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Sikh Traditions and Rituals  
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TRADITIONS & RITUALS

 

The Sikh Turban

Turbans are mandatory part of the Sikh faith as Sikhs believe the 'head' to be the most sacred part of the body. As such, head covering is essential for all the Sikhs, especially when they venture out of home or visit a Gurdwara or recite Holy Scriptures. No Sikh male leaves his home uncovered.

A turban is not a hat. It cannot be casually taken on and off. It must be carefully retied each time it is removed.For a Sikh, the turban symbolizes discipline, integrity, humility and spirituality. It also declares sovereign commitment to the Sikh faith.


The turban is usually a six metres long muslin cloth, wrapped neatly and skilfully around the head. Young Sikh kids and boys, who cannot tie a turban, wear a Patka instead. Patka is a soft cotton cloth (usually one metre long, but length and material can vary) that is tied around the head to keep the hair tidy. The Patka is also worn by many adult Sikhs as an under-turban. For Sikh women, the turban is optional but the ones that have been baptised do tie a turban.The Sikh turban is very sacred, as such no one must touch the turban of another Sikh. Touching someone's turban, as well as removing it in public, is considered very disrespectful. 

Amrit Sanchar (Baptism)

Amrit Sanchar (Baptism) is the sacred ceremony for initiation into the Khalsa brotherhood. The initiate may be a man or woman of any caste or previous religion. A baptised Sikh (male or female) is known as Khalsa, meaning the 'Pure One'. Sikhs undertake the Amrit ceremony when they are ready to follow the commitments that their religion demands.

In March 1699, the tenth Sikh Guru Gobind Singh Ji held the first Sikh baptism at Anandpur Sahib on occasion of Baisakhi.

In that ceremony, Guru Gobind Singh baptised five beloved ones (known as Panj Pyare) who were willing to sacrifice their lives for their faith. The Panj Piare, in turn, baptised the Guru himself. The Panj Pyare, proclaimed by Guru Ji to be the embodiment of himself, came to be known as the first Khalsa.

How 'Amrit Sanchar' is conducted

The baptism ceremony is conducted by the 'Five Baptised Sikhs' (Panj Pyare) who have earlier been initiated into the Sikh faith. These Panj Pyare should be without physical defects and they should not have broken any commandments or committed any taboo.

After explaining the principles of Sikhism to the' initiates', the Panj Pyare then prepare Amrit (holy water) in a round iron vessel by reciting the ceremonial prayers or five baanis (Japji Sahib, Jaap Sahib, Ten Swayyas, Chaupai Sahib and Anand Sahib) from Guru Granth Sahib. During this recital, crystallized sugar is added to the Amrit, and it is continuously stirred with a Khanda (double edged sword).

After the recital and Ardas (prayers), the 'initiates' drink the Amrit with cupped hands. Amrit is then sprinkled on the hair and eyes of the initiates. This step is also repeated five times. Any leftover Amrit is consumed by all present. With every step the initiates are expected to repeat after the Panj Pyare - Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh (The Pure Belong to God, Victory to God).

The Panj Pyare then each place one hand atop the head of the initiate and in one voice, reverberate "Waheguru", the Sikh name for God, thus imparting the mantra of the Guru to the initiate who recites "Waheguru" with them.

At the conclusion of the AmritSanchar, the ceremonial Karah Parshad(sweetened flour prepared in clarified butter)is consumed by all present.

After the baptism ceremony, the initiates are educated on the Khalsa code of conduct and discipline.

The 'Khalsa Saints' or baptised Sikhs are bound to observe the five symbols of physical appearance (The 5 K's) given by Guru Gobind Singh during first baptism ceremony. These symbols lend a distinct identity to the Sikhs, signify discipline and help them maintain an elevated state of consciousness and spirituality.

 

The Five K's (Articles of Sikh faith)

1) Kesh - Long uncut hair and beard, as given by God. Uncut hair symbolises spiritual power.  Sikhs consider the turban to be a crown of spirituality and proudly wear it as an undying commitment to their faith.

2) Kangha - A small wooden comb to properly groom the hair, as a symbol of cleanliness.

3) Katchera - Specially made cotton undershorts. Symbol of the Khalsa's commitment to purity, and a reminder for self-restraint over desires and passions.

4) Kara - A steel circle, worn on the wrist. Signifies bondage to truth, and freedom from every other entanglement. Kara is round and seamless, symbolising eternity - God is one, has no end.

5) Kirpan - The ceremonial dagger, with which the Khalsa is committed to righteously defend the weak and oppressed. It denotes dignity and self-reliance.

 

 

The 'Khalsa' Code of Conduct

· Each Khalsa is required to observe a strict code of conduct after baptism. They are to worship the one almighty God, accept the Ten Gurus as their liberators, recite five prescribed 'baanis' (scriptures from Granth Sahib) everyday, read Guru Granth Sahib daily, learn Gurmukhi text of the scriptures, practice truthful living and strictly observe the Five K's. 

· Every Sikh male, whether baptised or not, must wear a Turban. This is of prime importance and no Sikh can venture out without a head covering. Women of course are not required to wear turbans unless they are baptised.

· A true Khalsa must never cut his/her body hair, commit adultery, smoke or take intoxicants, eat kosher meat, or believe in blind rituals and superstitions.

· Guru Gobind Singh Ji gave the surnames Singh(Lion) to the baptised Sikh males, and Kaur(Princess) to the baptised Sikh females. This became a norm and to this day the name of every Sikh male child is followed by 'Singh', and that of a girl child by 'Kaur'.

 

Naam Karan (Baby Naming Ceremony)

Naam Karan or the Sikh baby naming ceremony takes place in the Gurdwara, as soon as the mother and child are able to regain good health. The baby is taken to the Gurdwara along with immediate family members and close friends, and consecrated before the Guru Granth Sahib.

Naam Karan is conducted as follows:                                     

· First, prayer of petition (Ardaas) is offered on behalf of the baby and parents, and joyful hymns (like "The Song of Bliss") are recited or sung.

· After this the Granthi (Gurdwara Priest) opens Guru Granth Sahib at random, and recites a Hukam (a random hymn or a divine command) from this page.

· The first letter of the first word of this hymn is selected as the firstletterof the child's name.

· A name is sometimes suggested by the Granthi who has read the Hukam, but the final decision lies with the family members. 

· As per the commandment of the tenth Sikh Guru Gobind Singh ji, the suffix ofSingh ( meaning Lion) is added afterthe baby boy's name, while the name of the girl child is followed by Kaur (meaning Princess).

· An offering of Karha Prashad, prepared either by the family or the Gurdwara, and placed before Guru Granth Sahib, is distributed to those gathered together for the naming ceremony of the baby.

 

Dastar Bandi (Turban Ceremony)

Tying a Turban on the head of a male Sikh child for the first time, in presence of Guru Granth Sahib, is known as Dastar Bandi (Tying of turban). This is a very special occasion in the life of the child as this further binds him to his Sikh faith and practices. This ceremony can be held at a Gurdwara or at any place where Guru Granth Sahib is kept.

As the ceremony begins, the child is seated in front of Guru Granth Sahib. After the recital of Ardas, the child's first turban is ceremonially tied by a family elder or Granthi (Sikh Priest and reader of Granth Sahib). As prayers are recited to invoke Guru's blessings on the child, the Granthi explains to the boy the need for keeping long hair in Sikhism and wearing a turban.

Close friends and family members are invited at this pious occasion. However not all Sikh families follow this custom. Though there is no set rule for colour of the turban, baby pink is the most popular in Dastar Bandi.

This religious ceremony concludes with the distribution of Karha Parshad and Langar.

 

Antim Sanskaar (Funeral Service)

The Sikh funeral ceremony is known as Antim Sanskaar (last rites). It is attended by close family members, relatives and friends; and takes place on the same day or within three days after death, if relatives have to come from far off places.

Sikhism believes in resigning to the will of the Almighty and discourages public display of grief and mourning, but many people do tend to let their emotions rule their hearts during the death of a loved one. Sikhs do not believe in heaven or hell to be final destination for the departed soul. Sikhism teaches that with each birth and death cycle, the soul gets an opportunity to reach its final destination of merging with the Creator.

At time of death

When someone is about to die, family members come to the bedside and recite Sukhmani Sahib (Hymn of Peace). Every dying person is encouraged to remember Waheguru in order to escape rebirth and get liberation from reincarnation.

After death

The body of the deceased is bathed in yoghurt and dressed in a clean attire, and the head is covered with a turban or a scarf belonging to the deceased person. The five Sikh articles of faith (the 5K's) remain with the body in death. The body is then taken to the Gurdwara (but not inside) before proceeding for the cremation site.

Cremation

· Cremation of the dead body in an open funeral pyre is generally preferred, but in some foreign countries, where there is no such provision, cremation takes place in a crematory at a mortuary.  The ashes of the body are either buried in earth scattered over or immersed in flowing water such as a river.

· The funeral service starts with an Ardaas, followed by recital of daily prayers "Japji" and "Kirtan Sohila." The cremation begins after the recital of these prayers, but these can also be recited during the funeral.

· During cremation, several hymns from Granth Sahib are either sung and recited, for the soul to release from the bondage of reincarnation, and blend with the divine.

· The funeral service is conducted before sunset. After the service closes, family members proceed to nearby Gurdwara to offer prayers (Anand Sahib) and Ardaas for the deceased's soul. The ritual ends with serving of Karah Prashad (blessed sweet offering).

Very often, an Akhand Path (complete reading of the Guru Granth Sahib in 48 hours) is kept by the deceased's family in their home or Gurdwara, followed by a langar. This completes the formal mourning.

 

Anand Karaj (Marriage Ceremony)

The Sikh marriage ceremony is known as Anand Karaj. It is conducted in a Gurdwara in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib, and commenced according to the Sikh rites. Families and friends of both the bride and groom assemble together for this sacred ceremony, where hymns (known as laavan) are sung and praises offered to the Almighty.

During the Anand Karaj, men and women sit on separate sides of a central aisle, with their legs crossed and heads covered in reverence. The bride and groom bow their heads before Guru Granth Sahib, and then sit on the floor alongside each other, with the bride seated to the left of the groom.

The musicians (called Raagis) sit on a low stage and sing hymns (Laavan) to seek God's blessings for the couple. In every marriage, there are four rounds of Laavan, and each round has a special significance. As each Laav is sung, the bride and groom slowly take rounds of Guru Granth Sahib.

Before and after each round of Laav, the bride and groom bow down in humble reverence to the Granth Sahib, as they affirm their acceptance of the marital obligations. During the rounds of Laavan, the bridegroom's sister drapes a long shawl or turban cloth (called Palla) around the grooms shoulders, and places the right end in his hands, while the left end of the palla is handed over to the bride, by her father. Upon completion of the fourth Laav round, the bride and groom are pronounced as husband and wife. Families and friends then congratulate the newlyweds on completion of a successful marital union, achieved in presence of God.

During Anand Karaj, a Sikh priest (Granthi) counsels the bride and groom on the spiritual nature of family harmony. They are advised to live together in harmony, never leave each other's side, and show loyalty, love and support to each other throughout the married life.

"They are not said to be husband and wife, who merely sit together. Rather they alone are called husband and wife, who have one soul in two bodies."

(Guru Amar Das Ji, Pauri, pg 788, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji)

 

Akhand Paath

Akhand means uninterrupted, without break; and Path denotes reading.      

Akhand Pathis the non-stop, cover to cover recitation (all 1430 pages) of Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) by a team of Granthis (Sikh Priests) or members of a family. The continuous reading of Granth Sahib takes around 48 hours.

This is a very holy ritual that is said to bring sanctity, peace and blessings to the participants as well as the passive listeners of the recitation. Akhand Path calls for complete dedication and continual service from those in whose honour it’s held. It is tradition for Langar (communal food) to be available at all times during the recital.

Akhand Path is undertaken on occasionslike marriage, childbirth, Gurpurabs, death, graduation, house warming, new business set-up etc.Many people also organize Akhand Path to purify their homes and increase connection with Waheguru (Almighty).

 
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