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13 November 2014

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You are in: London > Faith > Religion > Religion I-Z > Sikhism in London

A Sikh ceremony

Sikhism in London

Members of the Sikh faith have a definite presence in London contributing to many aspects of life in the capital. They continue to retain their strong religious identity which is reflected in the Five Ks belief.

One of the first recorded Sikh settlers in the UK was a former ruler of the Punjab Sikh kingdom.  Maharajah Duleep Singh was exiled to Britain in 1849 after the Anglo-Sikh wars. By 1908 a Sikh Gurdwara (or temple) was built in Shepherd's Bush, and 2008 has seen significant centenary celebrations there.

Devotees by the Golden Temple in Panjab

Devotees by the Golden Temple in Panjab

Nevertheless, many of London’s Sikh settlers arrived from the Punjab region of Northwest India during the 1920s, 1950s and 60s. In the 1970s members of the faith from East Africa also arrived in London.

Today Sikh people have a significant presence in numerous aspects of London life including politics, the police, education, law, fundraising, human rights campaigns and sports.  Sikhs are well-spread across the capital, though Southall, where many of them first settled on arrival, remains well-known for its concentration of Sikh residents.  Not surprisingly Southall also has the highest concentration of Gurdwaras, though there are now Sikh temples in many parts of London.  

Sikh men

However, it is difficult to monitor the exact proportions of Sikh people in various professions. A proposed amendment to the Race Relations Act may allow for certain religions to be monitored in a similar way that race is.  In the mean time, the Sikh Secretariat is an organisation that works closely with regional and nation-wide Sikh organisations to lobby parliament and push for action on Sikh-related issues.

Currently, there are issues of under-representation in certain employment sectors, for instance in the media. Raising sufficient and appropriate awareness about Sikhism needs to be addressed.  Historically, this has been an on-going challenge for the religion and its members.

The five 5 K symbols

Kacha - a special undergarment
Kara - a steel bangle
Kirpan - a small sword
Kesh - long/uncut hair (worn under a turban)
Kangha - a comb.

Guru Nanak (1469-1539) was the founder of the Sikh religion and his birthday is celebrated by Sikhs on 14th April by the Nanakshahi calendar.  This is the date according to the lunar calendar changes annually but is usually in November.  Born in Pakistan into a family of Hindus, Guru Nanak studied Islam and Hinduism.

Kara, a sikh bangle

In 1699 Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa (Brotherhood) to fight against intolerance and injustice any and everywhere. It was at this time that Guru Singh allocated five symbols for Khalsa-initiated Sikhs. These five symbols have come to be known as the 5 Ks.

Guru Gobind Singh

Over 300 years after Guru Singh declared these symbols, some members of the Sikh religion still face discrimination as a result of wanting to follow these tenets of their faith.

In the aftermath of 11 September 2001, crime figures in London and other parts of the UK showed a marked increase of verbal and physical attacks on Sikhs wearing beards and turbans. It is thought many of these were because people mistook Sikhs for Muslims.  There are also concerns over workers and travellers at major airports being discriminated against because of them wearing a Kirpan.

Sikhs guards with swords wearing traditional dress

Sikhs guards with swords wearing traditional dress

Despite this, the Sikh community has continued to contribute to London's multicultural life with Sikh representatives rising to prominent positions in all walks of life.  Sikhs such as Dabinderjeet Singh in the political sphere who leads the Sikh Secretariat campaigns for the rights of the Sikh community. 

Sikh Police Officer Gurpal Virdi, won a legal racism battle against The Metropolitan Police and was also awarded the Police Long Service and Good Conduct Medal in 2005. Sikh women, such as film maker Gurinder Chadha who directed Bend It Like Beckham, are also making major contributions to the entertainment industry in London, nationally and globally.

last updated: 11/09/2008 at 13:26
created: 23/08/2004

You are in: London > Faith > Religion > Religion I-Z > Sikhism in London

BBC Religion
Diane Louise Jordan


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