With colorful turbans and long untrimmed beards, it’s easy to say that Sikhs stand out in a crowd. Many people will agree that Sikhism is a very unique religion. Sikhism, the world’s fifth largest religion, is a monotheistic faith originating in the Punjab region of South Asia in the mid 15th century. Sikhism’s core principles include worshiping the one and only God (the God of all religions), working honestly for one’s earnings, sharing one’s time and profits with others, and a belief in the equality of all people.
Sikhism is also unique in that non-Sikh saintly writers are incorporated in the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, its holy text. Completely rejecting the concept of idol worship, Sikhs only worship the writings contained in the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, which is considered the eleventh and final Sikh Guru (different gurus established Sikhism over the centuries). Moreover, the Guru Granth Sahib Ji contains only spiritual poetry. Unlike other holy texts belonging to other religions, the Guru Granth Sahib Ji does not contain stories or legends. It only contains philosophical and spiritual dialogue.
Despite being a separate, independent religion not associated with any other sect or faith, the Guru Granth Sahib Ji incorporates the writings of other non-Sikh spiritual writers from South Asia into its own text. Besides containing the writings of the first five and ninth Sikh Gurus, and a few other Sikhs, writers also include Hindus of all castes, Muslims from various parts of the Indian Subcontinent, and even saintly individuals who did not subscribe to any religion. Such non-Sikh writers are referred to as “Bhagats.” The holy text has a total of 15 Bhagats and another set of 17 non-Sikh bards called “Bhatts.”
Moreover, Sikhism gives equal weight and stature to the Bhagats. Their writing has no separate section and is given equal respect to the writings of the Sikh Gurus. The writings of the Bhagats are intertwined between the writings of the various Sikh Gurus. When Sikhs bow their head to the Guru Granth Sahib Ji while visiting their local Gurdwara (Sikh house of worship), they are bowing to all the writings contained in the Guru Granth Sahib Ji. It is very common to hear Sikh hymn singers sing the writings of the Bhagats and Bhatts in the Gurdwara.
It is also important to note that all the Bhagats and Bhatts share the same basic spiritual principles as the Sikh Gurus. Despite practicing different faiths, all the non-Sikh writers share a common belief of worshiping the one and only Lord, a relentless belief in equality of all human beings regardless of gender, caste, religion, or race, a passion for promoting justice, and an unconditional love for God and acceptance of His will. There is no disagreement between the writings of the Bhagats and Bhatts, and that of the Sikh Gurus. The writings and various thought processes are thoroughly consistent with each other. There is also no difference in the content or topics contained in the writings of the Gurus and those of the Bhagats.
The inclusion of the Bhagats and Bhatts into the Guru Granth Sahib Ji follows Sikhism’s tenet of equality of all people and the equality of all religions. The writings of the Bhagats and Bhatts are a testament to the Sikh value of inclusion and acceptance of all people. In Sikhism there is no conversion ceremony because of a belief that there is no need for conversion. Although any individual can become a Sikh, there is no formal conversion ceremony. The person simply begins adopting Sikh principles and the Sikh way of life. Moreover, the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev Ji, again recognizing the oneness and equality of humanity, invited a famous Muslim Sufi saint to lay the foundation of the Golden Temple (Sri Harmandir Sahib) in the 17th century in the Punjabi city of Amritsar instead of doing it himself or asking another Sikh to lay the stone. The Golden Temple is Sikhism’s holiest shrine. The Guru showed Sikhism’s steadfast belief in equality of all religions by inviting a non-Sikh to commemorate and begin construction of Sikhism’s most important shrine.
The concept of equality and “Sarbat Dha Bhalla” (the Sikh concept of praying for the wellness of every individual regardless of gender, caste, religion, race, or any other characteristic) is epitomized in the following line from the Guru Granth Sahib Ji: “O my Lord please give us your blessings and grace, and care forever living being. Provide us with enough food and water and wipe out poverty from this world. Please accept everyone as a part of You.”