10 Officially Recognized Mainstream Sikhism Sects

Branches of the Sikh Panth

Mainstream Sikhism follows the Sikh code of conduct based on the hukam of Tenth Guru Gobind Singh as outlined by Rahit Maryada published by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGCP). These 10 Sikhism Sects have all been officially acknowledged by Sri Akal Takhat. Though many subscribe to supplemental teachings of their founder, like branches of a single tree, all are recognized as part of the Sikh Panth, as they adhere to the fundamentals and core criteria of Sikhism.

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Akhand Kirtani Jatha (AKJ)

AKJ Kirtani at Rain Sabaee Kirtan Smagham February 2012
AKJ Kirtani at Rain Sabaee Kirtan Smagham February 2012. Photo © [S Khalsa]

Akhand Kirtani Jatha (AKJ) was founded in about 1930 by Bhai Randhir, the author of several books. Akhand Kirtan meaning "unbroken adoration" is a group whose actively promotes kirtan and encourages devotional singing of hymns from Guru Granth Sahib as well as selections from Dasam Granth.

AKJ focuses on the fellowship of kirtan smagams, naam simran, with initiation rites based on the original code of conduct according to Guru Gobind Singh. AKJ considers keski to be one of the five articles of faith. Initiates read morning nitnem prayers of the five Amrit Banis, are strict bibek vegetarians excluding even eggs from the diet, as well as black tea, and may cook and eat from sarbloh all iron cookware and utensils.

Bhai Randhir was a political prisoner for 17 years during which time he developed a deep devotion and a very strong system of discipline. He once had to spend 17 days at the bottom of a well in solitary confinement but emerged in chardi kalaa, an elevated state of exalted spirits, which astounded his jailers. After his release, Bhai Randhir rallied sangat, and engaged his companions with kirtan in which he was known to immerse himself non-stop for days at a time, hence the term Akaand Kirtan.

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Dam Dami Taksal (DDT)

Taksal Singhs in White Chola and Bare Legs
Taksal Singhs in White Chola and Bare Legs. Photo © [S Khalsa]

Dam Dami Taksal (DDT) originated over 300 years ago with the appointment of Bhai Mani Singh and Baba Deep Singh as the court scribes of Tenth Guru Gobind Singh, with a mission to propagate scripture of Guru Granth Sahib. The Guru camped at Sabo ki Talwandi in 1706 where he was joined by his scribes. The spot became known as Damdama, meaning both a "halting place to catch one's breath", and a "mound," raised as a battery, or monument to the gurus. Taksal means "mint" as in to stamp or imprint an insignia.

Damdami Taksal headquarters is an educational institution based in Chowk Mehta located about 25 miles north of Amritsar. Dam Dami Taksal have had several prominent modern day leaders including the late Baba Thakur Singh, and the 1984 Golden Temple massacre martyr Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Traditionally the focus is on teaching Gurbani, and pronunciation of Gurmukhi script, with the goal of reading devotional paath, or scripture correctly.

The Taksal maintain a strict code of conduct. Initiates read the Amrit banis recited at the time of initiation as morning nitnem prayers and are strict vegetarians. Taksali Singhs may be recognized by the apparel of white chola worn over kachera with bare legs, and distinctive style of round turban. The Taksal are traditionalists and do not favor the idea of women participating in clergy roles, or as part of the Panj Pyare, administrators of Amrit initiation.

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Brahm Bunga Trust (Dodra)

Dhan Guru Nanak Satsang
Dhan Guru Nanak Satsang. Photo © [S Khalsa]

Members of the Brahm Bunga Trust are commonly known as Dodra, which refers to its place of origin. Two main gurdwaras at Dodra, Mansa, and at Doraha, Ludhiana serve as Brahm Bunga Sahib headquarters in Punjab.

The Dodra are a devout sect founded in about 1960 with retired Burmese army officer Jaswant Singh fondly known as Bauji. In 1976 Mataji Charanjeet Kaur of ​Malaysia began actively promoting satsang fellowship gatherings around Punjab. Over the decades the satsang movement spread around the world.

The greatest distinction of the Dodra is that they devoutly read the writings of their founder who used the pen name "Khoji" and wrote "Lekhs", or tracts, pamphlets, and booklets, on inspirational spiritual topics such as the power of thought and word, and like subjects. Officially sanctioned by the Akal Takhat in 2003, Dodra sangat practices naam simran meditation for an hour morning and evening, and preceding every kirtan smagam. The Dodra sangat revere Guru Nanak and generally repeat the refrain "Dhan Guru Nanak" while singing shabads.

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International Institute of Gurmat Studies (IIGS)

Royal Falcon Musical Bhai Kanhaiya and Angry Soldier
Royal Falcon Musical Bhai Kanhaiya and Angry Soldier. Photo Copyright Protected © [G & H Studios Courtesy IGS NOW]

Renown for its international Youth Camps, the International Institute of Gurmat Studies (IIGS) previously known as Young Sikh Missionaries was founded in 1955 in Lucknow, India, at age 19 by the late Captain Kanwar Harbanjan Singh "Papaji" (September 21, 1936 - January 30, 2011). In 1972 the all-male organization moved its headquarters to Delhi, was renamed IIGS and opened its membership to females.

In 1970 IIGS held its 12th annual Youth camp outside India for the first time in Kathmandu, Nepal. IIGS moved its headquarters to Southern California in 1985. IGGS popularly known as simply IGS hosts one or more week-long youth camps yearly. Its 80th Sikh International Youth Camp scheduled July 20-26, 2014 at Camp Seely located in the San Bernardino Mountains of southern California is near its headquarters.​

Sponsored by young professionals, IIGS put out one of the first computer Gurbani research tools and publishes booklets for teaching nitnem and kirtan to campers using phonetic Romanized transliteration. Camps encourage the Sikh lifestyle and include open discussions for youth on integrating the values of Sikhism into their everyday life, such as the challenges for both girls and boys face in keeping all hair intact in school and sports. IIGS women generally interpret the code of conduct giving women the choice of wearing a turban, as allowing the head to go uncovered.

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Neeldhari Panth

Tum Karo Daya Mere Sai Album Cover Performed by Neeldhari Bhai Nirmal Singh Khalsa Pipli Wale
Tum Karo Daya Mere Sai Album Cover Performed by Neeldhari Bhai Nirmal Singh Khalsa Pipli Wale. Photo © [Courtesy Bhai Nirmal Singh Khalsa Pipliwala]

Founded by Sant Harnam Singh of Kile Sahib in 1966, followers of the Neeldhari are strict vegetarians who maintain unshorn hair, and beards, follow a strict dress code wearing a Neela bana of blue Chakuta (turban,) and Kammarkassa (cummerbund). Neeldharis believe in only one living guru, the holy scripture Guru Granth Sahibh, are a peace-loving sect, and promote initiation with the original code of conduct according to the Tenth Guru. The Neeldhari Sangat is very attached to naam simran, and kirtan under the direction of Sant Satnam Singh of Pipli Sahib.​

The Neeldhari of Pipli Sahib are officially recognized are a part of the mainstream Sikh Panth by Akal Takhat. On Vaisakhi April 15, 2012 an event was organized by Pipli Sahib Neeldharis, the Jethadars of the Five Takhats, and other Panthik officials for more than 10,000 souls to receive initiation in the Amritsanchar ceremony during a smagam held Neeldhhari headquarters in Gurudwara Neeldhari Samprada Pipli Sahib, of Bhagwan Nagar Colony in Pipli Kurukshetra of Haryana.

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Nihang (Akali)

Nihang Warrior
Nihang Warrior. Photo © [Jasleen Kaur]

Nihangs, also known as Akalis, are a warrior sect of Sikhism, and the official military armed force of the Khalsa Panth, and may provide security at any gurdwara where they reside. The Nihungs were historically headquartered in Akal Bunga of Amritsar, and in modern times congregate in Anandpur.

Nihang Akalis are a chaste sect which generally does not marry, but devotes their lives to training in the Sikh Martial art of Gatka, and horseback riding. Nihang bana consists of a blue chola, and tall domalla. Nihangs are always armed with shastar weaponry. The Nihang Akalis are considered the crocodiles of the battlefield, and have a long martial history dating back hundreds of years> to the and the Dal Khalsa missile system. Nihang Akalis are considered ladlee fauj, or the beloved personal army of Tenth Guru Gobind Singh, and boast such renown heroes as Baba Deep Singh, and Akali Phoola Singh.

Nihangspartake of Jatka (chatka), the meat of a goat killed with one stroke of the sword which has been cooked in an iron vessel as "maha prasad" while prayers are recited. The ritual allows the Nihang to sharpen his skill with the sword. The Nihangs also traditionally prepare bhang, a concoction originally used to dull pain on the battlefield.

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Non Denominational Kes Dhari

Sikh Symbols Worn as Articles of Faith
Sikh Symbols Worn as Articles of Faith. Photo © [Manprem Kaur]

Many Sikhs, probably the vast majority, do not subscribe to any particular organization, but simply keep their hair intact as a testament to their faith, and are known as Kes (kesh) Dhari. Most wear a kara on the wrist. Boys wear patka, and men pagri or any preferred turban style, while girls wear braids, and married women wear hair in a bun at the nape of the neck, and cover hair with a chunni.

Those who are initiated may wear articles of faith, or only symbolic 5 K's such as a thread about the neck strung with miniature kirpan and kanga, or a wooden kanga embedded with a steel emblem depicting a kirpan. Nitnem may consist of simply Jajpi sahib, or when initiated the daily prayers outlined by the code of conduct. The ​3 Golden Rules are the basis, and foundation of the average Sikh's life, with Seva considered to be very important. The contributions of non-denominational Sikhs are the backbone of the Sikh Panth, and the major support of the gurdwaras around the world.

(Sahej dhari, or those who do not keep hair intact are no longer officially recognized as Sikhs by Akal Takhat, but still make up a large percentage of gurdwara goers, and worshipers devoted to Sikh Gurus.)

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Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGCP)

Sikh Reht Maryada
Sikh Reht Maryada. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGCP), established in 1920, as the parliament of the Sikh nation under British rule, was enacted in order that Sikhs would regain the custody and right of management to all historic gurdwaras. The Sikh Gurdwara Act of 1925, made it possible to legally assume control of gurdaras and shrines which had previously been managed by the Udasi sect for many decades and had been subjected to the influence of corrupt clergy.

The SGPC was given responsibility for establishing the basis for all Sikh denominations regarding the definition of who can be called a Sikh, along with the parameters of Sikhism code of conduct, daily prayers, initiation, and articles of faith, based on the teachings of Sikh gurus. The SGPC also is the final authority for issues such as establishing the commemorative dates of the Nanakshahi calendar. SGPC Committee members are elected every five years by eligible voters.

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Sikh Dharma International (SDI)

Amritsanchar - Khalsa
Amritsanchar - Khalsa. Photo © [Gurumustuk Singh Khalsa]

Sikh Dharma of the Western Hemisphere is a product of Sikh minded members of 3HO, a yoga-based offshoot of Sikhism founded by Yogi Bhajan in the United States during the 1970's. It eventually evolved into Sikh Dharma world Wide (SDW), and as membership spread across the globe officially became Sikh Dhamra International on November 26, 2012. The SDI mission statement is to propagate "Guru Granth Sahib, the lives and tenets of the Sikh Gurus, and the teachings of the Siri Singh Sahib (also known as Yogi Bhajan)."

Members of SDI practice yoga, are vegetarian, do not read the 40th pauree of Anand Sahib along with the first 5, as part of nitnem, unless all 40 paurees are read. SDI individuals are recognizable as generally wearing all white bana and turbans, while a few, mostly initiated young men raised at schools in India, wear blue.

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Gurdwara Tapoban Ontario (GTO)

Khanda in Sarbloh Batta Filled With Amrit
Khanda in Sarbloh Batta Filled With Amrit. Photo © [Ravitej Singh Khalsa / Eugene, Oregon / USA]

Gurdwara Tapoban of Ontario (GTO) educates Sikh youth in the preservation and pristine practice of Tat-Gurmat Maryada. The Tapoban hardcore Appalachia to Sikhi includes initiation based on the highest possible interpretation of the original Khalsa code of conduct established by Tenth Guru Gobind Singh including keeping keski (a short turban) as a kakar (article of faith).

Tapoban focuses on Akhand Kirtan sung collectively sitting before the original Lareedar form of Guru Granth, written in a single line of unbroken script, and bibek langar cooked at eaten from all iron Sarbloh. Tapoban do not believe in the divine origin of the controversial Ragmala and decline to accept it as part of Guru Granth Sahib.

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Your Citation
Khalsa, Sukhmandir. "10 Officially Recognized Mainstream Sikhism Sects." Learn Religions, Mar. 4, 2021, learnreligions.com/officially-recognized-mainstream-sikhism-sects-2992922. Khalsa, Sukhmandir. (2021, March 4). 10 Officially Recognized Mainstream Sikhism Sects. Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/officially-recognized-mainstream-sikhism-sects-2992922 Khalsa, Sukhmandir. "10 Officially Recognized Mainstream Sikhism Sects." Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/officially-recognized-mainstream-sikhism-sects-2992922 (accessed May 30, 2023).