Sikhs (Hind Sikh A Disciple), a people of India, chiefly inhabiting the Punjaub. They were originally a religious sect, the founder of which was Nanak, a Hindoo of the warrior caste, born in 1469 near Lahore, who was a deist, advocating the worship of God without regard to form as an essential, universal toleration, and a fusion of Brahmanism and Mohammedanism, on the basis of a pure monotheism and of human brotherhood. He died in 1539, and was succeeded by his son Angad, who wrote commentaries upon his father's system, which underwent considerable change at the hands of his successors Amardas and'Ram-das. Arjoon, the son of Ramdas, compiled the Sikh doctrines in a volume called Adi-Granth, established himself at Amritsir in 1581, and organized his followers, who had hitherto been only a religious community, into a confederation possessing also a political character, of which he became the sole chief. As the Sikhs rejected alike the Koran and the Vedas, they drew down upon themselves the hatred both of Moslems and Brahmans; and notwithstanding the peaceable increase of the sect up to that period, Arjoon was imprisoned by the Mussulman government, tortured, and put to death in 1606. His son, Har Govind, to avenge his death, led the Sikhs against their Mohammedan foes; but they were driven from the region which they occupied about Lahore, and forced to find refuge in the mountains in the north.

In 1675 Guru Govind, a grandson of Har Govind, became their tenth theocratic chief, gave them a code of laws, and organized them as a state. He added to their sacred books by writing the biographies of his nine predecessors. He abolished caste, established absolute equality, and introduced a peculiar dress, such as the wearing of blue, peculiar customs, such as allowing the hair and beard to grow long and uncut, and peculiar requirements, such as that every man should be a soldier and always carry steel. He recommenced the struggle against the Mogul emperors, but without avail, and was defeated and finally murdered by a private enemy. His successor, a chief named Banda, renewed the contest early in the 18th century, devastating the eastern Punjaub and Sirhind with such success that Bahadoor Shah himself took the field against the Sikhs, and partially repressed their rising power. In 1716 they were overwhelmingly defeated and almost annihilated. Their religious fervor decreased, and for many years they did not recover from this blow; but they finally united their roving bands and drove the Afghans from the Punjaub in 1764. For the following 30 years they were divided into 12 small confederations, called misals, which were governed by sirdars or petty chiefs, of whom Maha Singh was the most powerful.

After his death in 1794, his son Runjeet Singh brought the other sirdars into subjection, and reduced the Punjaub to his sway. (See Runjeet SINGH.) When this distinguished Sikh chieftan died, in 1839, his dominions, known as the kingdom of Lahore, included all the principal Sikh states except those E. of the Sutlej. They soon fell into anarchy, the power of the army became supreme, and war with the English broke out in 1845. Battles were fought and victories won by the British, under Sir Hugh Gough, at Moodkee, Dec. 18; at Ferozeshah, Dec. 21 and 22; at Aliwal, Jan. 28, 1846; and finally at Sobraon, Feb. 10, where the Sikhs lost" 10,000 men. The contest then terminated.in a treaty by which the greater part of their territory and almost their entire government was ceded to the East India company. This treaty soon led to new complications, and to a second war between the British and the Sikhs, beginning in 1848. Mooltan was invested in the autumn of that year, and taken in January, 1849; but the British, under Gough, were repulsed and narrowly escaped disastrous defeat at the battle of Chillianwallah, Jan. 13, when they lost 2,446 killed and wounded.

A subsequent victory at Guzerat, in February, concluded the war; the Sikh army surrendered, and the Punjaub was incorporated into the British dominions. The only portion of the Sikh territories remaining independent is comprised in the nine small states of Sirhind. The Sikhs were faithful troops during the sepoy mutiny of 1857, and aided materially in its suppression. - In 1868 the number of Sikhs in British India was officially stated at 1,129,319. Their ethnological affinities are with the Jats. In spite of the destruction of their commonwealth, they maintain their national characteristics, being tall, thin, dark, and active, excellent soldiers and horsemen, frank, sociable, and pleasure-loving. Amritsir is their spiritual capital.