Kids Corner


My Daughter's Sikh Wedding




My eldest daughter has just married a Sikh at the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

I am rejoicing in the happiness of the newlyweds and have visited them at their matrimonial home in the foothills of the Himalayas. I enjoy the company of my new son-in-law, who is fast expanding my spiritual horizons. For he is deeply committed to his faith and serves it by working as a giani or teacher at the Golden Temple.

My daughter Alexandra has converted to his religion. She now wears the traditional puggh or turban, carries the ceremonial kirpan, and meditates with her husband for several hours a day at the gurdwara.

All this is quite a cultural shock for her rapidly aging father, but as all wise men know there are no limits to the capacity of our daughters to surprise us. So I am now on a learning curve about Sikhs and Sikhism.

Considering it is one of the world's leading religions, I was, until a few weeks ago, abysmally ignorant about Sikhism. Since I suspect my lack of knowledge is shared by most readers, perhaps a few first impressions of Sikh culture and faith may be of interest.

The word Sikh means a learner or disciple. They are followers of 10 Gurus who were the founding fathers of their faith. The religion is often said to derive partly from Hinduism and partly from Islam, but this is a Western oversimplification because its scriptures are distinctive from those of other faiths.

Media stereotypes are quite a problem for Sikhs, who are sometimes falsely portrayed in the West as male chauvinists and militaristic terrorists. Fortunately (from a new father-in-law's point of view) these images are nonsensical. Whatever messages the outward symbols of Sikhism may convey to uninitiated observers, the core theology of the Sikh scriptures is peaceful, hospitable, prayerful, and dedicated to the ideals of community service and family love.

The British tabloids have made merry with their reporting of my daughter's marriage, partly because both bride and bridegroom look as though they have stepped straight from central casting at Bollywood. But what seems exotic in a Western magazine is standard practice in the Punjab. This is the state of north India where 80 percent of the world's 30 million Sikhs come from. There are also growing Sikh communities in Los Angeles, London, and other international cities.

The outward signs of Sikhism are known as the Five Ks, which stand for Kesh (uncut hair), Kangha (comb), Kirpan (dagger), Kachh (cotton breeches), and Karra (metal bangle). To this should be added the turban. Although not in the traditional list of the Five Ks, wearing the turban is regarded as an essential commitment to the faith and has become synonymous with Sikhism. However, millions of Sikhs (including my son-in-law, Inderjot, before he became a devout follower) are short-haired, clean-shaven, and turbanless.

Inderjot is from the Nihang tradition of the Khalsa Sikh group. In shorthand terms this means he is a noble warrior. But the Nihang traditions of riding into battle with sabers pointed have long since faded into history. These days the wearing of the kirpan symbolizes a spiritual willingness to cut out the evil parts of one's bad character. Perhaps we all need to be equipped with a kirpan, though preferably not when passing through airport security.

On my visit to Amritsar, I made several visits to Harmandar Sahib. This is the headquarters of Sikhism, better known to the world as the Golden Temple.

To enter its sacred precincts all visitors are required to cover their heads and uncover their feet. The barefoot walk on the marble promenade around the holy lake that circumscribes the temple felt mighty chilly to your columnist, but when in Rome ...

Being escorted around the Golden Temple by Inderjot and Alexandra bore some resemblance to touring the Vatican with a couple of immensely enthusiastic guides who wished to share their encyclopedic knowledge of theology at every icon, mural, picture, tombstone, or shrine along the route. So I learned a lot in a short time.

One of the most interesting discoveries was the emphasis placed by Gurbani (sayings of the Gurus) on divine grace or karam. This gift of God's mercy and forgiveness is a concept that has deep affinity with Christianity, although this was a faith the Sikh Gurus never encountered in their journeyings and searchings.

Although Sikh theology and spiritual history seem rather dense to a newcomer, two or three key points stand out.

First, the Sikhs have suffered throughout their history from terrible persecution, often extending to appalling torture and massacres at the hands of other religions of the region. The tales from the martyrs' room in the Golden Temple make Nero's persecution of the early Christians seem rather mild by comparison.

Secondly, Sikhs are people of serious spiritual discipline. Devoted followers of the Gurus' regime rise every morning at 3 a.m. to say the five dawn prayers, beginning with the rhythmic chanting of Japji or Song of the Soul. They practice extensive meditation and daily readings from the 1,430 pages of sacred scriptures known as the Guru Granth Sahib, the combined wisdom of the Gurus.

This Scripture explains the Sikh concept of God as the all-knowing, all-seeing, ever-present creator who is the ultimate reality and the source of all truth.

The Faith also lays down many spiritual and practical rules for a good Sikh lifestyle. These include guidelines for diet, exercise, and behavior, including a requirement to give 10 percent of one's income to charity and to devote 10 percent of one's waking hours to serving the poor.

At the Golden Temple there is much prominence given to langar, a core feature of the Sikh life. This is the provision and sharing of free food to all comers, regardless of rank or status. I was impressed by my son-in-law's dedication to his langar duties in the kitchens of the temple where he and a well-drilled team serve soup and bread to some 30,000 poor and hungry Amritsar locals each day.

After five days in the holy city and the Golden Temple I only know how little I still know about Sikhism. Its values seem admirable and are based on a most practical combination of faith and good works. So I shall try to learn more, not least about the religion's teachings on family life, which are of great interest to a father-in-law.

In the meantime I can see that my daughter is blissfully happy. She says she has married "the kindest man in the world." For these blessings I gladly give thanks to God, the Lord of both Sikhs and Christians. 


Jonathan Aitken, The American Spectator' High Spirits columnist, is most recently author of John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace (Crossway Books). His biographies include Charles W. Colson: A Life Redeemed (Doubleday) and Nixon: A Life, now available in a new paperback edition (Regnery).

[Courtesy: The American Spectator. Edited for]

April 26, 2011


Conversation about this article

1: Simranjeet Singh (Bathinda, Punjab), April 26, 2011, 8:24 AM.

We welcome your daughter to Sikhi and to Punjab. Congratulations to you and your family ... Wishing her the best in her wedded life.

2: Kamal Nain Singh (New Delhi, India), April 26, 2011, 9:15 AM.

Dear Jonathan, in Sikhism, we believe in human dignity and respect for all faiths. I pray to God to bless your entire family.

3: Gurteg Singh (New York, U.S.A.), April 26, 2011, 9:58 AM.

His daughter Alexendra Aitken (now Harvinder Kaur) is a young lady in chardi kala after her decision to become a Sikh. She wrote a detailed article (also to be found on and clarified many misconceptions and stereotypes that media had built around conversion to Sikhism. She looks strong, radiant and very happy and we wish her all the best.

4: Jesroshan Singh (Malaysia), April 26, 2011, 10:16 AM.

Mr. Aitken wrote that the Gurus never met Christians. There is some uncertainty overthis. Bhai Gurdas wrote in his vaara(n) that there were missionaries in Lahore during his time sent by Queen Elizabeth. In fact, these same missionaries wrote a letter to Her Majesty detailing the torture of Guru Arjan by the Mughals in Lahore.

5: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), April 26, 2011, 1:19 PM.

It is truly said that a daughter has her father wrapped around her little finger from day one. (I know for I, too have a daughter.) This note by Jonathan Aitken is indeed a wonderful tribute to a father's understanding, and to the new faith of his daughter. A warm welcome to both.

6: Balbir Singh (Panama), April 26, 2011, 8:28 PM.

Congratulations to the newly married couple. Jonathan, you have explained Sikhism and its beliefs so succinctly. Thank you.

7: Devina (Folsom, California, U.S.A.), April 27, 2011, 4:14 PM.

Congratulations! This is a lovely story. I am so proud of your daughter. I loved reading your story from a Dad's point of you, your love for our religion and the feeling you got from being at the Golden Temple. May God bless you and your family. Best wishes to a very beautiful couple.

8: W.G. Duncan (Rancho Murieta, California, U.S.A.), April 27, 2011, 7:46 PM.

A few years ago we traveled to New Delhi, India, to be a part of my "blonde California girl" daughter's wedding to a wonderful Sikh man. We became part of a whole new family. My son-in-law keeps his beard and hair unshorn and wears the turban. And my grandsons' hair is now down to their waists. They live in Portland, Oregon. How lucky we are! Thanks for the great story.

9: Brijinder Khurana (Delhi, India), April 28, 2011, 6:10 AM.

Blessings to the newly-wed couple. Mr. Aitken, it's a credit to your upbringing that allows your daughter to be immersed in a new religion as her own religion. Basically, God is One.

10: Virendra Singh Bajwa (India), May 12, 2011, 10:29 AM.

May God Almighty bless the newly-wed couple.

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