Informant is a USC student from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her family practices Sikhism, one of the major religions of India that is practiced primarily in the Punjab region in the Northwestern part of the continent. This holiday is one of the main reasons that the Sikhs celebrate the larger Indian celebration of Diwali.
What’s the story behind the holiday?
“This is the reason why Sikhs celebrate Diwali. So basically, a long time ago, the Muslims put 52 Hindu princes, into a prison because they would not convert to Islam. So, Guru Har Gobind, 6th of the 10 major Sikh gurus, went to the Muslim emperor and asked him to release the princes from captivity. The emperor agreed on the condition that only those who could hold onto the guru’s clothing as he walked out would be set free. The guru, being very wise, attached 52 threads to his clothing so that each of the princes could hold on and be set free. The holiday was established as part of the Diwali tradition to celebrate the freeing of the princes.”
How is this holiday celebrated?
“It’s a festival of lights just like Diwali. The temples are all lit up and people leave candles all over their houses, as a way to direct the princes back home. People at home will pray and set up shimmering lights, and it’s an important time for prayer and being with family. At larger festivals, people will shoot fireworks and hang lights everywhere.”
I had known before that Diwali was a very large holiday in India, but I did not realize that the different religious groups had different reasons for celebrating the same holiday. This story is interesting because it involves multiple religions of the Indian continent, showing that these religions are aware of the other belief systems around them, and that the associations are political as well as spiritual.
Informant is a student at USC, and is a practicioner of the Sikh religion.
“The Kara is a plain, completely round steel bracelet worn by all Sikhs to identify themselves to other Sikhs. You receive it right when you are born, and you’re supposed to wear it until you die. Well, I guess that you have to swap it out once it gets too small on you, but that’s besides the point. It is a form of identification so that everyone would know that we were Sikhs, because the Sikhs were known as the protectors of people from the Mughal empire. It is also a charm that protects you from bad spirits, and the circular shape is used to represent and remind us of the infiniteness of God. It is always made of steel so that everybody is equal. Like, the peasants will wear steel karas and the richest people would wear steel karas too, to show that everybody was the same under the eyes of God. So I wear one, and all of my family wears them as well, as a sign that we are Sikhs.”
This is a very good example of jewelry that is worn for religious reasons. This is very interesting to me personally, because I have seen a few people who are Sikhs wearing the same bracelet, but I had not known what the purpose was. It is also very interesting because this is an identifying mark within the Sikh community so that other members can recognize each other, so even today, beyond its religious significance, it serves a functional purpose.
“By the time the tenth guru came around, he created the a Khalsa (the body of Sikhs) And they wanted to create a definitive group that would help identify to others who the Sihks were. It’s never been done before because of the caste system. They wanted a shared identity to help them bond. So the 10th guru had this celebration of prayers and hymns being sung. Then guru said that “you guys are all very dear to me” but I need someone to sacrifice themselves. One of them volunteered, so the guru took him into a tent. After a while, he came out with a bloody knife and asked for one more. This happened 3 more times, so 4 others were offered as sacrifice. All five of them and the guru then came out of the tent dressed in navy blue and orange, and the guru called them panj pyare (“five loved ones”). He declared that they were the first members of the khalsa. That day he declared that all have males will have the same last name- Singh (male lion), and all females will be the last name Kaur (female lion). He also created a baptism ceremony where you drink out of amrit, a vessel with holy water that’s blessed by gurus.”
My informant heard this story from both his grandmas. He likes it because it shows the devotion that people have for his faith. It makes him feel that it’s something you do with a full heart. The fact that they were willing to give their heads for the guru was an ultimate devotion to their gurus. This resonates with him because he believes that if he cares about a certain goal, he’s not going to “half-ass” it. For example, a lot of cousins will shave their beards and trim their hair, which is a forbidden thing in the Sikh religion, but my informant says that if he’s going to believe in it, he’s going to do it all out. A lot of these stories talk about hard work and discipline, which are values that he carries over to his school and work life too.
This story is commonly passed down through families, as well as Sunday Schools for Sikhs.
I think it’s interesting that Sikhism is the only religion that requires it’s followers not to cut their hair. I asked my informant the reasoning behind this, and he said that it’s because they believe that hair is a gift from God, and even after you cut it, it grows, showing that it’s a natural thing. So cutting it is a sign of disrespect. From the information that I gathered from my informant, I can see that respect and devotion are important values int he Sikh religion.
“The founder of my religion (Sikh) was a guru, Guru Nanak Dav Ji, there’s 10 gurus. It’s been told that he’s walked hundred of thousands of miles from India to Asia and the Middle East. He would happen upon people with different religious beliefs, and one day he ran into a bunch of moguls who were muslims. They were upset because when he was pointing his feet to the east. They believed that God was in the east, so it’s disrespectful to have their feet pointing that way… the some way it would be disrespectful to have your feet point towards a religious text. And the guru responded, ‘then point my feet towards a place where God isn’t present.'”
He was god is formless, shapeless, you can categorize him. It’s about the omniscient. God’s not in the East he’s all around you.
My informant heard this legend from his grandma. He likes this one and stories like this because it’s essentially not just a story, but theres a deeper meaning behind it. A lot of these stories illustrate the practicality of his religion, and he likes that his religion tries to be as practical as possible. There’s a trend about doing things you really need and not just doing things for the sake of doing things. This legend shows their main belief that there are many paths to God, and he is all around us.
This legend is commonly passed down through families, and taught in Sunday Schools for Sikhs.
I felt like this legend was a great story that shows the Sikh’s main belief that God is omniscient and that there are many paths to Him. It was very clear that the story meant a lot to my informant, and he found a lot of identity in his religion. I also think it’s interesting that this story is not written down in any religious text, but instead it’s purely passed down through word of mouth, which is very different from Christianity.