SIKH. The word sikh goes back to Sanskrit śiṣya, meaning a learner or disciple. In Pāli, śiṣya became sissa. The Pāli word sekha (also sekkha) means a pupil or one under training in a religious doctrine (sikkhā, śikṣā). The Punjabi form of the word was sikh. The term Sikh in the Punjab and elsewhere came to be used for the disciples of Gurū Nānak (1469-1539) and his nine spiritual successors. Nānakpanthīs (lit. followers of the path of Nānak) was also the term employed, especially in the initial stages. Mobid Zulfiqār Ardastānī, a contemporary of Gurū Hargobind (1595-1664) and Gurū Har Rāi (1630-61), defines Sikhs in his Persian work Dabistān-i-Mazāhib as "Nānakpanthīs better known as Gurū--Sikhs (who) do not believe in idols and temples." According to the Sikh Gurdwārās Act, 1925, passed by the Punjab legislature, "Sikh means a person who professes the Sikh religion." The Act further provides that in case of doubt a person shall be deemed to be a Sikh if he subscribes to the following declaration : "I solemnly affirm that I am a Sikh, that I believe in the Gurū Granth Sāhib, that I believe in the Ten Gurūs, and that I have no other religion." The Delhi Sikh Gurdwārās Act, 1971, passed by Indian Parliament, lays down a stricter difinition in that it requires keeping hair unshorn as an essential qualification for a Sikh and that, besides belief in the Gurū Granth Sāhib and the Ten Gurūs, it requires a Sikh to affirm that he follows their teachings. The latter Act thus excludes Sahajdhārīs (gradualists who profess faith in Sikhism but have not yet complied with the injunction about unshorn hair).
The Sikhs believe in the unicity of God, the Creator who is formless and eternal, transcendent and all-pervasive. The unicity of God implies, on the one hand, non-belief in gods and goddesses, idols and idol-worship, and on the other rejection of divisions among men on the grounds of birth, caste or country. In the Sikh temple called gurdwārā no images are installed or worshipped. The sole object of reverence therein is the Holy Book. The Sikhs, considering God's creation to be real and not mere illusion, believe in the dignity of worldly living provided, however, that it be regulated according to a high moral standard. The human birth is a valued gift earned by worthy actions, and must be utilized to do prayer and engage in devotion and perform good deeds. The popular Sikh formula for an upright living is nām japṇā, kirat karnī, vaṇḍ chhakṇā (constant remembrance of God's Name, earning one's livelihood through honest labour, and sharing one's victuals with others). Their faith requires the Sikhs to be energetic and courageous. A hymn by Gurū Rām Dās, Nānak IV, adjures a Sikh to rise early in the morning, make his ablutions, recite gurbāṇī, the holy hymns, and not only himself remember God while performing his normal duties but also assist others to do likewise. Gurū Tegh Bahādur, Nānak IX, defines the ideal man as one who frightens no one, nor submits to fear himself. Sikhs are generally householders. There is no priestly class among them. All on condition of fitness can perform the priestly function. Women among them enjoy equal rights.
Although a person born and brought up in a Sikh family is generally accepted as a Sikh, yet, strictly speaking, initiation through a specified ceremony is essential. Up to the creation of the Khālsā by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh in 1699, initiation through charan pāhul was in vogue. According to it, the novice was required to drink water touched by or poured over the Gurū's toe. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh introduced khaṇḍe dā amrit or rites of the double-edged sword and prescribed the wearing of five symbols including kesa or unshorn hair, which form is obligatory for all Sikhs. Exemption, that also temporary, is claimed by Sahajdhārī Sikhs.