The terms listed below apply only to amritdhari, Sikhs who have undergone an initiation to their faith (see below).
Adi Granth Literally ‘the first book’. The early compilation of the Sikh scriptures by Guru Arjan, the fith Sikh Guru, in 1604.
Amrit Literally ‘nectar’. It is composed of water and sugar and is stirred with a double-edged sword while prayers are spoken. Initiation into Sikhism involves drinking Amrit.
Amritdhari A Sikh who has taken part in the ceremonial initiation into the Khalsa.
Amritsar Literally ‘pool of nectar’. City located in the northern Indian state of Punjab, where the Harimandir Sahib complex is located.
Anandpur The city in India where the Khalsa was created in 1699.
Ardas The Sikh congregational prayer, anonymously written during the 18th century. Although it is not in the Guru Granth Sahib, it occupies a prominent place in Sikh religious functions.
Bhangra A Punjabi folk dance.
Chandigarh The shared capital of the Indian state of Punjab.
Chunni A long, flowing headcovering worn by some Sikh women with their turbans. A symbol that every women is a princess.
Dasam Granth A sacred book of writings attributed by some Sikhs to Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru of the Sikhs.
Dasvandh One-tenth of personal income, which Sikhs are religiously obliged to donate to charity.
Gatka The Sikh martial art form.
Golden Temple A gurdwara of historical, spiritual, and emotional significance to Sikhs, called Harimandir Sahib in Punjabi. It was first conceived of by Guru Amar Das, although construction did not begin until Guru Ram Das became the Guru. Maharaja Ranjit Singh had the structure plated with gold in the early 19th century.
Giani Someone learned in the Sikh religion. Often leads the congregation in prayers, such as ardas, or in singing kirtan.
Granthi A ceremonial reader of the Guru Granth Sahib. Duties include arranging daily religious services, reading from the Sikh scripture, maintaining the gurdwara premises, and teaching and advising community members. A granthi is not equivalent to a minister or priest because such religious intermediaries do not exist in the Sikh religious tradition.
Gurbani The revealed wisdom of the Sikh Gurus in their own words, found in the Guru Granth Sahib.
Gurdwara Literally translated ‘home of the Guru’. Any building or room dedicated to housing the devotional songs of the Guru for the purpose of spiritual practice. A Sikh place of worship, open to anyone. Provides food and shelter to travelers, and the needy.
Gurpurab A Sikh holiday to commemorate the birth or death of a Sikh Guru.
Guru Literally ‘teacher’. One of the most important words in Sikhism, it has a number of related meanings. It can refer, depending on context of usage, to one of the ten Sikh prophets, the Sikh scripture, the Sikh community (Guru Panth), or God. The Sikhs had ten living Gurus including the holy scripture, Guru Granth Sahib.
Guru Arjan Dev The fifth Guru of the Sikhs and their first martyr. He compiled the Guru Granth Sahib.
Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708) The tenth and last living prophet of the Sikhs, he passed the guruship onto the Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, and the Sikh community (Guru Panth). Guru Gobind Singh Ji founded the order of the Khalsa during Vaisakhi 1699.
Guru Granth Sahib The Sikh scripture, written in poetry organized in 31 sections, with each section corresponding to a particular melodic scale, or raag. It includes the poetry of six Sikh Gurus, and 36 other saints, including Muslims and Hindus. It is 1430 pages long and is the embodiment of the spiritual knowledge and authority of all of the Gurus. The words from the Guru Granth Sahib are the central focus at all Sikh Gurdwaras. It is used by Sikhs for meditation, guidance, comfort, and inspiration.
Guru Hargobind The sixth Sikh Guru. Following the martyrdom of his father, Guru Arjan Dev Ji, he was the first Guru to maintain a standing army and symbolically wear two swords, representing spiritual and temporal power. Responsible for the construction of the Akal Takht.
Guru Har Krishan The eighth Guru of the Sikhs, who was only five years old when he became Guru in 1661. He died three years later.
Guru Nanak The founder of the Sikh faith. Born in 1469, he stressed common truths fundamental to diverse faiths. He preached against caste and advocated the equality of women.
Guru Panth Literally ‘Guru’s path’. The name used by Sikhs to describe the worldwide Sikh community.
Guru Har Rai The seventh Sikh Guru
Guru Teg Bahadur The ninth Sikh Guru.
Hauma The self-centered human ego, which can only be overcome through meditation on God’s name (naam).
Hukam Literally ‘divine will’. A decree by a high authority.
Jathedar A leader of Sikh volunteers. Also refers to the appointed leader of one of the five Sikh takhats.
Kacha Undershorts. One of the five Sikh articles of faith, given as gifts of love by Guru Gobind Singh, worn by a baptized Sikh.
Kanga Comb. One of the five Sikh articles of faith, given as gifts of love by Guru Gobind Singh, worn by a baptized Sikh.
Kara Steel bracelet. One of the five Sikh articles of faith, given as gifts of love by Guru Gobind Singh, worn by a baptized Sikh. Worn as a symbol of devotion.
Kaum A term used by many Sikhs to refer to corporate the Sikh nation or Panth.
Kaur Literally ‘princess’. The name given to all female Sikhs.
Kesh Uncut hair. One of the five Sikh articles of faith, given as gifts of love by Guru Gobind Singh, worn by a baptized Sikh.
Khalsa Literally ‘belonging only to the divine’. The collective body of all initiated Sikhs, who drink the amrit instituted by Guru Gobind Singh, and agree to live by the highest ideals of Sikh principles.
Khanda Double-edged sword. When surrounded by a kirpan on each side and a quoit, a symbol of the Khalsa.
Kirpan Miniature ceremonial sword. One of the five Sikh articles of faith, given as gifts of love by Guru Gobind Singh, worn by a baptized Sikh. Represents the Sikh commitment to Truth and Protection of the innocent.
Kurta Traditional upper body garment worn by Sikhs (men and women).
Kirtan The devotional singing of sacred hymns, or shabads, from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, usually accompanied by instruments.
Langar Free community kitchen. The devotional meal eaten by the congregation, as part of the religious service. Langar is free and open to all, regardless of religious background.
Matha taykna Bowing down and touching the floor with one’s forehead in front of the Guru Granth Sahib. By bowing, Sikhs are submitting themselves to the scripture and the true words of God inside it.
Maya Literally ‘delusion’. Sikh theology explains that everything in this world is an illusion, and that the only true reality is Waheguru.
Naam The divine name of God when meditating.
Naam Simran Remembering God’s name through meditation. This is a seminal form of worship for Sikhs.
Nitnem The daily Sikh prayers. Sikhs recite prayers three times a day.
Panth The Sikh community.
Prakash A short ceremony performed when the Sri Guru Granth Sahib is formally opened everyday.
Punjab Literally ‘five rivers’. Fertile, agriculturally productive region in South Asia which today is divided between India and Pakistan. Birthplace of the Sikh religious tradition. Name of state in both India and Pakistan.
Raag A term used in Indian classical music to refer to a series of five or more notes upon which a melody is based. The poetic works in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib are categorized according to the raag in which they are sung.
Rehat Maryada A formalized code of conduct for the Khalsa way of life.
Sangat Literally ‘community’. Believed to be an essential aspect of living a spiritual and God-centered life.
Seva Community service. A central aspect of Sikh theology. Selfless service, which is believed to bring one closer to God.
Sikh Literally ‘student, disciple, seeker of truth’. According to the Sikh Rehat Maryada, a Sikh is someone who believes in God, the ten Sikh Gurus, in the Guru Granth Sahib, in the importance of the Khalsa initiation, and in no other religion.
Singh Literally means lion. The name given to all male Sikhs.
Sukhasan A short ceremony performed when the Guru Granth Sahib is formally closed everyday.
Takhat Literally ‘throne’. One of five centres of Sikh secular authority.
Turban A cloth covering of the head to help keep the daily washed hair clean. Worn also as a sign of devotion to God
Vaisakhi A spring harvest festival in Punjab, usually held around 13 April. It holds special significance for Sikhs, as it serves as a time to commemorate the founding of the Khalsa in 1699. Considered the beginning of the Sikh New Year, it is a time of religious observances and festive celebration.
Waheguru Literally ‘the wonderful Lord’. The most popular Sikh name for God. Traditional Sikh prayer which means ‘my Purity belongs to God, my victory belongs to God’.