngest. It was founded by Master Guru Gobind Singh on 14 April 1699 at Anandpur in the Punjab region of India.

Tony Smith: "Celebrations will be just as important in Britain as in Punjab"
He gathered thousands of Sikh devotees together during the harvest festival of Baisakhi (also spelled Vaisakhi) and baptised them in the name of the new religion.

There are now about 20 million Sikhs worldwide, with most living in the Sikh homeland of the Punjab. Britain is now home to the largest community of Sikhs outside India with about 750,000 devotees.

In Birmingham 60,000 British Sikhs are expected to take part in processions and events over the weekend. And many thousands have decided to make the pilgrimage to Anandpur to mark the anniversary.

Fight to wear the turban

In the 1950s and 1960s Sikhs fought for their right to wear the turban, the symbol of their identity. They are now exempt from wearing helmets on motorcycles and other headgear in professions like the police force, bus service and the fire brigade.

The main teachings of the Sikh religion emphasise discipline and hard work to honour the one true god. Every person, no matter what his or her religion, caste, race or sex, has an equal "right" to god.

Devotees believe in karma - that your actions in this life affect your future life - and reincarnation. They avoid drugs, alcohol, smoking and eating meat.

Under their religious teachings Sikhs must also wear the five Ks:

  • Kesh - uncut hair
  • Kara - steel bangle
  • Kachs - cotton shorts
  • Kanga - wooden comb
  • Kirpan - double-edged dagger.

This year marks the 300th anniversary of the inauguration of the Khalsa, the brotherhood of initiated Sikhs.

The aim of every Sikh is to be united with god and baptism plays an important role in this.

Baptism is only performed when a Sikh is mature enough and ready to join the Khalsa.

After the baptism men add the name Singh, meaning lion, and the women Kaur, meaning princess.

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