10 Fun Facts About Sikhism for Kids

Sikhism {SIK-ism} is a monotheistic religion that began over 500 years ago in the Punjab region of India. However, it remains one of the world’s least understood faith traditions. Sikhs are always eager to educate people about their beliefs and practices. And that means there are some really great resources out there to help kids learn more about it.

Sikhism Golden Temple and Sikh children | Multicultural Kid Blogs

Sikhism rose out of Hinduism, so it has deep and ancient roots. But Sikhs definitely adhere to their own rich traditions, which are fascinating to explore.

1. There Are Ten Human Gurus in Sikhism

The spiritual founders of Sikhism are the 10 human gurus. The first Guru, Guru Nanak, was born in 1469. The last human Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, died in 1708. Each Guru contributed something of value to the faith tradition, depending on the challenges being experienced by the Sikh community at the time. Sikhs love sharing stories about the wonderful and miraculous lives of their Gurus. In fact, the SikhNet web site has an entire section of audio stories for Sikh kids. Many of them focus on the ten human Gurus.

2. Sikhs Worship in Gurdwaras

Sikh temples are called gurdwaras {gur-DWAH-ruhs}, which means “gate or portal to the Guru.” In this case, the Guru is Waheguru, the Supreme Being. Gurdwaras come in all shapes and sizes, but all of them fly at least one Sikh flag on their building or grounds. The flags are orange or yellow and display the Sikh symbol, called the khanda. Before entering a gurdwara, all Sikhs cover their heads and remove their shoes. The most revered and most visited gurdwara is the Golden Temple in India.

Sikhism symbol (Khanda) | Multicultural Kid Blogs
Khanda, the Sikh symbol of unity and strength (Wikimedia Commons/Fred the Oyster)

3. In Sikhism The Sacred Text is Also a Guru

The Guru Granth Sahib {SAH-heeb} is the sacred text of Sikhism. It’s considered the 11th, and final, Guru of the Sikh tradition. Sikhs keep the text on a raised platform that is covered by a canopy, and it’s always treated with great respect. Most of the time, it sits on cushions and is covered with beautiful cloths. During services, Sikh leaders wave a fan over it. The fan, called a chaur {CHOUR}, is usually made of yak hair. Sikhs uncover the text when it’s time to read from it.

Sikh leader waving chaur over Guru Granth Sahib
Kulpreet Singh, leader at the Sikh Gurdwara of NC, waving the chaur over the Guru Granth Sahib

4. Sikhs Really Like to Chant

Worship services always include prayers that are sung or chanted. The chanting, known as kirtan {KEER-tan}, is a form of call-and-response, which means everyone can participate. The prayers are often led by musicians who play traditional instruments – the harmonium (hand pump organ) and the tabla (drums). In some gurdwaras, the men sit on one side, and the women sit on the other. In other gurdwaras, families sit together.

traditional kirtan musicians
Traditional kirtan musicians leading chants at the Sikh Gurdwara of NC

5. They Love to Serve Food!

Another common Sikh practice is langar {LANG-gar}. Sikhism is known for its commitment to harmony and equality. One way to live into that belief is by serving free, vegetarian meals. Everyone sits on the floor, and no one is given a better seat or a better meal than anyone else. Worship services always end with a langar, but Sikhs also serve langars to the broader community at other times, especially to those in need.

Sikhism Sigh Langar | Multicultural Kid Blogs
Sikhs offering langar at the 2018 Parliament of World Religions in Toronto

6. Sikhism Has Fun Holy Days

One of Sikhism’s most revered holy days is Vaisakhi — a mid-April New Year festival also celebrated by Hindus. Sikh festivities include fairs, bhangra dancing, and community kirtans. The holiday also commemorates the beheading of Guru Tegh Bahadur, the Sikh’s 9th human Guru. There are lots of super-fun bhangra dancing videos on the internet. This is one of them.

7. They Are Skilled Horseback Riders

Another important Sikh holiday is Hola Mohalla. It coincides with the Hindu spring festival of Holi and usually falls in March. As always, there are kirtans and langars. But Hola Mohalla also honors the artist and warrior aspects of Sikhism’s history. Throughout the day, Sikhs share poetry and stage mock battles. Horse-riding competitions are another major highlight. This video shows some of the maneuvers displayed by highly-skilled Sikh riders.

8. Devout Sikhs Live a Committed Lifestyle

Some Sikhs are baptized, or initiated, into the tradition. These Sikhs formally agree to live according to the Sikh principles of unity, harmony, and equality. They also forgo alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs and refrain from cutting their hair. Baptized Sikhs — men, women, and children — wear some version of a turban. To honor their faithfulness, these Sikhs are also given the title of Singh (for men) or Kaur (for women).

Sikh tying turban
Sikh man tying a turban (dastar) at the 2015 Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City, Utah.

9. Devout Sikhs Also Wear the “Five K’s”

Uncut hair (kesh) is one of the five K’s. The other four things devout Sikhs wear at all times are a wooden comb (kangha), an iron bracelet (kara), an iron dagger (kirpan), and special undergarments (kachera). They’re called the five K’s because, in Punjabi, each word begins with the “k” sound. These articles of faith symbolize an individual’s devotion to the Sikh tradition.

10. Services Are Not in English

During worship services, Sikhs chant in Punjabi, the language of Sikhism. Guru Angad, the Sikh’s 2nd human guru, developed the written version called Gurmukhi. The Gurmuhkhi alphabet contains 35 basic letters, as well as a number of additional consonants and diacritical marks. All the hymns, poems, and couplets of their sacred text are written in Gurmuhki. This video teaches kids how to write the 35 letters of the alphabet.

There are over 25 million Sikhs living around the world, so making generalizations is risky. But Sikhs are widely known for their compassion and kindness. If you ever have an opportunity to attend a Sikh holiday celebration, to visit a Sikh gurdwara, or to participate in a Sikh worship service, you should definitely take advantage. You will almost certainly learn a lot about this amazing tradition. And, you are sure to eat some great vegetarian fare before the day is over!

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Vicki Garlock is founder of World Religions for Kids and a Supervising Editor for MCK Blogs. She is the author of the award-winning kids' book, We All Have Sacred Spaces, and Embracing Peace: Stories from the World's Faith Traditions. Her next book, ABCs of the World's Religions, is due out in January, 2023. She also teaches grown-ups about the world's religions, one minute at a time, on TikTok. (@learnreligions #religionminute)
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