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The Sikhs are adherents to Sikhism the fifth largest organized religion in the world, with around 27 million adherents. Sikh History is around 500 years and in that time the Sikhs have developed unique expressions of art and culture which are influenced by their faith and synthesize traditions from many other cultures. Sikhism is Punjab’s only indigenous religion with all other religions coming from outside Punjab (with the possible exception of Punjabi Hinduism since the oldest Hindu scripture – the Rig Veda – was composed in the Punjab region. Some other religions, like Jainism, may also claim to have originated in Punjab since Jain symbolism has been found among artifacts of the Indus Valley Civilization). All the Sikh gurus, saints and majority of the martyrs in Sikh history were from Punjab and from the Punjabi people. Punjabi culture and Sikhism are considered inseparably intertwined. “Sikh” properly refers to adherents of Sikhism as a religion, not an ethnic group. However, because Sikhism has seldom sought converts, most Sikhs share strong ethno-religious ties. Many countries, such as the U.K., therefore recognize Sikh as a designated ethnicity on their censuses. The American non-profit organization United Sikhs has fought to have Sikh included on the U.S. census as well, arguing that Sikhs “self-identify as an ‘ethnic minority'” and believe “that they are more than just a religion”.
Sikh art and culture is synonymous with that of the Punjab region. The Punjab itself has been called “India’s melting pot”, due to the confluence of invading cultures, such as Mughal and Persian, that mirrors the confluence of rivers from which the region gets its name. Thus, Sikh culture is to a large extent informed by this synthesis.
Sikhism has forged a unique form of architecture which Bhatti describes as being “inspired by Guru Nanak’s creative mysticism” such that Sikh architecture “is a mute harbinger of holistic humanism based on pragmatic spirituality”. The keynote of Sikh architecture is the Gurdwara which is the personification of the “melting pot” of Punjabi cultures, showing both Islamic, Sufi and Hindu influences. The reign of the Sikh Empire was the single biggest catylst in creating a uniquely Sikh form of expression, with Maharajah Ranjit Singh patronising the building of forts, palaces, bungas (residential places), colleges, etc. that can be said to be of the Sikh Style. The “jewel in the crown” of the Sikh Style is the Harmandir Sahib.
Sikh culture is heavily influenced by militaristic motifs, with Khanda being the most obvious; thus it is no surprise that the majority of Sikh artifacts, independent of the relics of the Gurus, have a military theme. This motif is again evident in the Sikh festivals of Hola Mohalla and Vasakhi which feature marching and practicing displays of valor respectively.
The art and culture of the Sikh diaspora has been merged with that of other indo-immigrant groups into categories such as ‘British Asian’, ‘Indo-Canadanian’ and ‘Desi-Culture’; however there has emerged a niche cultural phenomenon that can be described as ‘Political Sikh’. The art of prominent diaspora Sikhs such as Amarjeet Kaur Nandhra and Amrit and Rabindra Kaur Singh (‘The Singh Twins’), is partly informed by their Sikh heritage and the current affairs of the Punjab.