Do Sikhs Believe in Idol Worship? What Does Gurbani Say?

Is Reverence of Guru Granth Sahib Idolatry?

Guru Granth Sahib at San Jose Gurdwara
Guru Granth Sahib at San Jose Gurdwara. Photo © [S Khalsa]

Sikhs Do Not Believe in Idol Worship

First Guru Nanak Dev grew up in a Hindu family. His parents followed a belief system which encompassed an estimated thirty three million demigods and goddesses. People made figures to represent the deities. They held Puja ceremonies burning oil lamps, and incense to worship the them. They dressed the idols and offered food to them praying for their favor.

Guru Nanak Dev disagreed with his parents and their priests religious beliefs.

He preached belief in only one God, Ik Onkar, and taught that all of creation worships its creator. He and the followers of his new found Sikh faith rejected idol worship and abolished its rituals.

What does Gurbani Say About Idol Worship?

Various authors whose writings appear in the scripture of Gurbani, denounce the rituals of idol worship.

Guru Nanak Dev emphasizes that temple rites which involve the burning of incense and lamps, offering of flowers, and the beating of drums, merely mimic the worship exhibited by all of nature:

  • Gagan mai thaal rav chand deepak banae tarikaa manddhal janam motee||
    The sky is the salver plate, the sun and moons the lamps, the stars and celestial orbs are studded pearls.

    Dhoop malaanalo pavan chavro kaarae sagal banraae phoolant jotee ||1||
    The temple incense is the fragrance of sandalwood trees on the mountain carried on the breeze, the wind is the cooling fan, the blooming vegetation of the entire world are the altar flowers making offerings to Thee, O Luminous Lord."

    Kaisee aartee hoe || Bhav khanddanaa taree aartee ||
    What a beautiful worship with lamps is this. O Destroyer of dread, this adoration is Thy ceremony of lights.
    Anhetaa sabad vaanat bhaeree ||1|| rahao ||
    The unstruck celestial vibration is the resounding temple drums. Pause ||1|| SGGS||13

    Guru Nanak revered the writings of Bhagat Kabir, a Sufi poet whose verses protest the futility of rituals that destroy life during the processes involved in making leaf offerings of food when worshiping a lifeless idol:

    • "Patee torai maalinee paatee paatee jeeo ||
      The leaves you tear off O lady gardener for making leaf plates, in those leaves is life.
      Jis paahan ko paatee torai so paahan nirajeeo ||1||
      That stone idol for which you tear off those leaf plates, that stone idol is without life.

      Boolee malnee hai aeo ||
      O lady gardener, in this are you mistaken.
      Satigur jaagtaa hai daeou ||1||rahao||

      The True Enlightener is the living deities. ||1||Pause||

      Breham paatee bisan ddaaree phool sandardaeou ||
      Bhrahma is within the leaves, Vishnu within the boughs and within the blossoms is the Shiva deity.
      Teen daev partakh toreh kareh kis kee saeou || 2||
      These three deities you break off, so whose service is it you perform an offering to? ||2||

      Paakhaan gadt kai moorat keenhee dae kai chhaatee paaou ||
      The sculptor carves stone, fashioning it into an idol while putting his feet upon it's breast.
      Jae aeh moorat saachee hai tou garrhnnehaarae khaaou ||3||

      If this stone idol be a true god, then the sculptor ought to be the offering eaten by it. ||3||

      Bhaat pehat ar laapsee karkaraa kaasaar ||

      Rice, peas, sweet porridge, pancakes, and pudding...
      Bhoganhaare bhogiaa is moorat ke mukh chhaar ||4||
      These enjoyable offerings are enjoyed by the priests, while in the idol's mouth are but ashes. ||4||

      Malin bhoolee jag bhulaanaa jam bhullaanae nah-e ||

      The lady gardener is mistaken, the world is mistaken, but in this I am mistaken not.
      Kahu kabeer ham raam raakhae kripaa kar har raa-e ||5||1||14||

      Says Kabir, God preserves me, showering His mercy My Lord King blesses me." ||5||1||14|| SGGS||479

      Is Reverence of Guru Granth Sahib Idolatry?

      The Sikh Rehat Maryada (SRM) Sikhism code of conduct is based on the teachings of the 10 gurus. SRM advises reverence toward Guru Granth Sahib, but clearly states that devotional adoration is made only to Almighty God, and that belief in idol worship is taboo:

      • *"Worship of any idol, or any ritual" within the gurdwara is forbidden.
      •  **A specific protocol is outlined for reading scripture of Guru Granth Sahib. Ii it is considered anti-gurmat to "press the legs" and platform upon which the scripture rests, rub or massage surrounding walls and areas,  or install of any figurines, "statues, or idols," bowing to pictures or images of the ten gurus
      • ***Worship is directed exclusively to "One Timeless Being." 
      • ****Sikhism tenets regard as taboo any customs not in accordance with the Guru's teachings including ancestor worship, and advise against "believing in ... idolatry" and other superstitious rituals.

      SRM Quotes - Section 3, Gurdwaras, Congregational Etiquette, and Rites, Chapter IV, Article V, *e & **f. Section 4 Chapter X Beliefs, Observances, Duties, Taboos and Ceremonies, Article XVI ***a & ****d.

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      Khalsa, Sukhmandir. "Do Sikhs Believe in Idol Worship? What Does Gurbani Say?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 22, 2016, thoughtco.com/do-sikhs-believe-in-idol-worship-2993498. Khalsa, Sukhmandir. (2016, August 22). Do Sikhs Believe in Idol Worship? What Does Gurbani Say? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/do-sikhs-believe-in-idol-worship-2993498 Khalsa, Sukhmandir. "Do Sikhs Believe in Idol Worship? What Does Gurbani Say?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/do-sikhs-believe-in-idol-worship-2993498 (accessed November 21, 2017).