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The Sikh Ceremonies Sikh Festivals

 


The Sikh Ceremonies

All the Sikh ceremonies like birth, baptism, marriage and death are simple, inexpensive and have a religious tone. They are held in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib and include Kirtan, the singing of appropriate hymns for the occasion, saying of Ardas - formal prayer, and the distribution of Karah Parshad, sacred food, to the congregation. The baptism ceremony called Amrit described earlier, is the most important of all Sikh ceremonies.

The Naming Ceremony

The Sikh naming or christening ceremony is well established and it takes place in a Gurdwara in the presence of relatives and friends. The family offers donations, Karah Parshad and a Rumala, which is a covering for Guru Granth Sahib, made of high quality silk, cotton or embroidered cloth. Prayers are offered asking for a special blessing of good health, long life and the Sikh way of life, Gursikhi for the child.

After reciting Ardas, Guru Granth Sahib is opened at random. The first letter of the first word of the hymn on the page is selected as the first letter of the child's name. The given name is common for either sex. The word Kaur meaning 'princess' is added after a girl's name and the name Singh meaning 'lion' after a boy's. For example, if the first letter is "P", the male child may be given a name like Partap Singh, Pritam Singh or Puran Singh or any other such name beginning with the letter "P". If the newly born is a girl the name would like wise be, Partap Kaur, Pritam Kaur or Puran Kaur.

When the name is selected by the family, the congregation gives approval by a holy cheer or Jaikara: 'Bolay So Nihal! Sat Siri Akal!' The ceremony ends with the distribution of Karah Prasad, and the placing of the Rumala over Guru Granth Sahib. Sometimes, sweets or Langar, free food from the Guru's kitchen, is served but this is not a part of the ceremony.

 

The Sikh Marriage

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 Lavan, 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 Lavan explain the four stages of love and married life. The first verse emphasizes 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.

Lavan is a Sanskrit word literally meaning 'break away', i.e. the bride breaking away from her parents' home. Based on a concept depicted in Lavan, 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 is 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 groom's 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 Lavan is read from it. The musicians then sing the same verse while the couple slowly encircles 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 hours after the marriage the bridal party or Doli leaves and the bride depart from her parental home with her husband.

 

The Death Ceremony

To a Sikh, birth and death are closely associated, because they are both part of the cycle of human life, Ava Guvan, which is seen as transient stage towards Nirvana, complete unity with God. Sikhs thus believe in reincarnation. Mourning is therefore discouraged, especially in the case of those who have lived a long and full life. The death ceremony may be split into two parts; Saskar, the cremation and the Antim Ardas, the final prayer at the end of the Bhog ceremony.

At a Sikh's death-bed, relatives and friends read Sukhmani Sahib, the Psalm of Peace, composed by the fifth Guru Arjan Dev Ji, to console themselves and the dying person. When a death occurs, they exclaim 'Waheguru', the Wonderful Lord. Wailing or lamentation is discouraged. For cremation, the body is first washed and dressed with clean clothes complete with the Five K's (in case of baptized Sikhs). If the death occurs in a hospital, the body is taken home for viewing before the funeral. In Punjab, body will be burnt on the funeral pyre, but in Western countries crematorium is used. A prayer is said before the start of the funeral to seek salvation for the departed soul. On arrival at the crematorium, a brief speech about the deceased is generally given the Sohila, bedtime prayer is recited and the Ardas, formal prayer is offered. The eldest son or a close relative generally does the cremation. Where cremation is not possible, disposal of the dead body by placing it in the sea or river is permitted. At the end of the cremation the member of the funeral party return to their homes.

The ashes are collected after the cremation and later disposed of by immersion in the nearest river or sea. Some families, living outside India, prefer to take the ashes to Punjab. Sikhs do not erect monuments over the remains of the dead.

The second part is called Antim Ardas, the final prayer during the Bhog ceremony, which includes a complete reading of Guru Granth Sahib either at home or in a Gurdwara. This is called a Sahaj Path, and is usually completed within ten days. If the family can read, they must take part in the reading; if they cannot, they must sit and listen to it. The reading is meant to provide spiritual support and consolation to the bereaved family and friends. During Ardas, the blessing of God for the departed soul is sought. The Gurus emphasized the remembrance of God's Name as the best means of consolation for the bereaved family. Sikhs are always exhorted to submit to and have complete faith in the will of God, called Bhana Mun-na.

Generally, all the relatives and friends of the family gather together for the Bhog ceremony on the completion of the reading of Guru Granth Sahib. Musicians sing appropriate hymns, Salokas of the ninth Guru Tegh Bahadur are read, and Ramkali Saad, the Call of God, is recited. After the final prayer, a random reading or Hukam is taken, and Karah Parshad is distributed to the congregation.

If the deceased person is elderly, food from Guru's kitchen, Langar, is served. Presents are distributed to grandchildren. Donations are often announced for charities and religious organizations. Sometimes, at the end of the Bhog, eldest member is presented with a turban and declared the new head of the family.

 

Sikh Festivals

 

GURPURABS

A Sikh festival or holy day is called a Gurpurab, 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 organized which is led by the Panj Pyaras (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 swordmanship, 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 Moghul 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 Moghul 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 Gurudwaras.

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.

BAISAKHI

Baisakhi, also called 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 Gurudwaras 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. Baisakhi is generally celebrated on the 13 April every year.

DIWALI

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 Gurudwaras and in homes and businesses of the Sikhs.

HOLA MOHALLA

In India a festival named Holi is celebrated annually in remembrance of the legend of Prahlad. On the same day this festival is also celebrated at Anandpur Sahib in which thousands of people take part. Guru Gobind Singh started it 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. Apart from feats of bravery there are also Kirtan Darbars held in the presence of the Holy Guru Granth Sahib Ji where 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 the middle of March.

 

Sangrand

It is the beginning of a new month according to Sikh calendar. The beginning of the new month is announced in the gurdwaras and the relevant portion from the Bara Maha, Song of the 12 Months, by Guru Arjan Dev or sometimes Bara Maha by Guru Nanak Dev is read, which gives the Vak of the month. This day just marks the beginning of the new month and is not treated as being greater or better than any other day. It is to be kept in mind that Sikhs don't treat this day as an auspicious day because according to Sikhs all days are same.


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