To understand the differences within Sikh communities we must go back to the beginnings of Sikhism.
The founder of this spiritual path was the 15th century Guru Nanak who started enlightening the people to look at themselves as individuals and equals. At this time the class divide and structure was being taught through religion by the Brahmins (Hindu priests) and Maulvi (Moslem priests) who stated that their path was the only true path to God. To attain this the Moslem rulers used force conversion whilst Hindus used the caste system.
Before people became Sikhs (Disciples or followers of Guru Nanak’s path) they were either low caste Hindu’s, lepers, untouchables and people who felt they could not relate to religion because they were uneducated. By following Guru Nanak’s path of simple devotion and prayer and looking within themselves to find peace and to help one another a new religious path was being sown.
Although nowadays the Sikh communities all over the UK differ in many ways in their daily lives, the religious side of life is still the same. When we look back to the beginning and think of our ancestors and who they were before they became Sikhs, it affects the whole structure and way of life of our communities. There are many Sikh communities; Jats, Ramgharia, Bhattra: ideally this should not be the case, however it is a true statement of today’s Sikhs.
Through research we have come to the conclusion that some communities are more traditional and still practice rituals and customs that have been discarded in many other Sikh communities.
We feel it is important for volunteers/students who come on a placement to be aware of this as it can be very confusing when all the books on Sikhism maintain Guru Nanak’s message that everyone is equal and that there should not be any divide or caste system within the Sikh way of life.
In 2001 it was recorded that 336,179 followers of the Sikh religion were living in the UK. The first Gurdwara was established in the early 1920’s in South Portland Street, Glasgow. Glasgow holds the largest Sikh population in Scotland and now has 4 Gurdwaras after the recent opening of a brand new Gudwara in late April. Edinburgh, Irvine and Dundee now have their own Gurdwara. As the Sikh population expands in Scotland there is now plans for one in Aberdeen.
Sikh’s have been settling in Edinburgh since the 1950’s. Unlike the Sikh communities in various other parts of the UK, Edinburgh’s Sikh population originates mainly from the Bhatra community, which was a rural community. In the past, this community earned their living through fortune telling and trading. Because of this way of life, education was never a high priority. Because of the strict ways, family hierarchy and social values, Sikh woman found themselves becoming very lonely and unfulfilled. These day’s luckily this is changing and woman are far more involved, especially with the help of organizations such as this one.
There are many cultural differences between Sikh’s and the wider community. For example, marriage. Marriage is a very special celebration for the Sikh community as it brings families together. Some Sikh families still have arranged marriages where the parents chose partners for their children. Both partners have the right to say no to this but because of pressure and family atmosphere they sometimes feel unable to do so. This is a large difference from the wider community, who these days have a very big “dating” scene and often people can have a number of partners before settling down to have a family. When a Sikh lady gets married it is traditional for them to wear red as this signifies health and wealth. However, for the wider community it is traditional for brides to wear white as a symbol of purity.
It is said to be against the Guru’s teachings to have a divorce. In Scotland last year (2012), there was around 9,453 divorces. These days, there has been a rise in the number of single-person households and in 2020 it is predicted that there will be more single people than those who are married. 50 years ago this would have been socially unacceptable in the UK. This seems to suggest that those following the Sikh religion seem to stick by there morals and traditions more than the wider community.
Today, Leith is an extremely multicultural area with people from all different walks of life living together. Having a knowledge of cultural differences within the community can help to bring us together as we are aware of each other’s customs, attitudes and traditions.