SIKH CEREMONIES

 

 

 

 

SIKH Festivals

A Sikh festival or holy day is called a Gurpurb, meaning Guru's remembrance day. The celebration is generally similar for all Gurpurabs; only the hymns and history of a particular occasion is different. The ceremony for Guru Nanak's birthday is described in detail.

The birthday of Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh religion, usually comes in the month of November, but the date varies from year to year, based on the traditional dates of the Indian Calendar. The birthday celebration usually lasts three days. Generally two days before the birthday, Akhand Path (forty-eight-hour non-stop reading of Guru Granth Sahib) is held in the Gurdwara. One day before the birthday, a procession is organised which is led by the Panj Pyares (Five Beloved Ones) and the Palki (Palanquin) of Siri Guru Granth Sahib and followed by teams of singers singing hymns, brass bands playing different tunes, 'Gatka' teams (Martial art) show their swordsmanship, and devotees singing the chorus. The procession passes through the main roads and streets of the town which are covered with buntings and decorated gates and the leaders inform the people of the message of Guru Nanak. On the birth anniversary day, the programme begins early in the morning at about 4 or 5 am with the singing of Asa-di-Var (morning hymns) and hymns from the Sikh scriptures followed by Katha (exposition of the scripture) and lectures and recitation of poems in the praise of the Guru. The celebration goes on until about 1 to 2 pm.

After Ardas and distribution of Karah Parshad, the Langar is served. Some Gurdwara also hold night session. This begins around sun set when Rehras (evening prayer) is recited. This is followed by Kirtan till late in the night. Sometimes a Kavi-darbar (poetic symposium) is also held to enable the poets to pay their tributes to the Guru in their own verses. At about 1:20 am, the actual time of the birth, the congregation sings praises of the Guru and recites the Holy Word. The function ends about 2 am. The Sikhs who cannot join the celebrations for some reasons, or in places where there are no Sikh temple, hold the ceremony in their own homes by performing Kirtan, Path, Ardas, Karah Parshad and Langar. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru's birthday generally falls in December or in January. The celebrations are similar to those of Guru Nanak's birthday, namely Akhand Path, procession and Kirtan, Katha, and Langar.

The martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru, falls in May or June, the hottest months in India. He was tortured to death under the orders of Mughal Emperor, Jahangir, at Lahore on 25 May 1606. Celebrations consist of Kirtan, Katha, lectures, Karah Parshad and Langar in the Gurdwara. Because of summer, chilled sweetened drink made from milk, sugar, essence and water is freely distributed in Gurdwaras and in neighbourhoods to everybody irrespective of their religious belief.

Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Guru, was arrested under orders of Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb. As he refused to change his religion and accept Islam, he was beheaded on 11 November 1675 at Chandani Chowk, Delhi. Usually one-day celebrations of his martyrdom are held in the Gurdwaras.

Three days before his passing away, Guru Gobind Singh conferred on 3 October 1708, the perpetual Gurudom on Siri Guru Granth Sahib. On this day, a special one-day celebration is held with Kirtan, Katha, lectures, Ardas, Karah Parshad and Langar. Sikhs rededicate themselves to follow the teachings of the Gurus contained in the scriptures.

Vaisakhi, is the birthday of the Khalsa (the Pure Ones). Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa brotherhood with the 'baptism of steel' on 30 March 1699. On this day, a one-day celebration is held in Gurdwaras with Kirtan, Katha, lectures, Karah Parshad and Langar. In addition, the Amrit ceremony is held and is given to those who offer themselves for Sikh initiation. The Sikhs after taking Amrit are called Khalsa. The Amrit ceremony can be held at any other time as well. Vaisakhi is generally celebrated on the 13 April every year.

The Sikhs celebrate Diwali to express the joy at the return of the sixth Guru to Amritsar in 1620, after his release from Gwalior Jail. (Emperor Jahangir had imprisoned him because he was afraid of the Guru's growing power and popularity with masses. The Sikhs on this day, which generally falls in November, hold a one-day celebration in the Gurdwara. Diwali means festival of lights. So in the evening, illuminations are done with Diwas (oil lamps made of clay) or candles and fire works held both in the Gurdwaras and in homes and businesses of the Sikhs.

 

Nam Karan, Naming of a Child

In a Sikh's household, as soon after the birth of a child as the mother becomes capable of moving about and taking bath (irrespective of the number of days which that takes), the family and relatives should go to a Gurdwara with Karhah Prashad (sacred pudding) or get Karhah Prashad made in the Gurdwara and recite in the holy presence of the Guru Granth Sahib such hynins as "Parmeshar dita bana" {Sorath M. 5} (The Almighty Lord has granted support. [Sorath M. 5, Guru Granth Sahib P. 628]), "Satguru sache dia bhej" {Asa M. 5} (The true Lord has sent this gift. [Asa M. 5, Guru Granth Sahib P. 396]) that are expressive of joy and thankfulness. Thereafter if a reading of the holy Guru Granth Sahib had been taken up, that should be concluded. Then the holy Hukam (command) should be taken. A name starting with the first letter of the Shabad of the Hukam (command) should he proposed by the Granthi (man in attendance of Guru Granth Sahib) and, after its acceptance by the congregation, the name should be announced by him. The boy's name must have the suffix "Singh" and the giri's, the suffix "Kaur".

After that the Anand Sahib (short version comprising six stanzas) should be recited and the Ardas in appropriate terms expressing joy over the naming ceremony he offered and the Karhah Prashad distributed.

 

Amrit Sanskar, Baptism

This is the sacred ceremony for the initiation into the Khalsa brotherhood. It should be taken only by those who are fully mature enough to realise the commitment required and the significance. The initiate may be a man or woman of any caste or previous religion. Generally they are encouraged to start behaving, acting and looking like a Sikh before seeking baptism. The baptism is done in a quiet place away from distractions where Sri Guru Granth Sahib has been installed. The initiate is required to wash their hair, cover their head, wear clean clothes and the 5K's before presenting themselves before 6 amritdhari Sikhs (those who are already baptised). Five amritdhari Sikhs will conduct the ceremony while one reads Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The principals of Sikhism are explained to the initiate and this is followed by Ardas and taking of the Hukam (opening of Sri Guru Granth Sahib to a random page and reading of a hymn). Amrit (sweet sugar water) is prepared in a steel bowl and stirred with a kirpan by the five beloved ones while Japuji, Jaap, Ten Sawayyas, Bainti Chaupai and 6 verses from Anand Sahib are recited. This is followed by Ardas and the initiate drinking the amrit five times in cupped hands and exclaiming Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh (The Pure Belong to God, Victory to God). Amrit is then sprinkled on the hair and eyes of the initiate and any leftover is drunk by all present. This is followed by an explanation of the code of conduct and discipline required for a Khalsa. The Khalsa is required to wear the 5K's and abstain from 1) cutting hair, 2) eating Muslim halal meat, 3) cohabiting with a person other than ones spouse and 4) using intoxicants such as tobacco. Other breaches of the code of conduct are also explained before Ardas is once again repeated. This is followed by taking Hukam and eating of karah prasad (sacred pudding) from a common bowl. If a person does not have a Sikh name, they take a new name at this time.

 

Funeral Ceremony

In Sikhism death is considered a natural process and God's will. Any public displays of grief at the funeral such as wailing or crying out loud are discouraged. Cremation is the preferred method of disposal, although if it is not possible any other method such as burial or submergence at sea are acceptable. Worship of the dead with gravestones, etc. is discouraged, because the body is considered to be only the shell, the person's soul is their real essence. The body is usually bathed and clothed by family members and taken to the cremation grounds. There hymns are recited which induce feeling of detachment are recited by the congregation. As the body is being cremated, Kirtan Sohila the night time prayer is recited and Ardas is offered. The ashes are disposed of by immersing them in the nearest river. A non continuous reading of the entire Sri Guru Granth Sahib is undertaken and timed to conclude on the tenth day. This may be undertaken at home or in the Gurdwara. The conclusion of this ceremony marks the end of the mourning period.

Akhand Path

This is the non-stop cover to cover reading of Sri Guru Granth Sahib which is undertaken to celebrate any joyous occasion or in times of hardship, such as birth, marriage, death, moving into a new house, and Gurpurbs. The non stop reading takes approximately 48 hours and is carried out be family members, or professional readers in the presence of the family. The reading must be clear and correct so that it can be understood by all listeners. After the completion of the reading the Bhog ceremony takes place. A Hukam is taken by randomly turning to any page and reading the hymn on that page. Karah parshad (sacred pudding) is also distributed to all present.

This ceremony evolved in the mid 18th century when there were few hand written copies of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Sikhs were fighting for their lives at this time and hiding in jungles. They would all gather to hear whatever portion of a reading that they could before Sri Guru Granth Sahib would me moved to another location for another audience. Performance of Akhand Path as a blind ritual is highly disrespectful to Sri Guru Granth Sahib and contrary to the teachings of the Gurus.

Gurpurbs

Important anniversaries associated with the lives of the Gurus are referred to as Gurpurbs. These are usually marked at gurdwaras with Akhand Path (continuous cover to cover reading of Sri Guru Granth Sahib) concluding on the specific day. There is also kirtan (musical recitation of hymns from Sri Guru Granth Sahib) as well as katha (lectures on Sikhism). Some places also have nagar kirtan, where there is a procession with Sri Guru Granth Sahib led by 5 Sikhs carrying Nishan Sahibs (the Sikh flag). Free sweets and langar are also offered to the general public outside some gurdwaras.

Among the larger Gurpurb celebrations are:

First installation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib in the Golden Temple by Guru Arjan Dev
Birth of Guru Nanak (traditionally celebrated in November)
Birth of Guru Gobind Singh
Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev
Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur
Martyrdom of The Sahibzadas (the sons of Guru Gobind Singh)

Vaisakhi

Guru Amar Das first institutionalised this as one of the special days when all Sikhs would gather to receive the Gurus blessings at Goindwal in 1567. In 1699 Guru Gobind Singh gathered thousands at Anandpur Sahib and founded the Khalsa order by baptising 5 brave Sikhs who were willing to give their life for the Guru. The Five Beloved Ones in turn baptised Guru Gobind Singh into the Khalsa brotherhood. This day celebrated around April 14th is considered the birthday of the Khalsa order. Sikhs visit gurdwaras and fairs and parades are held. Many Sikhs choose to be baptised into the Khalsa brotherhood on this day, as well the wrappings of the Nishan Sahib flag post at most gurdwaras are changed on Baisakhi.

Diwali

The Indian festival of lights held around October 25th. Guru Amar Das institutionalised this as one of the special days when all Sikhs would gather to receive the Gurus blessings at Goindwal. In 1577 the foundation stone of The Golden Temple was laid on Diwali. On Diwali 1619 the Golden Temple was illuminated with many lights to welcome home and celebrate the release of Guru Hargobind from imprisonment in Gwalior fort. Sikhs have continued this annual celebration with lamps being lit outside gurdwaras and sweets distributed to all. The largest gathering happens at The Golden Temple which is lit up with thousands of lights.

Maghi

Sikhs visit gurdwaras and listen to kirtan on this day to commemorate the martyrdom of the Forty Immortals. The largest gathering happens at Muktsar where an annual fair is held. It occurs on the first day of Maghar Sangrant, around January 14. Forty followers of Guru Gobind Singh who had previously deserted him, fought bravely against overwhelming Mughal army forces and were martyred here. Guru Gobind Singh personally blessed them as having achieved mukti (liberation) and cremated them at Muktsar.

Hola Mohalla

An annual festival of thousands held at Anandpur Sahib. It was started by Guru Gobind Singh as a gathering of Sikhs for military exercises and mock battles on the day following the Indian festival of Holi. The mock battles were followed by music and poetry competitions. The Nihang Singh's carry on the martial tradition with mock battles and displays of swordsmanship and horse riding. There are also a number of durbars where Sri Guru Granth Sahib is present and kirtan and religious lectures take place. The festival culminates in a large parade headed by the nishan sahibs of the gurdwaras in the region. Hola Mohalla is held around March 17.

Sangrand

This is the time when the sun passes from one sign of the zodiac to the next, it is the start of the new month in the Indian calendar. The beginning of the new month is announced in the gurdwaras by the reading of portions of Bara Maha, Song of the 12 Months, by Guru Arjan Dev (pg. 133) or sometimes Bara Maha by Guru Nanak Dev (pg. 1107). This day just marks the beginning of the new month and is not treated as being greater or better than any other day.

 

Sikh Wedding ceremony

Sikh marriages are usually arranged. However, the word 'arranged' is not always properly interpreted by people in Western societies. An arranged marriage does not mean forcing a boy or a girl into a wedlock of parents' choice only. It is agreeing to marriage proposed by mutual discussion between the boy or the girl on one side and his or her parents and relatives on the other. This is in fact selecting the right partner from a number of choices or proposals.

Several criteria are usually adopted before making a marriage proposal. Most important are the boy and girl themselves who show their willingness only after taking into account, personality, family background, educational standing and physical appearance of the proposed partner. Generally, relatives or close family friends suggest a suitable match to the family. The boy and girl then get to know each other to convey their consent to their parents.

The Sikh marriage is monogamous. In the case of broken marriage, divorce is not possible according to the Sikh religious tradition. The couple can, however, obtain a divorce under the Civil law of the land. Marriage, in Sikhism, is regarded as a sacred bond in attaining worldly and spiritual joy. About the ideal marriage, the Guru says: "They are not husband and wife who only have physical contact; rather they are wife and husband who have one spirit in two bodies."

The Sikh marriage ceremony is called Anand Karaj meaning 'ceremony of bliss'. The fourth Guru, Guru Ramdas, originally composed Lavvan, the wedding song, to celebrate a holy union between the human soul (Atma) and God (Parmatma). The Guru wishes that our married life should also be moulded on the ideal laid down for our union with the Parmatma. The 4 verses of Lavvan explain the four stages of love and married life. The first verse emphasises the performance of duty to the family and the community. The second verse refers to the stage of yearning and love for each other. The third verse refers to the stage of detachment or Virag. The fourth verse refers to the final stage of harmony and union in married life during which human love blends into the love for God. Lavvan is a Sanskrit word literally meaning 'break away', i.e. the bride breaking away from her parents' home. Based on a concept depicted in Lavvan, the Sikh marriage is not merely a physical and legal contract but is a sacrament, a holy union between two souls, where physically they appear as two individual bodies but in fact are united as one. The bride's past and present becomes the bridegroom's past and present. Her present becomes his and his hers. They feel and think alike and both are completely identified with each other, i.e., they become 'Ek Jot Doe Murti' meaning one spirit in two bodies.

Sometimes before the wedding day another important ceremony called Kurmayaee or Shagan takes place usually at the bridegroom's house or the Gurdwara. It is a formal engagement ceremony involving a promise to marry and an exchange of rings and other presents. But the word Kurmayaee literally means the coming or the meeting of the parents of both the boy and the girl, and this shows the importance attached to the union of the two families. As soon as the bridegroom, and the two families are assembled the Milnee is performed, a meeting of parents and close relatives of the bride and groom and exchange of presents. The bride herself does not normally participate.

The marriage ceremony is conducted in a Gurdwara or at the bride's home or any other suitable place where Guru Granth Sahib is duly installed. A priest or any Sikh (man or woman) may conduct the ceremony, and usually, a respected and learned person is chosen.

First Asa di Var (morning hymns) and then hymns appropriate for the occasion are sung while, family, friends, guests and groom arrives. The groom is first seated before Guru Granth Sahib and when the bride comes she take her place on his left. The couple and their parents are asked to stand while the rest of congregation remains seated. A prayer is then said, invoking His blessings for the proposed marriage and asking His Grace on the union of the couple. This connotes the consent of the bride and the bridegroom and their parents. The parties then resume their seats and a short hymn is sung.

This is followed by a brief speech addressed particularly to the couple, explaining the significance and obligation of the marriage. The couple are then asked to honour their vows by bowing together before Guru Granth Sahib. Then the bride's father places one end of pink or saffron-coloured scarf in the grooms hand, passing it over the shoulder and placing the other end in the bride's hand. Thus joined, the two will take the vows.

This is followed by a short hymn. Guru Granth Sahib is now opened and the first verse of Lavvan is read from it. The same verse is then sung by the musicians while the couple slowly encircle Guru Granth Sahib. The groom leads in a clock-wise direction and the bride, holding the scarf, follows as nearly as possible in step. When the couple reaches the front of Guru Granth Sahib, they both bow together and take their respective seats. The same protocol is repeated for the remainder three verses. The ceremony is concluded with the customary singing of the six stanzas of the Anand Sahib, Song of Bliss, followed by Ardas, prayer, and Vak, a random reading of a verse from Guru Granth Sahib. The ceremony, which takes about an hour, ends with the serving of Karah Parshad to the congregation. Relatives and friends then exchange greetings and congratulations. A few hour after the marriage the bridal party or Doli leaves and the bride departs from her parental home with her husband.