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Religion Library: Sikhism

Symbolism

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Some Sikhs know the first few words in the Guru Granth Sahib as the mul mantar ("root formula"), and others prefer to call it mukh updesh ("pre-eminent discourse"). When quoted in part or as a whole, these words act as a kind of invocation of the divine. Thus one sees this written at the beginning of letters or to bless a space like the threshold of a house. Sikhs believe in the sanctifying power of the Guru's words, similar to the way Muslims treat the opening verses of the Quran (bismillah ar-rahman ar-rahim).

The Sikh symbol first known as the Nishan (and then known as the Khanda), meaning "royal standard," probably appeared in the early 1700s. It symbolizes Deg-Teg-Fateh—"Victory of cauldron and sword," two important symbols of Kartar's grace, both made of iron to feed the poor and to provide justice. At the center of the symbol is the straight-sword, khanda, and this is also at the center of the Singh's initiation ceremony.

The royal metaphor of the Sikh standard is an extension of several other ways that the Sikhs see their religiosity in royal terms. The Granth, or book of scripture, is placed in front of a congregation on a "throne." In this way, Sikhs utilize aniconic icons to both undermine the image-heavy system of the Hindu concept of darshan ("seeing" the divine through images) and yet to provide the community with central embodiments of core ideas around which to convene.

Study Questions:
1.     Why do Sikh men wear turbans?
2.     What are the five k's?
3.     What are the first symbols in the holy scripture?
4.     What does the Nishan symbolize?

 
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