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Sikhism has prohibited idol worship since early 20th century, led by the Tat Khalsa of the Singh Sabha Movement of late 19th-century. Prior to 1905, idols were a part of Sikh gurudwaras, including the Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple, Amritsar). According to Namdhari sect of Sikhism, it was Khalsa sect of Sikhism led Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandak Committee that invented phrases such as "Guru Maniyo Granth" in 1925 to remove idol worship within the Sikh community.
The Sanatan Sikhs considered keeping idols within the temples as not harmful. With the launch of Singh Sabha movement in late 19th-century, the Tat Khalsa and the Nirankari Sikh community strongly opposed the practice, stating that God could not be represented by any icon. In 1905, as a part of Sikh reform movement, idols were removed from the Golden temple and other Gurdwaras, midst a major controversy within the Sikh community of that era. The prohibition, state Fenech and McLeod, has also served a means to assert Sikhism differs from Hinduism.
Among the earliest reform movements that opposed idol worship practices in the Sikh community was the Nirankari sect started by Baba Dyal (1783-1855). He was not an initiated Khalsa, his movement was called Nirankari which literally derived from Nirankar or "the formless one". He was opposed to all idol worship, including the then existing practice of keeping idols and pictures of the ten Sikh Gurus and praying before them. According to Dyal, such practices were against Sikh teachings. He built a new Gurdwara in Rawalpindi (now in Pakistan), but facing opposition from Sikhs to his ideas, he moved his reform movement into its suburbs. Nirankaris were a potent and active campaigners in late 19th-century and early 20th-century for the removal of all idols and images from the Golden Temple and other Gurdwaras. After the partition of British India along religious boundaries, the Nirankaris along with the vast majority of Sikhs chose to move to predominantly Hindu-majority India rather than stay in predominantly Muslim majority Pakistan. Nirankaris moved their headquarters from Dayalsar in Rawalpindi to Chandigarh. They have continued to campaign for the abolishment of idolatry like the orthodox Khalsa, but continue to accept a living human guru beyond the ten gurus which has made them a heterodox sect of Sikhism.
In contrast to Nirankari and Tat Khalsa Sikhs, Sanatan Sikhs (lit. "Traditional Sikh") considered images and idols of the ten Sikh gurus, as well as others, to be an inclusive practice and acceptable means of devotional worship.
The orthodox Sikhs led by the Khalsa state that idolatry is forbidden in Sikhism, they recommend the reverence of icons such as the Nishan and the Guru Granth Sahib. However, this is a relatively recent development, according to Namdhari sect of Sikhism. The Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandak Committee invented phrases such as "Guru Maniyo Granth" in 1925, state Namdharis, to remove idol worship within the Sikh community. These views of Khalsa Sikhs on idolatry emerged during the Singh Sabha movement as an attempt to distinguish Sikhism from Hinduism and restate its core beliefs and change the historic practices in Sikhism.
According to Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair, a professor of Sikh Studies, the Singh Sabha movement intellectuals in the late 19th and early 20th century, created exegetical works in their attempts to overcome idolatrous notions of God. This was the Singh Sabha's attempt to cleanse Sikhism of Hinduism, but they ended up admitting the historic practice and formulating new norms that did in a different way what they accused Hindus of doing in practice. In the second half of the 19th-century, states Harjot Oberoi – a professor of Asian Studies specializing on Sikhism, images of Sikh gurus were commonly worshipped in many Gurdwaras including major sacred sites such as at the Golden Temple, Akal Takht and Baba Atal.According to Mandair, the Sikh scripture includes words such as "murat", "sarir" and "akal". Murat is same as murti or an "image, statue, idol", sarir means body, while akal means "timeless". Selectively read, parts of the Sikh scripture can be viewed as teaching an abstract "formless" concept of God that is also found in Hindu texts (along with other theistic and atheistic ideas). However, states Mandair, other parts of the Sikh scripture include terms such as "murat" or "murati" which relate to "form, shape" creating exegetical difficulty. The writers of the Khalsa group within the Singh Sabha movement reinterpreted and gave new contextual meanings to the words such as "murati", as well as emphasized a stereotypical orientalist view of Hinduism, in order to show that there is no inconsistency and contradiction in their exegetical attempts around idolatry in Sikhism.
Since early 20th-century, Farquhar and other scholars have argued that the matha tekna by Sikhs at the door of Gurdwara or before the Guru Granth Sahib, and other daily rituals such as putting the scripture to bed (sukhasan) in a bedroom (sachkhand), waking it up every morning, carrying it in a procession and re-opening it (prakash) in major Sikh Gurdwaras is a form of idolatry. According to them, idolatry is any form of bowing or worship of any object, paying homage to any icon, any ritualized direction or house of worship. It is a form of bibliolatry, where the Guru Granth Sahib is the eternal living guru treated with rituals of respect similar to how people of other faiths treat an idol or statue or image. According to Kristina Myrvold, the daily ritual ministrations and paying of homage for the scripture by Sikhs is not unique to Sikhism. It moulds "meanings, values and ideologies" and creates a framework for congregational worship, states Myrvold, that is found in all major faiths.