Even though Sikhs came to Denmark more than 50 years ago, many Danes are not familiar with the people behind the colorful turbans and the characteristic music kirtan. In the special exhibition Meet the Sikhs, The Danish Immigrant Museum focuses on historical roots, religious views of life and Danish connections. The exhibition was created in close connection with representatives from the Sikh community and gives a rare insight into the culture, the religion, the history of Punjab and last but not least the Sikhs’ journey to Denmark.
The history of the Sikhs is both long and complicated with deep roots in the border area of Punjabs lush landscape, religious diversity and cosmopolitan history. In a Danish context the religion is considered relatively new. At the end of In the 1960s, the first Sikhs appeared in Denmark as labor migrants, and later as refugees or through family reunification. With less than 2000 Danish members the Sikhs are a small minority in Denmark, while Sikhism is the world’s fifth largest religion with about 30 million followers.
The founder of Sikhism
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion. It was founded by the first religious guide of the Sikhs, Guru Nanak, in the North Indian region of Punjab in late 15th century. Nanak considered religion as an inner worship of the deity Vaheguru, who according to the Sikhs exists as a light in all people and thereby makes everyone equal. With the new religion Nanak distanced himself from the ritualized way of life of Islam and the Hindu caste system that influenced Punjab’s religious and cultural environments. The subsequent gurus adhered to these principles and shaped the religion. Before his death the The Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, designated the Sikh scripture, Guru Granth Sahib, as a spiritual guide. Today the Sikhs therefore turn to this scripture for advice and guidance.
The fundamental values of Sikhism are justice and equality between all individuals. But these are challenged by human characteristics. Just as the deadly sins of Christianity the Sikhs have five vices that are harmful to their lifestyle: lust, anger, greed, pride and material affiliation. These all spring from the self-centeredness of the individual, but can be combated and are suppressed by adhering to the three core concepts of simran, seva and sangat. Simran is the spiritual practice and consists of meditation on the mantra “Vaheguru” in the early morning hours. Seva are good deeds for other people. Sangat is a kind of community where the members help each other. Other than that Sikhs are expected to take amrit, which is a kind of baptism. In doing so, the Sikhs oblige to live by the spiritual path that is directed by the gurus. Here the Sikhs also get their five external characteristics called the five Ks: uncut hair and beard, a comb, a steel bracelet, a special underwear and a double-leaf dagger. Along with the colorful turbans, these are the five strongest characteristics of the Sikhs.
With the exhibition Meet the Sikhs, The Danish Immigration Museum has invited the Danish Sikh community inside and all the way into the engine room. In a collaboration between dynamic individuals and the associations SikhArchive and Sikh Youth texts for the exhibition have been written and artifacts procured. Altogether the stories and artifacts give an insight into a minority in Denmark that is not very well known. The exhibition is an interaction between the personal narratives of the Sikhs and the history of the foundation of Sikhism.