There are American experiences that unite us all, like singing the national anthem or watching the Times Square ball drop on New Year’s Eve. But just as important as what brings us together are the rich cultural traditions that make us unique. Sikh traditions connect us to our cultural roots. We share these traditions with others, in the hope that others will share their traditions with us. After all, what makes our country great is that our nation thrives because of our diversity, not in spite of it.
Articles of Faith
The most visible article of faith worn by Sikhs is the turban, which we call the dastaar. The dastaar serves as a reminder that we can never forget the values of Sikhism—equality, freedom, and love. Ninety-nine percent of people you see wearing a turban in America are Sikhs—men and women who make a daily sacrifice of ego and ‘fitting in’ to stay true to their beliefs. Unfortunately, misperceptions of turbans have warped this sacred religious symbol—akin to a Jewish kippah or Catholic nun’s habit—into an article of fear and intolerance for some. Despite social stigma, Sikhs continue to wear turbans with pride, knowing that the meaning behind them is truly a representation of the values at the heart of the American ethos. Wrapped neatly under the turban is another Sikh symbol—the uncut hair, or kes. We see hair as a symbol of our spiritual relationship with the Creator.
Kes is one of five key articles of faith worn by Sikhs who have taken amrit (the highest religious commitment a Sikh can make). The kirpan is a small sword that serves as a reminder to fight against injustice. The karha is a steel wristband or bracelet that symbolizes our endless connection to God. The kangha is a wooden comb which reminds us of the importance of leading a clean and healthy lifestyle. Finally, there is the kacchera, undergarment pants that reinforce our promise to uphold the sanctity of marriage. These are the “5 Ks” of Sikhism which serve as physical reminders of faith for the most committed and disciplined Sikhs. Many Sikhs choose to wear the turban only.
Places We Gather
For Sikhs, the holiest place is the local gurdwara, meaning 'door to the Guru'. The Sikh version of a church, synagogue or temple, the gurdwara is a place to pray, learn, worship and connect with others. With no formal clergy or complex rituals, gurdwara services usually consist of singing hymns and reading teachings from our scriptures, led by women and men, young and old. Afterward, the sweet smell of rice and spices wafts from the gurdwara kitchen as the langar meal is prepared for all who care to join—Sikhs, friends, neighbors, and anyone in the community in need of nourishment. All visitors regardless of background or religious beliefs are welcome at the 300+ gurdwaras operating in communities throughout the United States. You can find your local Gurdwara here.
Moments We Remember
There are moments in all of our lives that come to define us, serving as reference points for transition, growth, and commitment. Our most significant spiritual event is taking amrit, a sweet, holy nectar drink. Similar to the concept of baptism, a Sikh who takes amrit commits to upholding the highest moral code and adhering to Sikh tenets of pursuing closeness with God and protecting the rights of the oppressed as a member of the Khalsa, the Sikh “alliance of the pure.”
In addition to remembering our first, sweet taste of amrit, other moments we treasure include the walk with our new spouse in a symbolic circle around the holy scripture on our wedding day, and the excitement of choosing a Sikh name from the Guru Granth Sahib for our infant sons and daughters during naming ceremonies.
Commitments We Make
Taking a stand for ethics is integral to Sikhism—from Guru Nanak’s work toward dismantling the Indian caste system, to our core belief that the purpose of life is to grow closer with God through service to others. When Sikhs immigrated to America, they did so with the expectation that they would give more than they would take.
Today, Sikhs find many ways to channel this duty. Some choose to serve close to home, feeding the homeless nourishing langar meals, volunteering as leaders in Boy Scout or Girl Scout troops, or simply donating a portion of their income to those in need. Others become politically involved, serving their country through elected office, judicial engagement, and civic activism. Many also bravely serve in the United States military, working alongside soldiers of all colors and creeds to protect the American homeland and our enduring values.