Sikhs (/siːk/ or /sɪk/; Punjabi: ਸਿੱਖ, sikkh [sɪkkʰ] Devanagari: सिख) are an ethnoreligious group who adhere to Sikhi or Sikhism, an Indian religion that originated in the late 15th century in the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent, based on the revelation of Guru Nanak. The term Sikh has its origin in the Sanskrit word śiṣya (शिष्य), meaning 'disciple' or 'student'.
- The Siques are in general strong and well made, accustomed from their Infancy to the most labourious Life and hardest fare, they make marches and undergo fatigues that will appear really astonishing. In their Excursions they carry no tents or baggage with them, except perhaps a small tent for the principal Chief, the rest Shelter themselves under a Blanket, which serves them also in the cold Weather, to wrap themselves in, and which in a March covers their Saddles. They have mostly two horses a piece, and some three; their horses are middle sized, but exceeding good, strong and high spirited, and mild tempered; The Provinces of Lahore and Multan, noted for producing the best Horses in Indostan, supply them amply, and indeed they take the greatest Care to encrease their numbers by all means in their power, and tho’ they make merry in the Demise of one of their Brethren, they condole and lament the Death of a Horse, thus shewing their Value for an animal so necessary to them in their Excursions.
The Sect of the Siques has a strong taint of the Gentoo Religion, they venerate the Cow, and abstain piously from killing or feeding on it, and they also pay some Respect to the Devtas or Idols. But their great object of worship is with them their own saints, or those whom they have honoured with the name of Gorou. Those they invoke continually and they seem to look on them as everything. Wah Gorou repeated several times is their only Simbol, from which the Musulmen have (not without Reason) taxed them with being downright Atheists. Their mode of initiating their Converts, is by making them drink out of a Pan in which the feet of those present have been washed meaning by that, I presume, to abolish all those Distinctions of Casts which so much encumber the Gentoos; they also steep in it, particularly for a Musulman the tusks or Bones of a Boar and add some of the Blood of that Animal to it. This with repeating the Simbol to Wah Gorou wearing an Iron Bracelet on one Arm, and letting the Hair of the head and beard grown forms the whole Mystery of their Religion, if such a filthy beastly Ceremony, can be dignified with that name. They have also stated Pilgrimages both to the Ganges and their famous Tank at Ambarsar where at fixed times they wash and perform some trifling Ceremonies invoking at the same time their Gorou.
- Sikhs accustomed to arduous life, Antoine Louis Henri Polier, a Frenchman [1741-1795] who arrived in India in 1757, married two Indian women and stayed in the country for thirty-two years. The following is from a paper he read before the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1781 . quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume IV Chapter3
- The inhabitants throughout this country, and as far as the Sutledge, bear a high character for hospitality and kindness to strangers. Their benevolence is not narrowed by bigotry or prejudice, and disclaims the distinctions of religion or complexion. They are particularly attentive to travellers of all casts or countries. The chief of every town makes a point of subsisting all poor and needy travellers, from his own funds, a part of which are set aside for that purpose, and when that fall short, from an increased number of indigent claimants, their wants are supplied by a subscription made from the principal inhabitants of the place. It is very pleasing to travel through the town and villages of this country. The inhabitants receive the stranger with an air of welcome that prepossesses him in their favour. They are, at the same time, courteous and respectful, contrary to what the traveller experiences in Mussulman towns, where he is looked upon with contempt, and regarded as an unwelcome intruder. The character of the Sikhs had been represented to me in a very favourable light, and my own observations confirmed all that I had heard in their favour. They are just and amiable in their social intercourse, and affectionate in their domestic relations. One quality particularly raises the character of the Sikhs above all other Asiatics, and that is, their higher veneration for truth. Both as a people and as individuals, they may be considered as much less addicted to the low artifices of evasion, lying or dissimulation, than any other race of Asiatics. Implicit dependence may be placed upon their promise, in all matters either of public or private concern, and if a Sikh declares himself you friend, he will not disappoint your confidence, if, on the other hand, he bears enmity to any one, he declares it without reserve. – Upon the whole, they are a plain, manly, hospitable, and industrious people, and by far the best race I have ever met in India. They have all the essential qualities of a good soldier: – in their persons they are hardy and athletic; of active habits, patient, faithful, and brave. They are strongly attached to their chiefs, and will never desert them, while they are well treated.
- High veneration for truth; from the manuscript notes of an officer of the Bengal army [probably Captain Matthews, Deputy Commissary of Ordnance at Fatehgarh who travelled through Punjab in 1808 in an unofficial capacity [Asiatic Annual Register, vol. X1, for the Year 1809126quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume IV Chapter3
- 4th July 1809 –…The town of Rawil Pindee is large and populous. It is a pretty place, is composed of terraced houses, and is very like a town west of the Indus. The country round is open, scattered with single hills, and tolerably cultivated, We halted here for six days to get Runjeet Sing’s leave to advance. We now saw a good deal of the Siks, whom we found to be disposed to be civil, and by no means unpleasing. They were manly in their appearance, and were tall, and thin, though muscular. They wore little clothes, their legs, half their thighs, and generally their arms and bodies, being bare; but they had often large scarfs, thrown loosely over one shoulder. Their turbans were not large, but high, and rather flattened in front. Their beards, and hair on their heads and bodies, are never touched by scissors. They generally carry matchlocks, or bows, the better sort generally bows; and never pay a visit without a fine one in their hand, and an embroidered quiver by their side. They speak Punjaubee, and sometimes attempt Hindoostaunee, but I seldom understood them without an interpreter. Persian was quite unknown. They do not know the name of the Dooraunees, though that tribe has often conquered their country. They either call them by the general name of Khorassaunees, or by the erroneous one of Ghiljee.
- Pleasing appearance, Mountstuart Elphinstone who undertook a mission to Kabul in 1801 quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume IV Chapter3
- As men, physically speaking, the natives of the Panjab are superior to those of Hindustan Proper. Their limbs are muscular and well proportioned, and they have a stoutness of leg and calf, seldom seen in the Hindustani. Instances of very tall stature may be rare, the general standard being a little above the middle size. The Sikhs are certainly a fine race of men, particularly the better classes. Their females, being seldom permitted to go abroad, I can scarcely speak decidedly concerning them, but the five or six I have by chance met with, would justify the supposition that they are very attractive. They wear extraordinary high conical caps, producing a curious effect, with trowsers. The dress of the men is peculiar, but nor inelegant, consisting of the Panjab pagri for the head, a vest, or jacket, fitting close to the body and arms, with large, bulky trowsers, terminating at the knee, the legs from the knee being naked. Chiefs occasionally wear full trowsers, which, however, are recent introductions, and many people remember the time when the Maharaja and his court could scarcely be said to wear trowsers at all. Over the shoulders, a scarf is usually thrown. Generally speaking, these articles of dress are white. The Sikhs, to their honour, are very cleanly in their linen, in which particular they advantageously differ from their Mussulman compatriots. Their scarfs are usually trimmed with a coloured silk border, and sometimes scarlet shawls, or other showy fabrics, are employed. The Sikhs allow the hair of their heads to attain its full growth, and gather it up into a knot at the crown, agreeably to the old Jetic fashion. By pressing it tightly back from the forehead they somewhat elevate the upper part of the face, which imparts a peculiar cast to the countenance.
The Sikhs are almost exclusively a military and agricultural people. They pay much attention to the breeding of horses, and there is scarcely one of them who has not one or more brood mares. Hence, amongst the irregular cavalry – a service to which they are partial – nearly every man’s horse is bona fide his own property, and even in the regular cavalry a very trifling proportion of the horses belong to the Maharaja. It must be confessed that the Sikhs are barbarous, so far as the want of information and intelligence can make them, yet they have not that savage disposition which makes demons of the rude tribes of the more western countries. They are frank, generous, social, and lively. The cruelties they have practiced against the Mahomedans in the countries they have subdued ought not, I think, to be alleged against them as a proof of their ferocity. Heaven knows, the fury of the bigoted Mahomedan is terrible, and the persecuted Sikhs, in their day, were literally hunted like beasts of the field. At present, flushed by a series of victories, they have a zeal and buoyancy of spirit amounting to enthusiasm; and with the power of taking the most exemplary revenge, they have been still more lenient than the Mahomedans were ever towards them…
- The natives of the Panjab, Charles Masso quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume IV Chapter3
- The dominions of the Sicques, now widely extended, have been since divided into numerous states, which pursue an independent interest, without a regard to general policy. The grand assembly is now rarely summoned, nor have the Sicques, since the Afghan war, been embarked in any united cause. Their military force may be said to consist essentially of cavalry; for, though some artillery is maintained, it is awkwardly managed, and its uses ill understood and their infantry, held in low estimation, usually garrison the forts, and are employed in the meaner duties of the service.
A Sicque horseman is armed with a matchlock and sabre of excellent metal, and his horse is strong and well formed. In this matter I speak from a personal knowledge, having in the course of my journey seen two of their parties, each of which amounted to about two hundred horse-men. They were clothed in white vests, and their arms were preserved in good order: the accoutrements, consisting of priming-horns and ammunition pouches, were chiefly covered with European scarlet cloth, and ornamented with gold lace. The predilection of the Sicques for the match-lock musquet and the constant use they make of it, causes a difference in their manner of attack from that of any other Indian cavalry; a party, from forty to fifty, advance in a quick pace to the distance of a carbine shot from the enemy, and then, that the fire may be given with the greater certainty, the horses are drawn up, and their pieces discharged; when, speedily retiring about a hundred paces, they load, and repeat the same mode of annoying the enemy. The horses have been so expertly trained to the performance of this operation, that, on receiving a stroke of the hand, they stop from a full career. But it is not by this mode of combat that the Sicques have become a formidable people. Their successes and conquests have largely originated from an activity unparalleled by other Indian nations, from their endurance of excessive fatigue, and a keen resentment of injuries. The personal endowments of the Sicques are derived from a temperance of diet, and a forbearance from many of those sensual pleasures which have enervated the Indian Mahometans. A body of their cavalry has been known to make marches of forty or fifty miles, and to continue the exertion for many successive days.
The forces of this nation must be numerous, though I am not possessed of any substantial document for ascertaining the amount. A Sicque will confidently say, that his country can furnish three hundred thousand cavalry, and, to authenticate the assertion, affirms that every person, holding even a small property, is provided with a horse, match-lock, and side-arms. But in qualification of this account, if we admit that the Sicques when united can bring two hundred thousand horse into the field, their force in cavalry is greater than that of any other state in Hindostan.…
- Military strength of Sikhs, George Forster quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume IV Chapter3
- After performing the requisite duties of their religion by ablution and prayer, the Sikhs comb their beards and hair with peculiar care. Mounting their horses they ride forth towards the enemy with whom they engage in a continual skirmish, advancing and retiring until men and horses are equally tired. They then draw off for a distance from the enemy, until meeting with cultivated ground they permit their horses to graze, whilst they parch a little grain for themselves. After satisfying nature in this frugal manner they renew the skirmishing if the enemy is near. Should he have retreated they follow up and renew these tactics.
Seldom indulging in the comforts of a tent whilst in the enemy’s country, the repast of a Sikh cannot be supposed to be either sumptuous or elegant. Seated on the ground with a mat spread before them, a Bramin appointed for the purpose serves out a portion of food to each person, the cakes of flour which they eat during the meal serving them in the room of plates and dishes. Accustomed from their earliest infancy to a life of hardship and difficulty, the Sikh despises the comforts of a tent. In lieu of this, each horseman is furnished with two blankets, one for himself, and one for the horse.
These blankets, which are placed beneath the saddle, and a grain bag and heel rope, comprise in war the whole baggage of a Sikh. Their cooking utensils are carried on ponies. Considering this mode of life and the extraordinary rapidity of their marches, it cannot be a wonder if they perform marches, which to those accustomed only to European warfare, must seem incredible.
- (a) George Thomas (1781-1802), an adventurer at feud with the Sikh quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume IV Chapter3
- They move about constantly, armed to the teeth, and it is not an uncommon thing to see them riding about with a drawn sword in each hand, two more in their belt, a matchlock at their back, and three or four pair of quoits fastened round their turbans. The quoit is an arm peculiar to this race of people; it is a steel ring, varying from six to nine inches in diameter, and about an inch in breadth, very thin, and the edges ground very sharp…Runjeet Sing has done much towards reducing these people to a state of subjection, (though they are still very troublesome,) by breaking up the large bands of them that were accustomed to congregate in all parts of the Punjab. He has raised some irregular regiments composed entirely of Akalees, which he always employs on any dangerous or desperate service; and as they fight like devils, he continues to make them useful, as well as to expend a great number of them in this way. In 1815, when the Maharajah’s army was investing the city of Moultan, the Affghans made so protracted and determined a defence, that Runjeet Sing was induced to offer very advantageous terms, compared to what he was in the habit of doing under similar circumstances; and during the progress of the negotiations, an Akalee, named Sadhoo Sing, with a few companions, advanced to the fausse braye, and without orders, in one of their fits of enthusiasm, attacked the Affghans, who were sleeping or careless on their watch, and killed every man; the Sihk army took advantage of the opportunity, and rushing on, in two hours carried the citadel, Muzuffer Khan and his four sons being all cut down in the gateway, after a gallant defence.
- The Akalis, W.G. Osborne quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume IV Chapter3
- The Seiks received Proselytes of almost every Cast, a point in which they differ most materially from the Hindoos…They have forbid absolutely the use of the Hookah, but they are as liberal in the use of Bang, and Ophiam, as their Neighbours. They are not prohibited the use of animal food of any kind, excepting Beef, which they are rigidly scrupulous in abstaining from. They never shave either Head or Beard; They sometimes wear yellow, but the prevailing Colour of their Cloaths is deep blue; They make their Turbans capaciously large, over which they frequently wear a piece of pliable Iron Chain or Net work [an early reference to the Sikh turban known as dastar bunga or the turban fortress].
- Every day receive proselytes, John Griffith [chief of the Surat factory and briefly Governor of Bombay], in 1791 quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume IV Chapter3
- A Sikh wishing to become a Singh, must go though the ceremonies of the institution at this temple [Akal Takht]. It is, however, only the more indigent description of them who apostatize, and generally those who are fed by priests. Although no person can visit the temple without paying, on the first admission, a sum of money to the priests, who divide it equally among themselves, yet they are by no means avaricious; the monies so collected, being expanded on their personal wants, given in charity, or laid out in erecting additional buildings; and there is no instance of an Akalee’s accumulating money for any other purpose. Choirs of singers assemble at three o’clock every morning, and chaunt their canticles by reliefs, during the day, and till late at night, in the temple; and at two or three other sacred spots, and with great solemnity, thus exciting to religious veneration and awe, and raising the soul to heavenly contemplation. Although the priests are held in the greatest reverence, still you are not to suppose that they are entirely exempt from every vice…. The concourse of fine women who go to bathe at the temple in the morning is prodigious. The individuals composing this groupe of beauty, are far superior in the elegance of their persons, the symmetry of their forms, and the fine traits of countenance, to the generality of the lower Hindoostanees. The Birakees, (or fine singers) as they are here called, are composed of handsome young women, Mooslimas, but are by no means superior either in their singing or dancing to the nautch sets of other parts of Hindoostan; they are, however, much better dressed, and many of them appear decorated with gold and silver ornaments, to a considerable amount. The Singhs being greatly devoted to pleasure, give every encouragement to the nautch girls. Their songs are chiefly in the Punjab dialect, which is performed as being better understood than the Persian or Hindoostanee, but to an European ear, they are by no means so pleasing, being full of discordant, inharmonious tones.
- Initiation ceremony; from the manuscript notes of an officer of the Bengal Army [Asiatic Annual Register, vol. X1, for the Year 1809 quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume IV Chapter3
- They told me further, that some years after this book of Naneek Shah had been promulgated, another made its appearance, now held in almost as much esteem as the former. The name of the author has escaped my memory; but they favoured me with an extract from the book itself in praise of the Deity. The passage had struck my ear on my first entering the hall, when the students were all engaged in reading. From the familiarity of the language to the Hindoovee, and many Shanscrit words, I was able to understand a good deal of it, and I hope, at some future period, to have the honour of laying a translation of it before the Society.
- The Dasam Granth, Charles Wilkins on a visit to the Takht at Patna in 1781 quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume IV Chapter3