Prakash Utsav: Sikhs Celebrate the Birthday of their 10th Guru
by Susan Leem, associate producer
The number of Sikhs in the world is approaching 20 million adherents. Most live in India, and many are settling in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and Italy (where they were recently credited with saving Italy’s struggling dairy industry). Sikhism was founded in the 16th century in the Punjab district of India and Pakistan. It is based on the teachings of Guru Nanak and his nine gurus, and is distinct from Hinduism or Islam though comparisons are often made. The tenth and last Sikh guru in a sacred lineage is Guru Gobind Singh. He made a distinctive contribution to the identity of Sikhs with particular teachings about ethical behavior, hair, and headdress. And Sikhs celebrate his birthday, Prakash Utsav, annually. Based on the Nanakshahi calendar, the annual celebration of the Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s birthday takes place on the twenty-third day of Poh (ਪੋਹ), which coincides with January 5th.
The Sikh scripture is a book called the Guru Granth Sahib, and a building that houses the book is called a Gurdwara (Gateway to the Guru), and functions as a place of worship primarily on Sundays. According to the BBC, “The most important thing in Sikhism is the internal religious state of the individual.”
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that stresses the importance of doing good actions rather than merely carrying out rituals. Sikhs believe that the way to lead a good life is to keep God in heart and mind at all times, live honestly and work hard, treat everyone equally, be generous to the less fortunate, and serve others.
The turban is an important symbol of Sikh tradition and identity to represent commitment to God, their values, and promote equality. It also places a very publicly visual responsibility on them to represent Sikhism. The U.S. Army even made a special exemption last year for their first Sikh enlistee to be permitted to wear his turban and facial hair during active duty.
The official order to wear the turban and to never cut hair for all baptized Sikhs is credited to the Tenth Guru, Gobind Singh. He created the Khalsa order and Khalsa Code of Conduct for baptized Sikhs which also prohibits tobacco, alcohol, or any intoxicant use, and adultery.