Faith, first foremost

11th April 2008 at 01:00

Religious sacrifice makes a gripping story. Vicky Bunting reveals how she brought the origin of the Sikh Khalsa to life


We start Year 7 by looking at communities, and why it is important to belong to one. This lesson begins our consideration of the Sikh community.

We start by reading the story of the origin of the Khalsa - the Sikh brother and sisterhood - at a gathering of the faithful called by Guru Gobind Rai (later Guru Gobind Singh) at Anandpur in India in 1699.

We set the scene, describing the violence in India at the time, and the harm being done to some Sikh communities. We talk about the difficulty in travelling long distances before cars and planes. We ask pupils to consider how important listening to Guru Gobind Rai must have been for so many of them to travel so far.

We then ask them to imagine they are in that crowd. We describe, using all the storytellers' tricks we can muster, the demand of Guru Gobind Singh: "Who will die for their faith?", the acceptance of this challenge by one man, his disappearance behind the curtain, a thud, the return of the Guru with a bloody sword, and the repetition of his demand a further four times.

Finally, there is a delay, before the reappearance of the five volunteers dressed in new robes, as the founding members of a new group - the Khalsa. These are Sikhs who are prepared to defend themselves and others to protect their faith, at the cost of their life if necessary.

The symbolism of this new responsibility is in the name change (men to Singh, meaning lion, women to Kaur, meaning princess).

Throughout the storytelling we stop and ask questions: How would it feel to be in the crowd? What might you feel when the guru asked whether you were prepared to die for your faith? What might be in the mind of the first volunteer? Would it be easier to be the first or second volunteer? Why did some people volunteer and not others? What might you have done if you were there? Why might it be difficult for some people to match the level of commitment of the Khalsa members?

This is followed up by a brief written response to the following questions: What did the guru ask the crowd? Why did some people volunteer? Why did some people not volunteer? If you had been in the crowd what would you have done?

The pupils are sometimes shocked by the blood and gore aspect of the story, and this can effectively challenge the preconceptions of some pupils that religious studies is about "being nice to everyone".

In Year 7 the storytelling format works well, with many pupils feeling a sense of security with an activity familiar to them from primary school. They are usually open with each other about their possible reactions to these events.

We can also reinforce that people have different responses to a situation, but that doesn't mean that one response is more valid than another. We encourage them to reflect on the reasons behind the different responses, to develop higher level thinking skills.

Vicky Bunting is head of RS at Kingdown Community School in Warminster, Wiltshire.


- To know how the Khalsa was formed.

- To understand why some chose to join the Khalsa.

- To evaluate the challenges of belonging to the Khalsa.

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