23513881911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 25 — SikhMax Arthur Macauliffe

SIKH, a member of the Sikh religion in India (see Sikhism). The word Sikh literally means “learner,” “disciple,” and was the name given by the first guru Nanak to his followers. The Sikhs are divided into two classes, Sahijdhari and Kesadhari. The former were so named from living at ease and the latter from wearing long hair. Both obey the general injunctions of the Sikh gurus, but the Sahijdhari Sikhs have not accepted the pahul or baptism of Guru Govind Singh, and do not wear the distinguishing habiliments of the Kesadhari, who are the baptized Sikhs, also called Singhs or lions. Their distinguishing habiliments are long hair wound round a small dagger and bearing a comb inserted in it, a steel bracelet and short drawers. Neither the Sahijdhari nor the Kesadhari Sikhs may smoke tobacco or drink wine. The prohibition of wine is, however, generally disregarded except by very orthodox Sikhs.

In the census of 1901, the number of Sikhs in the Punjab and North-Western Provinces was returned as 2,130,987, showing an increase of 13·9% in the decade; but these figures are not altogether reliable owing to the difficulty of distinguishing the Sahijdhari from the Kesadhari Sikhs and both from the Hindus. A man is not born a Singh, but becomes so by baptism, the water of which is called amrit or nectar. It is possible that one brother may be a Hindu, while another is a true Sikh.

The Sikhs are principally drawn from the Arora, Jat and Ramgarhia tribes, but any one may become a Sikh by accepting the Sikh baptism. The Aroras are generally merchants or petty dealers. The Jats are agriculturists variously described as Scythian immigrants and as descendants of Rajputs who immigrated to the Punjab from central India. They are of a tougher fibre than the Aroras; sturdy and self-reliant, slow to speak but quick to strike. The Ramgarhias are principally mechanics.

To the temperament of the Jat, the Arora and the Ramgarhia Sikh add the stimulus of a militant religion. The Sikh is a fighting man, and his best qualities are shown in the army, which is his natural profession. Hardy, brave and slow-witted, obedient to discipline, attached to his officers, he makes the finest soldier of the East. In victory he retains his steadiness, and in defeat he will die at his post rather than yield. In peace time he shows a decided fondness for money, and will go wherever it is to be earned. There are some 30,000 Sikhs in the Indian army, and the sect is cherished by the military authorities, who insist on all recruits taking the pahul or Sikh baptism. Many Sikhs are also to be found in the native regiments of east and central Africa and of Hyderabad in the Deccan, and they compose a great part of the police force in the treaty ports of China.  (M.M.)