Libmonster ID: SE-264
Author(s) of the publication: I. KOTIN

Sikhs are representatives of a special confessional group consisting of Punjabis - one of the major peoples of northwestern India and Pakistan. They speak mainly Punjabi, which unites them with the Hindus living in the Indian state of Punjab1 and with Muslims from the Pakistani province of Punjab. However, Hindus are increasingly switching to Hindi and Muslims to Urdu, leaving Punjabi as the predominantly Sikh literary language. Many researchers believe that Sikhs have now formed into an independent ethno-confessional community.

I. KOTIN (Saint Petersburg)

Candidate of Historical Sciences

Sikhs are followers of Sikhism, which was founded by the religious reformer guru (teacher) Nanak (1469-1539) and nine preachers who preserved and developed his teachings, also known as gurus, of whom the fifth - Arjun (1581-1606) and the last, tenth - Gobind Singh (1675-1708) made a special contribution to the formation of Sikhism as an independent religion. After Gobind Singh's death, Sikhs are guided by the majority opinion of the community (Khalsa) and the authority of the holy book Adi Granth (or Granth Sahib), which is considered the incarnation of the guru. After Gobind Singh's death, most Sikhs follow the instructions contained in the Adi Granth and the opinion of the elders.

Gobind Singh called on members of the Khalsa to wear five distinctive items - the "five k's", which have Punjabi names starting with the letter"k". These are long hair (hesa), comb (kangha), steel / iron bracelet (kara), dagger-sword (kirpan), wide trousers (kachcha). Long uncut hair and comb symbolize purity of thought and the desire for holiness (perfection), on the model of ancient ascetics. Long hair was also likened to a lion's mane: it is no coincidence that Gobind Singh gave his followers the names "Singh" (lion) and "Kaur" (lioness).

Within a century of Gobind Singh's death, the Sikh community was divided. Namdhari2 and Nirankari3 sects have emerged from the community. Sikhs who followed the authority of all the ten gurus and the holy book Adi Granth were also not united in everything. In the last hundred years, there have been numerous clashes between members of the Sikh military order Keshdhari ("lion-haired") or Akali ("immortal") and lay Sahajdhari Sikhs. The last century has been marked by the substitution of concepts and an attempt by Keshdhari Sikhs (members of the Khalsa) to impose on all Sikh men the obligation to wear the "five k's". It is around these Sikh symbols that the discussion about Sikhs and Sikhism is conducted in Canada and other countries where Guru Nanak's followers live.

Due to a number of circumstances, primarily due to agricultural overpopulation, the tradition of land particularization (its division among all sons) Sikhs actively emigrated from India. Currently, large Sikh communities exist in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, East Africa, Fiji and Trinidad and Tobago. As once in India, Sikhs abroad are faced with the need to preserve their identity, expressed, among other things, in external distinctive features. At the same time, both in East Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, and in Fiji, the traditional Punjabi headdress - turban-was perceived as part of Sikh clothing and an attribute of the Sikh religion. And religious identification is so complex and tightly intertwined that the Sikhs of the diaspora attributed the turban to the category of the main attributes of their faith. In a number of situations and in Canada, the turban has become the most important Sikh attribute. The beginning of South Asian immigration to Canada was laid by Sikhs-builders of the Canadian Pacific Railway branch line leading to Vancouver. After the completion of the steel line, many Indians remained as workers in the sawmills of Vancouver and its suburbs. By April 1908, 5,179 Indians had arrived in Canada. However, due to the economic crisis, trade unions have become increasingly wary of new arrivals. In September 1907, the so-called Vancouver riot began-demonstrations and pogroms in the "Asian" quarters in connection with the report of an allegedly arrived ship with Indian workers. In the same year, 1907, the Legislature of British Columbia deprived natives of India of the right to vote in local elections. By a special act of the colonial government in 1908, Indians were forbidden to settle in Canada, and they could even land on the Canadian coast only if they had the right to do so.

The study was funded by the Government of Canada (Faculty Research Program).

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a large amount in the local currency. Shipping companies were advised to avoid routes from India to Canada.


The small Indian community in Canada that emerged in the early twentieth century consisted mainly of Sikhs. They founded their own gurdwara temple in Vancouver, and in 1910 the Punjabi magazine Svadesh Sevak (Servant of Your Country) was published there. The United India League and Khalsa Divan Societi, both established in Canada, began lobbying for the interests of Indians. There was intense correspondence between Ottawa, London, and Delhi regarding various Indian demands. It is noteworthy that at that time there was no question of a special Sikh "ethnicity". Canadians referred to Sikhs as "Hindus", and they considered themselves Indians who profess Sikhism.

On May 22, 1913, the Komagatamaru, a Japanese ship chartered in Hong Kong by a Sikh and carrying passengers from India, mostly Sikhs, was detained in the port of Victoria. In Vancouver, where the ship was then sent, the Indians were met by demonstrators with slogans "Coolies! Go home!" The Indians were not allowed to enter the Canadian coast. The events in Vancouver received a wide response and were discussed both in Delhi, London and Ottawa. Concerned about the unfriendliness of the authorities, more than 3,000 Indians left the country between 1911 and 1920. In the 1920s and 1930s, 1.5-2 thousand Indians, mostly Sikhs, remained in Canada, mainly in Vancouver and Victoria.

With the declaration of Indian independence in 1947, the Canadian Government was forced to return to the topic of Indian immigration, which had been closed for several decades. In 1951, Canada and India agreed on an immigration quota of 150 people. In 1956, this quota was increased to 300 people. A year later, the Canadian government allowed Indians who settled in the country to invite their spouses, children and elderly parents. With the recognition of the right of a small group to receive relatives, Canada has essentially opened its borders to Indian immigration, albeit limited to a certain circle of relatives and fellow countrymen. The latter circumstance determined the chain nature of Indian migration and the predominant settlement of Sikhs from the Punjabi districts of Hoshiarpur and Jallandhar.

In 1967, Canada lifted all immigration restrictions based on the race, ethnicity, or religion of immigrants. According to the 1991 Canadian Census, there were 147,000 Sikhs in Canada.4 And after 10 years, there were 278,415 of them.

Sikhs live compactly in British Columbia, especially in the cities of Vancouver, Victoria and New Westminster. More than a quarter of all Canadian Sikhs are registered here - 74,550 people.5 There are 34,063 registered Sikhs in the Surrey area of Greater Vancouver. They are all members of the parish community of the local Nanaka Temple 6. The large concentration of Sikhs is partly due to their initial concentration near the sawmills where they worked. The oldest Sikh Gurdwara in Canada, the Halsa Diwan in Vancouver, has existed since 1907. Sikh communities also exist in the Canadian capital and in major industrial centers such as Toronto and Montreal. Sikhs still arrive primarily in Vancouver, but many then move to other cities in Canada. So, if before the 1970s 90% of all newly arrived Sikhs remained in British Columbia, now there are less than half of them. At the same time, Canada, along with the United States and Great Britain, is the most promising country for new Sikh immigrants from Punjab itself, as well as from East Africa, Southeast Asia, and Fiji.


Native Canadians are ambivalent about the emergence of this fast-growing and seemingly different population group. Sikhs live quite compactly in a number of areas of Canadian cities, forming a kind of ethnic enclaves, such as, for example, the "Punjabi market" in Vancouver and a number of residential areas in the Surrey area of Greater Vancouver (the "Delta"area). To some extent, this, while perhaps creating more psychological comfort for Sikh families, hinders their communication with other Canadians. In addition, a number of tragedies in India and abroad in the past related to the activities of supporters of the creation of an independent Sikh state of Khalistan, also negatively affected the image of Sikhs as terrorists and opponents of the modern secular way of life.

The fact is that even during the national liberation movement in India, in 1940, the Akali Dal party conference adopted a resolution demanding that in the event of the division of India into dominions, a special Sikh state of Khalistan should be created on the territory of Punjab. But as a result of the division of colonial India into India and Pakistan proper, Sikhs suffered more than other groups and perceived the partition agreement as a betrayal. Since then, the radical demand for the creation of Khalistan has been actively used by ideologists of Sikh separatism. Thus, some Sikh leaders who lost parliamentary battles in Punjab, India, announced the beginning of a campaign for the creation of an independent Khalistan. Attempts by the central government to restore order in Punjab and expel radicals from the main Sikh stronghold - the Golden Temple - led to the death of thousands of innocent people and made the idea of Khalistan popular in the diaspora. Bhindranwale, one of the leaders of the Sikh radicals, was posthumously proclaimed a martyr.

Among the Sikhs of Canada themselves, the tradition of creating martyr cults developed, which was characteristic of the history of Sikhs in the XVIII century and revived in India in the second half of the XX century. The main object of worship of Sikhs in Canada was the newly minted "Shahid" Mewa Singh, a martyr who suffered for his faith. Mewa Singh was a gurdwara minister in Vancouver. In 1915, he killed the Anglo-Indian William Hopkins, who was the organizer of the

page 18

A spy network that operated on behalf of the American government, which was concerned about the political activity of the Indian Revolutionary Gadr Party in the United States and Canada. Every year in March, Mewa Singh is commemorated at the Vancouver Gurdwara. It is customary to portray him as a fighter for the faith against the oppressors of Sikhs in Canada and compare him with the Sikh heroes of the XVIII century.

While traditional Sikhism presupposes freedom of religion and action, the Orthodox seek to strengthen the institutionalization of Sikhism, including trying to formalize the temple service, strengthen the hierarchy, and legalize the transfer of church tithes for their own needs. The outward expression of these aspirations is the struggle for Sikhs to preserve the signs of their religion, i.e., the "five k's".

One of the first publicized conflicts in the Indian-Canadian community was related to religious signs of the appearance of keshdharisikha. The conflict began in 1952, when the majority of the community condemned a cleric who openly wore a sword, and also appointed a Sikh who did not wear the "five k", the so - called" shaved Sikh" - sahajdhari, to the gurdwara's board of trustees. As fundamentalist sentiment grew in the Sikh community, the differences between Orthodox and "shaven-headed Sikhs" deepened. Although the ideology of Keshdhari is quite young, its supporters began to be called "traditionalists", monopolizing the right to interpret Sikhism as it supposedly was originally. However, the moderates who were labeled "Westernized" Sikhs won the argument. And the "traditionalists" - the Keshdharis-broke away and founded the Akali Singh Society with their own gurdwars in Vancouver and Victoria.

The victory of the "Westernized" Sikhs was, however, inconclusive. With the arrival in Canada of new immigrants from India, as well as Sikhs from East Africa, and the growth of religious consciousness among young Indians, formal adherence to the external attributes of Sikhism began to be perceived as a sign of true religiosity.


A series of incidents across the country have been sparked by demands from Keshdhari Sikhs to allow them to wear a turban as a symbol of their religion. In 1987, Sutlej Singh Dhillon, a Sikh who had joined the Canadian Police, made a similar appeal. This wish, by the way, did not raise objections from the leadership of the Canadian police, but a certain part of the country's population expressed their bewilderment about this.

In the early 1990s, the religious punishment of Pashaur Singh, a professional abbot of the Gurdwara Grantha, Adi Grantha scholar and talented researcher, received a great response in India and Canada. Pashaura Singh studied the sacred texts of Sikhism under the guidance of the famous New Zealand specialist Hugh McLeod and wrote his doctoral dissertation under his supervision, which he defended at the University of Toronto. Pashaura Singh, in particular, argued in his dissertation that the "Mul Mantra" - lines containing the creed of Sikhism attributed to Nanak and included in the "Adi Granth" - are a later addition. A year and a half after defending his dissertation, Pashaur Singh was summoned to India, to Amritsar, the residence of the supreme authorities of Sikhism. There, he was sentenced to seven days of demonstrative correctional labor-shoe-cleaning parishioners: two days in Amritsar and five days in a Detroit gurdwara. Despite Pashaur Singh's claims that his findings were scientifically proven, the Indian-Canadian was punished. It is noteworthy that he obeyed the authorities from Amritsar and fulfilled the conditions of the sentence.

In 1996, Sikh temples were again the subject of intense media attention due to riots and clashes within the community. The reason for them was the struggle for the funds of churches. The majority of Sikhs accused the leadership of the Nanak Temple in Surrey of sending the collected money in Punjab into the hands of separatists, instead of spending it on the needs of the community. Only the intervention of the police helped to avoid a major bloodshed.

It should be noted that the peculiarity of Sikhism as a religion, in addition to its relative youth and simplicity of rituals, is the absence of dogmatism. Many decisions regarding the appearance of a Sikh, his activities, conduct, appearance of the temple, its interior, and the nature of religious service have been made by the local congregation since Gobind Singh's will. It is no coincidence that the formula attributed to Gobind Singh himself is popular among Sikhs: "One follower of the guru is a separate Sikh, two form a sacred association, but where there are five Sikhs, there is already God himself."

Guided by this provision, the Sikhs of Canada, in particular, equipped almost all Gurdwars with benches for sitting on the model of religious buildings of Catholics and Protestants. An attempt by a part of the congregation to impose a Punjabi model on Canadian Sikhs and remove chairs from temples caused unrest, even clashes among Sikhs, which led to a real armed fight between Sikhs on January 12, 1997 and the temporary closure of the Gurdwara by the police. In the future, the leadership of the leading Sikh temples in Punjab India tried to achieve mandatory removal of tables and chairs from the gurdwaras as the norm for the Sikh diaspora, but this attempt did not receive the support of the majority of Sikhs in Canada. In 2001, the same situation was repeated. At the same time, the Sikh leadership in Amritsar tried to impose its own vision on them.

Currently, most Gurdwars are in the hands of "Westernized" Sikhs, but Akali Sikhs in Canada have structures (Akali Singh Sikh Society) parallel to the general Sikh ones. Radical Sikhs who support the creation of an independent Sikh state have created a number of terrorist organizations (Babbar Khalsa International, Khalistan Commando Force, Khalistan Zindabad Force, International Sikh Youth Federation).

In Canada itself, the terrorist activities of Sikhs, in particular, have received publicity

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the explosion in Tokyo of luggage intended for a plane flying to Vancouver cannot but cause concern.

In 1987, the Federal Government of Canada asked seven provincial cabinets to boycott the activities of the most active Sikh organizations, such as the World Sikh Organization, the Indian Federation of Sikh Youth, and Babar Khalsa. There were certain reasons for this. In particular, members of Babar Khalsa were accused of attempting to hijack a plane bound for New York on May 25, 1986, and members of a Sikh youth organization attempted to kill an Indian minister visiting British Columbia.


In recent decades, North America has seen the conversion of native Canadians to Sikhism. As of 2001, there are about 3 thousand such people in Canada. These Sikhs are known as "mountain Sikhs" or "white Sikhs", "European Sikhs". The Mountain Sikhs are followers of the Indian preacher Siri Singh Sahib Harbhajan Singh, also known as Yogi Bhajan, who came to North America. This Sikh missionary tried to present the teachings of Sikhism in the Keshdhari tradition. On his initiative, spiritual authorities from Amritsar visited Canada. Yogi's wife, Premka Kaur, has actively defended keshdhari's position in the press. Founded by them in North America, the Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization, which includes 5 thousand Mountain Sikhs in the United States and Canada, positions itself as a defender of the true panth teaching, free from regional, sectarian and caste differences.

In Canada, Sikhism remains a predominantly Punjabi religion, and most Sikhs do not take European neophytes seriously. As a rule, Sikhs marry within their own community, although isolated cases of Sikhs marrying girls from the Anglo-Canadian community are known, and the latter usually adopt Sikhism.

Modern Punjabi Sikhs in Canada are representatives of an influential ethno-confessional minority. Sikhs are among scientists and entrepreneurs, artists and managers. Members of these professional groups are often forced to shave their beards, but other Sikhs, especially the military and police, ostentatiously wear symbols of their religion. Among Sikhs, there are many taxi drivers, mechanics, owners of audio and video equipment shops, etc. There are also sawmill workers among Sikhs.

The political loyalty of Canadian Sikhs is reflected in a number of their political successes. In 1984, for the first time in Canadian history, a Sikh Manmohan Sikhota was elected as a member of the provincial Parliament of British Columbia, and in 2000, a Sikh Ujjal Dosanj briefly became the Premier of this province. Currently, 6 Indo-Canadians are members of the Canadian Parliament.

Sikhs adhere to traditional norms of behavior, Punjabi customs, celebrate Punjabi holidays associated with the annual agricultural cycle and received registration in Punjab during the period of dominance of Hindu culture in the region. Sikhs celebrate Baisakhi, Holi, Diwali with Hindus, adding elements to them that give some stage of the celebration an exclusively Sikh character.

The main Sikh holiday is the Punjabi New Year-Baisakhi. This holiday is celebrated on April 14 (less often-on April 13). In cities in Canada where there are large Sikh communities, Guru Nanak's followers congregate at gurdwars. At 4 o'clock in the morning, the priests take out the holy book "Adi Granth" from special rooms, perform its ritual washing with milk and water, and place it on the throne in the center of the Gurdwara. Then the holiday begins. The main streets of the Punjabi districts of Vancouver (Delta, Punjabi market) and Toronto (Brampton) are "Punch feast" - "five saints". They are five Sikhs, dressed in medieval garb and reminiscent of the first five members of the Khalsa who were initiated by Gobind Singh himself.

In addition to the main holidays, Sikhs celebrate Gurpurb-birthdays and other memorable dates in the life of the guru. Since many episodes from the biography of the guru are the product of collective myth-making, and not historical dates, it is impossible to exclude the connection between some of them with the ancient calendar holidays of the agricultural cycle.

So, Sikhs in Canada are mainly representatives of the confessional group of Panjabis who profess Sikhism. At the same time, it is not a homogeneous group, it consists of a number of castes and religious communities, the relationship between which is far from simple. The whole complex of intra-Punjabi conflicts is also transferred to the world of the Sikh diaspora - the territory of dispersion of Sikhs outside of South Asia. Canada has also become a part of this world of the Sikh diaspora, its important center and "hub".

Using modern terminology, we can also refer to Sikhs in Canada as members of a transnational community that belongs both to the world of India, more precisely, Punjab, and Canada, where Sikhs are one of the elements of a complex multicultural mosaic.

1 The name "Punjab" comes from the Persian "panj ab" - "five rivers". After the partition of India and the creation of an Indian state and a Pakistani province under the same name, Soviet geographers and political scientists began to call the Indian state Punjab, and the Pakistani province Punjab. In this paper, we will refer to both an Indian state and a Pakistani province as Punjab, and their populations as Punjabis.

2 Namdharis-followers of Bhagat Jawahar Mal (1799-1862) and his disciple Balak Singh. Namdharis believe in continuity and the existence of a living guru.

3 Nirankari-followers of the reformer Dayal Das (XIX century), believe in a living guru, do not recognize the military tradition of Akali.

4 Canadian Statistics. Census of Population. 2001. Population by Selected Ethnic Origins - htm

5 The Encyclopedia of British Columbia estimates the number of Sikhs currently living in Greater Vancouver at 120,000. Fransis D.(Ed.), p. 649.

6 Indo-Canadian Voice, October 27, 2001.


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