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The Sikhs and Their Way Of Life
 
The Sikhs and Their Way of Life

Sikh Missionary Society: Publications: The Sikhs and Their Way of Life:

Sikh Ceremonies & Festivals

The Naming Ceremony

The Sikh Baptism Ceremony

The Anand Kaarj (Wedding Ceremony)

About Sikh Marriages

The Death Ceremony

Sikh Festivals


Sikh Ceremonies

Every important Sikh ceremony is performed in the presence of the Holy Granth. The most important ceremonies, which are mentioned in the Sikh ‘REHAT MARYADA’, are:

The Naming Ceremony . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Naam Sanskar

The Baptism/Initiation Ceremony . . . . . . Amrit Sanskar

The Marriage/Wedding Ceremony. . . . . .Anand Sanskar

The Death Ceremony. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Mirtak Sanskar

Since all these ceremonies are motivated by the desire to seek the blessing of the God on a particular occasion, they are religious in essence and social in outlook. Although clear directives are given in the Sikh Rehat Maryada to keep these ceremonies simple, some Sikh families may be seen over doing them extravagantly. A brief account of these ceremonies is given here.


The Naming Ceremony

Usually, Sikhs name their children after they are born, as it is customary to bring the child into the presence of the Holy Granth as soon as it is convenient enough for the mother and the baby to go to the Gurdwara. If there is no Gurdwara nearby, or for any other reason of convenience, the ceremony may be held at home.

After the usual deliberations such as brief Shabad Keertan (hymn singing) and Ardaas (prayer proper) the Holy Granth is opened at random and an extract (Shabad) is read. The first letter of the ‘Shabad’ (hymn) is chosen as the initial letter for the child’s name, which could be any letter of the Panjabi Alphabet. For example if it is the letter ‘S’ then any name such as Surinder, Surjit, Sukhdev, Satnam, Satwant could be chosen by the parents. Sometimes the priest, any relatives or friends present may also make suggestions.

The selected name is then declared by the officiating priest, which is approved by the entire congregation with a Jakara of Sat Sri Akal. To this the word ‘Singh’ or ‘Kaur’ is added. ‘Singh’ is used for a boy and ‘Kaur’ for a girl. Now the full name could be Surinder Singh for a boy or Surinder Kaur for a girl and so on. Some Sikhs do not think it essential to add any family name or surname to their first full name.

ABOUT SINGH & KAUR

It should be remembered that the issue of ‘Gender Equality’ is very important in the Sikh Faith. The founder, Guru Nanak had made it very clear to the Sikhs that a woman is in no way inferior to a man. It is, perhaps, a measure of this equality, that right at the start (i.e. the Naming Ceremony) no distinction is made between a boy’s and girl’s name. That is to say, that the same name can apply whether the baby is a boy or a girl. For example ‘Paramjeet’ can be the name of a boy or a girl.

It may sound confusing or strange to a non Sikh to find that there are as many boys as girls with the same name. However, this confusion is very clearly and methodically removed with the use of SINGH or KAUR to distinguish the gender. For example ‘Paramjeet Singh’ is male and ‘Paramjeet Kaur’ is female.

The next question to arise is why ‘Singh’ for a male and ‘Kaur’ for a female. The answer lies in the Indian tradition of the Rajputs and royalty, as well as in the inherent meaning of these two words or attributes.

Singh (literally lion) is used for a male Sikh because traditionally and in general, a man is regarded to have some characteristics of a lion e.g. courage, prowess, physical strength and look, especially of a Sikh with a well kept beard and moustache.

Kaur is in fact adopted form of KUNWAR or KAUL (ਕੁੰਵਰ - Prince, or ਕੁੰਵਰਿ - Princess, ਕੌਲ - Lotus flower or Water-lily). So a woman is regarded to be better equipped with such characteristics as the beauty and serenity of a princess, and the ‘resilience’ and ‘resource of a Lotus flower to overcome adversity, keeping itself above the water, regardless of it’s quality and weather conditions.


The Sikh Baptism Ceremony (Amrit Sanskar)

This ceremony may be called as an Initiation ceremony by which a Sikh becomes a true KHALSA (pure one) and (like a Christian at confirmation) acquires full membership of the Khalsa Panth (Sikh Order). Indeed, Guru Gobind Singh the initiator of the ceremony emphasised the need for every Sikh to receive Khanday-de-Pahul (Baptism of the double edged Sword), which in ordinary terms is called Amrit Chhakna i.e. taking Amrit. However, the Sikhs are also advised that one should receive AMRIT only when one fully understands the nature of the obligations accepted under a formal oath in the presence of the holy Guru Granth and the Panj Piaray (five beloved ones).

AMRIT (literally elixir) may be thought of as ‘baptismal water’, which is prepared in a specified way. This is carried out by dissolving some PATASHAS (sugar cakes) or sugar cubes in a BAATA (special type of iron bowl) containing JAL (water). As the Panj Piaray sit around the bowl, the sweetened water is constantly stirred with a KHANDA (a double edged sword) and some set pieces of GURBAANI (holy verses) are recited by them. When the recitation is over all the FIVE stand up with the vessel in their hand, and one of them says ARDAAS. The process transforms the water into AMRIT. One by one each recipient drinks a handful of AMRIT and loudly utters the greetings of ‘Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh’. Some of this Amrit is also sprinkled on the hair and eyes of the recipient.

Some American SikhsThe Five then jointly recite the Mool Mantar five times and each time the recipients of Amrit repeat after them. One of the Five then administers the vows of the Sikh code of discipline, called REHAT. The recipients are also cautioned against any breaches of discipline and taboos, which could incur TANKHAH in the form of ‘community service’. The whole ceremony is concluded by offering the final prayer, reading out a passage from the holy Guru Granth and the distribution of Karah Parsaad (blessed sweet dish). Those who have undergone the ceremony are now called Khalsa. They are also referred to as Amrit Dhari Sikhs, being the recipients of Amrit. Jal, Patashas, Khanda, Baata and Baani all are symbolic of human virtues:

Jal- water for life, symbolises coolness, cleanliness and purity;

Patashas - easily soluble, symbolise sweetness, love and breakdown of social or caste barriers;

Khanda - the double-edged steel sword is symbolic of strength, power and determination;

Baata - the bowl symbolises the human mind where all the above virtues have taken a new shape;

Baani - the holy verses help to purify the breath, the thought and the soul.

Note: It is a requirement of the Amrit ceremony that the recipients should have washed themselves and their Kesh, and should also be wearing a Kangha, Karra, Kachh and Kirpan, the five K’s.

Sikhs do not actively seek converts. However, any person who is genuinely interested to live the Sikh way of life, with an unflinching faith in God and the Guru Granth Sahib ji is made very welcomed. This is in line with basic Sikh philosophy that one is not born Sikh but that one must learn to be a Sikh; hence anyone may become a Sikh.



The Anand Kaarj (Wedding Ceremony)

Anand Kaarj ceremony in progress as bride and groom circumvent the Holy Guru Granth Sahib. After the ceremony bride and groom remain seated to receive the blessings/greetings from relations and friends

“Living together does not make husband and wife,
True husband and wife are they who have one spirit in two bodies.”
(SGGS 788)

‘Anand’ literally means happiness, joy, pleasure or bliss, and ‘Kaarj’ means an act, action or function. So the ‘Anand Kaarj’ is an act of bliss, a wedding. The ceremony takes place usually at the bride’s house or a Gurdwara, mostly in the first half of the day. On this occasion the parents of the bride act as hosts. As soon as the marriage party arrives, a small ceremony called Milnee (literally, meeting together) is performed after a short prayer. One by one, some important members of the bride’s family ceremonially exchange greetings and garlands with their equals from the groom’s family as a show of mutual respect and affection. This also helps to introduce ‘Who is who’ to the rest of the relatives and friends present at the scene. Although, the bridegroom remains the centre of attraction, his participation in this ceremony is no more than a silent spectator. When the close relatives have completed the ‘milnee ceremony’ the whole party moves on to take some refreshments, which have been kept ready by the host.

The bridegroom then leads the party into the congregation-hall where he sits in front of the Guru Granth Sahib and waits for the bride to arrive. In the meantime Raagis (musicians) sing the sacred hymns. Some time later, the bride enters the hall escorted by some members of the family, usually wearing a deep red dress which is often richly embroidered in gold. She sits down next to the groom. Both stay silent. Soon the Granthi or the Raagi conducting the marriage ceremony asks the bride and the groom as well as their parents to stand up for an initial short prayer. After this as they sit down, he gives a brief talk about the ‘union of two bodies having one soul’ and explains to them the importance of commitment and duties towards each other for the rest of their lives. The bride and the groom then show their acceptance by bowing before the Guru Granth Sahib.

After this formal acceptance of each other in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib and the congregation, the bride’s father hands over one end of the groom’s palla (ceremonial scarf) to the bride, while the other end is held by the groom. This is called the Palla Ceremony, which indicates that the father is giving away his daughter to the groom.

Now the most important part of the ceremony begins. This is called Laavan (literally joining together) a name given to the four marriage hymns. The bride and groom are joined together not only externally by the symbolic palla, but also internally by the ‘holy word’, which is being recited to them. The Granthi reads the first Laav or the holy verse, which is then sung by the Raagis, while both the bride and groom stand up and, led by the groom, walk gently round the Guru Granth Sahib to complete one circle. They kneel down to bow, and then listen to the second verse being sung as they walk another circle. Thus four verses are read and four ‘circles of affirmation’ are completed. Each circle is committed to a Laav or verse representing a stage in the couple’s life journey. To explain briefly:

1st Laav - refers to a stage or state, when one feels encouraged to take a step towards the married life. This step is in affirmation of the Sikh belief that marriage is a help, not a hindrance to human beings in achieving one’s ultimate goal of union with God.

2nd Laav - refers to the stage or state when new feelings of love for each other enable the couple to face any hardships together in a spirit of partnership.

3rd Laav - refers to a stage or state of detachment from worldly attractions and physical desires as one becomes more devoted to the partner and God.

4th Laav- refers to the final stage or state of ‘perfect love,’ when love and harmony of married life fully blends into the love of God.

A bride and bride maids in Canada and A bride and bridegroom in IndiaThe whole ceremony is concluded by the singing of the final hymn called ANAND, reciting of ARDAAS (prayer), listening to the Vaak (sermon) and serving of KARRAH PARSHAAD (blessed food). After the completion of this part the guests usually flock to the bride and groom to bless them, congratulate them and present them with cash or gifts according to their ability and attachment to the family. Probably, the time is well past noon now, and there is a lunch reception ready and waiting somewhere at a restaurant, hotel or a hall.

ABOUT SIKH MARRIAGES (General Contemporary Practices)

The whole concept of marriage in Eastern cultures seems to be much misunderstood by Western society. People still naively assume that part of practicing an Eastern religion means that any marriage will be ‘arranged’ which implies ‘forced’, against the will of the couple involved. It is true that there are still some disturbing cases of forced marriages among certain communities in certain parts of the Indian subcontinent. However, Sikhs are on the whole, one of the most liberal when it comes to upholding the wishes of the individual. Therefore, it is probably more accurate to refer to the approach as ‘guided’ rather than arranged. A guided marriage involves selecting the right partner from a number of choices or proposals resulting in a joyous occasion.

Most Western people consider marriage to be a private affair between two individuals who are marrying solely for love. Sikhs have a strong belief in the concept of society and place a high priority on the needs of the entire extended family. This is illustrated by the number of aged Sikhs who live either with or very near their sons or daughters providing a two way support infrastructure benefiting everyone. Therefore, for Sikhs, marriage is an occasion involving two families including the couple. It is worth pointing out that generally Sikh couples who find their partners through the guided route do so willingly and find long lasting happiness.

A guided marriage begins with the identification of suitable partners, which the parents generally find, either through networks of extended family and friends or through the matrimonial columns of respectable newspapers. After the exchange of some preliminary information the two families meet. Like courting the length of time taken in choosing and selecting the right partner may take a few weeks or years and is dependent upon both the background of the families involved and the inclination of the couple. For reasons of compatibility the following points are usually taken into consideration before making a marriage proposal:

  • the educational background, interests, views and looks of the individuals;
  • the background and interests of the families.

The above should not be taken as rigid rules; exceptions to the rule are as common as in any other society or religion. Although, Sikhism shuns the concept of caste, sadly many parents still feel the pressure of age old Hindu customs and do not apply the concept of true equality to the marriage of their children.

The details of a Sikh marriage ceremony, Anand Kaarj, are given under a separate title; however, the following general points are worth noting.

No Sikh marriage is regarded as ‘truly complete’ unless the bride and groom (both Sikhs) present themselves before the Holy Granth to receive the blessings of the Guru, as well as the Sangat (congregation), which includes, parents, relatives and friends. According to the Sikh Rehat Maryada, the Anand Kaarj of a non-Sikh, unless initiated into Sikh faith, may not take place in the Gurdwara.

The recent trend of holding religious weddings in big hotels and so called ‘marriage palaces’ is disapproved of by the ‘Akal Takhat’ (Supreme Religious Authority of the Sikhs), mainly because of the ostentation and lack of observing ‘religious etiquette’ at these premises.

Kurmaaye (Betrothal)

According to the Sikh REHAT MARYADA, ’the Kurmaaye ceremony is not essential. But, if the parents or parties wish, they may do so in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib and a small congregation of a few relatives and friends’. Though this is expected to be a very simple ceremony, in actual practice, because of a lack of understanding and rising affluence among many Sikh families, the Sikh Rehat Maryada directives are some times not acknowledged fully. However, it is increasingly common that Anand Kaarj is immediately preceded by a short Kurmaaye ceremony.


The Death Ceremony (Mirtak Sanskaar)

Sikhs regard death as Hukam i.e. God’s Order, and therefore they accept it as Bhaana, meaning inevitable. There are clear instructions in the holy Guru Granth Sahib (p.923) under the title Sadd (the Call) that “when the soul leaves the mortal body only those songs or hymns should be sung which will lead the devout to blissful deliverance.” The Death Ceremony may be described in two parts:

(a) From death to cremation ceremony

When death occurs, the relatives and friends console themselves, and the departing soul by reciting Gurbani or just uttering Waheguru repeatedly in a calm and dignified way. No wailing or lamentation is allowed, according to the Sikh Rehat Maryada.

Everyone who dies is cremated. Cremation may be carried out at a convenient time and place. Where cremation is not possible, it is permissible to use other means e.g. the dead body be released into a sea or a river. Before the cremation ceremony the body is washed and clothed appropriately. After saying Ardaas the deceased is carried on a bier or in a ‘coffin’ as appropriate by close relatives and friends, followed by other well wishers forming a procession or cortege.

At the cremation ground the body is placed on the pyre or platform and the Ardaas is said when the fire is ablaze. Sohila (hymns) is recited, at the end of which all the members of the funeral party return to their homes or a Gurdwara as has been previously arranged or regarded as convenient.

(b) The ceremony of Bhog (requiem)

This part of the ceremony concerns the death rites. These include the reading of the Holy Scriptures and the disposal of the deceased’s ashes. The Sikhs are very open and accommodating about these. However, it is regarded as important that the bereaved family, for their own solace and for the peace of the departed soul, start ‘a reading’ of the scriptures (Guru Granth), preferably at their own house, or otherwise in a Gurdwara. Similarly, it is preferable that this reading be done in a ‘Sahej Patth’ way, which takes roughly a week or more, or an ‘Akhand Patth’ which is about 48 hours non-stop reading. On the final day at the completion of the reading, relatives and well wishers of the family gather together for the Bhog Ceremony. This ceremony may take a couple of hours as it includes reading of certain hymns, ‘Shabad Keertan, ‘Ardaas and Langar etc.

In the meantime the ashes of the deceased are collected from the cremation ground or the crematorium to be disposed of in a nearest river or sea, as convenient. It is however, forbidden under Sikh ‘Rehat Maryada’ to erect a monument over the remains or on the spot where the deceased was cremated. Similarly, ritual disposal of ‘ashes’ in the Ganges and Patalpuri, Keertpur Sahib (India) is also considered as ‘Mann-matt’ i.e. against the Guru’s advice.

According to the Gurus the best means of consolation of the bereaved is to seek comfort in God’s name and remember Him, because He is our sole refuge and friend.

All that we see must pass on and be gone from us
Slipping away like the shadows of clouds

.....
Such is the world a mere vision that perishes.
Leaving the Lord our sole refuge and friend.

(SGGS 219)

Death must sever all family ties
With parents, brothers, wife and sons
All relations must be severed
.....
This world is unreal, a deceitful mirage,
Reflect on this truth in your heart.
Sing praises of God for His gift of Salvation,
And forever exalt His Name

(SGGS 536)


Sikh Festivals & Holy Days

Sikhs do not believe that any particular day of the week is a holy day. Since Sunday has been generally accepted as a rest day from regular work, Sikhs find it convenient and practicable to use this day for any special religious prayer or social ceremony. Similarly, many Sikhs also think it a good idea to spare some time from their usual chores to attend a Gurdwara and say their prayer on the first day of every month of the Sikh Calendar.

In general, a Gurdwara is open to the public for prayer and worship all day, every day. Though special congregational services are held both in the early mornings and evenings, yet any individual or a family can also request the local Gurdwara priest (Granthi) to perform a short service or prayer in between the usual times. In many Western countries such as Britain and Canada, most Sikhs prefer to visit a Gurdwara on Sundays, while some regard Saturday or even Friday as more convenient.

A Sikh festival or holy-day is called GURPURB. Purb means a happy occasion or fiesta, and hence Gurpurb is Guru’s fiesta or Guru’s Remembrance Day. This is a day connected with an important event in the life of a Guru, usually the birth or the death. Whether it is the anniversary of the birth or death, the occasion inspires and reminds Sikhs of the good deed done by the Guru. It generates a lot of religious fervour and enthusiasm producing a feeling of happiness, fellowship and devotion. In general, the following Gurpurbs are celebrated rather more popularly by the Sikhs.

Guru Gobind Singh’s Birthday - - - - -- - usually early January *

Inauguration of Khalsa Panth- - - - - -- -  on 13/14 April

Guru Arjan’s Martyrdom - -- - - - - -- - - -  mid June

Guru Granth Parkash (1st) - - - - - - - - - -  early September

Guru Teg Bahadur’s Martyrdom- - - - - -  late October

Guru Nanak’s Birthday - - - - - - -- - -- -- -  early November

*(So far attempts by the SGPC to establish permanent dates for all Gurpurbs according to a specially prepared Nanak Shahi Calender have not been successful due to lack of consensus.)

Guru Nanak’s Birthday

Guru Nanak the founder of Sikh religion, was born in the year 1469. His birthday is celebrated with great excitement usually lasting for three days. In towns where there is a large Sikh population, Nagar Keertans (hymn singing processions) take place usually one day before the birthday. Hundreds and thousands of Sikh men, women and children are led by the PANJ PIARAY (five beloved ones) and the Guru Granth Sahib on a float, often followed by Sikh youth playing Gatka (Sikh martial art) and other such acts. As the procession winds its way through the streets of the town a continuous chant of sacred music or hymn singing is heard, which is occasionally broken by loud shouts or salutations of SAT SIRI AKAL.

Just as in Panjab, any other place or country where the Sikhs are settled in numbers, celebrations in the Gurdwaras start a couple of days prior with the commencement of Akhand-Path (non- stop reading of the Holy Granth for 48 hours). At the same time, colourful buntings, lights and other tinsel decorations help to make the atmosphere in the Gurdwara more festive. On the actual day of celebration, from early morning till evening, the congregation hall is full of people as families and groups of Sikhs come, sit for a while and leave at their convenience. In the mean time a non-stop service in the form of devotional music, singing of ballads of Sikh bravery, lectures or discourses on the Sikh history and philosophy continue one after another. Following the Sikh tradition, free hot meals (Langar) are served to the visitors day and night throughout the celebrations.

Though not always on the same scale as Christmas in Britain and Diwali in India, Sikhs do illuminate their homes and businesses etc. with candles, ‘deevas’ or other colourful electric lights. Occasionally, a display of fire works is also arranged, especially at the Gurdawaras. However, the most spectacular site is the Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) Amritsar, which as on Diwali night looks like a floating palace of multicoloured lights. All major Gurpurbs are celebrated more or less on the same pattern, though not with the same pomp and intensity.

Vaisakhi

This festive day of the Sikhs is usually celebrated on either 13th or 14th of April. This occasion marks the formal establishment of the institution of Khalsa Panth in Sikh History.

To the Sikhs the importance of this day is both historical and religious. It was on this day in 1699, that Guru Gobind Singh bestowed the Sikh community with a formal identity, revitalising their spirit and increasing their consciousness, which changed the whole character and psyche of the Sikhs. Henceforth, along with ‘inner discipline’ the Sikhs were asked to keep an ‘outer discipline’ too, by wearing the 5Ks. The formal adaptation of this ‘Form’ gave them a distinctive physical appearance and personal behaviour. They were the newborn people to be called the Khalsa (the brotherhood of the pure). They would regard Guru Gobind Singh as their spiritual father and Anandpur as their birthplace. The full story of the inauguration of the Khalsa Panth is already described earlier in this book.

Vaisakhi was originally celebrated to mark the beginning of the New Year (according to the ancient Indian Lunar Calendar). It was also celebrated as an important harvest festival in Panjab even before the birth of Khalsa. All over Panjab farmers feel happy because the wheat, the most important crop of the season, is ready for harvesting. Therefore, taking full advantage of their mood and the freshness of the season, Sikhs celebrate Vaisakhi with even more fervour and enthusiasm. Apart from the usual Nagar Keertans, Akhand Paths and devotional music, display of colour and decorations inside and outside Gurdwara buildings, Sikhs also celebrate this day in many non-religious social gatherings, with Bhangra Dance and music being the main attraction.


Some Other Festivals & Fairs

Panjab has been the land of festivals and fairs, long before the Sikhs came to the scene and became a part of its rich culture. Therefore, even though some of the festivals and fairs may have no religious significance to the Sikhs, they do join in to share the happy mood of the occasion with their neighbours.


Diwali

Usually, Diwali falls in the month of October, according to the Lunar Calendar. Although essentially a Hindu festival, with a message of victory of Good over Evil, the Sikhs have found themselves enough good reasons to celebrate this day as another important festival. The most popular one is that on this day Guru Hargobind, the sixth Guru, arrived in Amritsar after his release from FORT GWALIOR where he was imprisoned by the Mughal Emperor, Jahangir. Many Sikhs now popularly call this day ‘BANDI CHHORE DIVAS’. The story is described earlier.

Diwali is commonly known as the festival of lights or lamps. Thus many Sikh homes and business properties are decorated and lit with Deevas (small oil lamps), candles and multicoloured electric bulbs. Children look forward to enjoying fireworks and family feasts. The Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) at Amritsar presents another spectacular sight at night, with hundreds and thousands of big and small oil lamps, candles and electric lights.

Lohrri, Maghi and Holi are other significant festivals of Panjab. Generally their celebrations coincide with a particular season. However, there are quite a few other local fairs, which are historically important to the Sikhs and attract crowds in hundreds of thousands and last two to three days. The most important of these are:

The Martyrdom of two elder Sahibzadas (sons) of Guru Gobind Singh at Chamkaur Sahib.

The Martyrdom of two younger Sahibzadas of Guru Gobind Singh at Fatehgarh Sahib.

The Martyrdom of Challi Muktas at Muktsar.

Hola Mahalla at Anandpur SahibSikh women &  children getting ready to lead a procession on the eve of the 300th Anniversary of the birth of Khalsa.

‘Panj Piaray’ leading the Vaisakhi celebratory procession in an East London StreetOn the occasion of Vaisakhi Nagar Keertan, Young East London boys playing Dhole music at the head of a procession.

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