Pilgrim bathing in Amritsar; photo taken by Paul Rudd; Web location:,_India.jpg

Founded by Guru Nanak, born the son of Hindu merchants in modern-day Pakistan, Sikhism is one of the world’s newest monotheistic religions, originating in the 15th century in the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent. There are several basic Sikh tenets which all adherents follow:

  • There is only One God. He is the same God for all people of all religions.
  • The soul goes through cycles of births and deaths before it reaches the human form. The goal of our life is to lead an exemplary existence so that one may merge with God. Sikhs should remember God at all times and practice living a virtuous and truthful life while maintaining a balance between their spiritual obligations and temporal obligations.
  • Sikhism preaches that people of different races, religions, or sex are all equal in the eyes of God.

The Khanda, one of the most important symbols in Sikhism, composed of three weapons.

The holy text is the Gurū Granth Sāhib, an expanded version of the original text, the Ādi Granth, and is said to contain the accumulated wisdom of all ten Gurus. Authority is vested in the khalsa, or body of initiated Sikhs, of which a representative faction meet at Akal Takht, a building within the Sri Harmandir Sahib complex in the holy city of Amritsar.

Sikhism developed in the Punjab, a region which spreads into Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. The land is home to five rivers – the Satluj, Beas, Ravi, Chenab, and Jhelum – and has three natural boundaries in the form of the Himalayas, the Indus river, and the Rajputana desert. The region has extremely fertile land due to the rivers and tributaries running through it, in addition to the rapid erosion of the surrounding mountains. As a result, the Sikh community is known for being some of the most productive farmers in Asia. Before and around the time of the founding of Sikhism, the Punjab acted as a crossroads of diverse cultures, as many different people traveled through and settled there over the centuries, leading to a variety of languages and religions intermingling with one another. Guru Nanak was born into this cultural melting pot, and historical accounts suggest that he had a keen understanding of Hindu, Muslim, and other religious traditions during his life, and that these ideologies may have influenced his worldview. Because he had traveled widely throughout the Punjab, Nanak had formed his own sense of place within the region, and believed it to be the holiest of all places on earth. This belief continues to the present day, with Sikhs worldwide making pilgrimages to the Punjab and the sacred sites within it, with there even having been attempts to create a self-governing Sikh nation. Despite the lack of success of these efforts, Sikhs still feel a deep connection to the land in the Punjab, as the vast majority of their spiritual history has taken place within the region.


Map of Punjab (lightly shaded area denotes region); Web location:

Over the years, Sikh holy sites have been the locations of several notorious events, with the Nankana Sahib Massacre and Operation Blue Star acting as perhaps the two most prominent examples. For the Sikhs, these bloody incidents served as both a unifying force, insofar as the community came together in mourning their collective tragedy, and as a source of division, as they projected blame outward onto those that had perpetrated the crimes against them. The sites themselves – all within the Punjab region stretching from northwestern India into eastern Pakistan- serve as a locative network that transcends mere topographical features and gives the Sikh community a land swath they can regard as holy.

As noted earlier, Amritsar and Nankana Sahib each share a bloody history due to persecution from both internal and external threats to the community. The sites have become locations of remembrance for Sikhs, with adherents visiting them in part so that they can reflect upon past hardship and tribulation. Apart from this, each of the sites are places of pilgrimage for the Sikhs, as Nankana Sahib is the birthplace of Guru Nanak and Amritsar is considered a place of profound spiritual cleansing location for those bathe in its waters.

Additional Reading:
  • Grewal, J. S. “Historical Geography of the Punjab.” JPS 11, no. 1 (2004): 2.
  • Talbot, Ian. 2007. “A Tale of Two Cities: The Aftermath of Partition for Lahore and Amritsar
    1947-1957”. Modern Asian Studies 41 (1). Cambridge University Press: 151–85.
  • Singh Mann, Gurinder. Sikhism. Prentice Hall: University of California, Santa Barbara. 2004.