The word Sikh (pronounced “sickh”) means ‘disciple’ or ‘learner.’ The Sikh religion was founded in Northern India in the fifteenth century by Guru Nanak Dev Ji and is distinct from Islam and Hinduism. Sikhism is monotheistic and stresses the equality of all men and women. Sikhs believe in three basic principles; meditating on the name of God (praying), earning a living by honest means as well as sharing the fruits of one’s labor with others. Sikhism rejects caste and class systems and emphasizes service to humanity.
Sikhs and Britain have a long and storied history. Decades before the last Sikh King, Duleep Singh, stepped onto British soil in the middle of the 19th century, there had been Anglo-Sikh contact as far back as the 1800s in the Punjab with his father Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Since then, even though this relationship has changed in nature many times, both communities have left a permanent mark on each other. For instance, in such varied parts of British society as food, language, political systems, soldiering and of course cricket, the British-Sikh relationship has given rise to many new facets of modern British and Indian society.
The first Sikh settler in Britain was Maharaja Duleep Singh (1838-1893), the last Sikh Emperor of the Imperial Sukerchakia Dynasty, from 1844-1849. He arrived in England in the year 1854, having been exiled from his Kingdom by the British. His mother, Empress Jind Kaur (1817-1863), arrived in 1860 at Kensington in Victorian London and settled permanently, after fighting the British for a long time until the fall of the Sikh Dynasty in 1849. She was given permission by the British Parliament to settle on English soil. A jewel on the UK queen’s crown belonged to, and was stolen from Maharaja Ranjeet Singh.
The First Sikh Settlers started migrating from the Punjab in 1911, when the first Sikh Gurdwara was opened in London. During the start of the First and Second World Wars respectively, there was already an established Sikh presence in many parts of England. In London itself the community was small but this grew very rapidly during the 1950s and 60s and faced much racism and discrimination, mainly owed to the appearance and skin colour.