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Gurus Anand Karaj: The Blissful Endeavor

Discussion in 'Sikh History' started by spnadmin, Sep 17, 2013.

  1. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    Jun 17, 2004
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    The Blissful Endeavor
    Sarbpreet Singh


    I have come to California to celebrate a joyous event.

    Today is the eve of my brother’s anand Karaj, particularly, as the bride is not from the Sikh tradition. In fact she is not even from the subcontinent.

    I have been asked to speak briefly about the significance of Anand Karaj and the hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib that are sung as part of the wedding ceremony. Demystifying the Anand Karaj ceremony and conveying its essence to a congregation that largely lacks context, brings forth this reflection.

    The centerpiece of the Anand Karaj is the Laavaa(n), a string of four hymns composed by the Fourth Master, Guru Ramdas, sung as the bride and groom circumambulate the Guru Granth in the presence of their families and friends.

    This is followed by the singing of six verses from the Anand Sahib, which was composed by the Third Master, Guru Amardas.

    The history of the Anand Karaj ceremony is well worth delving into here. Popular tradition attributes the Anand Karaj to Guru Amardas, and yet somewhat paradoxically presents the marriage of the Fifth Master, Guru Arjan, to Mata Ganga as the first instance of its usage, with a suggestion that the Laavaan were explicitly composed by Guru Ramdas for his son’s nuptials!

    I have not been able to find any substantiation of this popular tradition through any credible historical records.

    At the dawn of the 20th century, the Anand Karaj was not the prevalent form of the Sikh marriage ceremony. In the nineteenth century, especially during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh several Brahmin rituals had started creeping back into Sikhism and traditional Vedic marriage had become the norm.

    Baba Dyal Singh, who founded the reformist Nirankari movement, made a concerted effort to revive the Anand Marriage, with limited success. The Namdhari leader, Baba Ram Singh, also endeavored to bring back a form of the Anand Marriage, but with a twist; the sacred fire -- integral to the Hindu marriage tradition, but long discarded by our Gurus -- was retained from the alien vedic ceremony.

    The re-establishment of the Anand Marriage in modern times can clearly be attributed to the reformist Singh Sabha movement. The Amritsar Singh Sabha, which really saw no material distinction between Hinduism and Sikhism, and the reformist Lahore Singh Sabha, which was committed to the implementation of a clearly defined Sikh identity, separate from Hinduism, did not see eye to eye.

    Sundar Singh Majithia, the visionary who led the Chief Khalsa Diwan, which was formed to unite the Singh Sabhas in the early 20th century, played a key role in reviving the tradition of the Anand Karaj.

    In a speech to the British Imperial Legislative Council on August 27, 1909, this is what Sundar Singh had to say:

    “The Anand ceremony was initiated by the third Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Amar Das and the marriages of Bhai Kamlia and Matho Murari were performed in accordance therewith in the time of third and fourth Gurus, the last of whom composed the four Laavan in the Suhi Raag of the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred book of the Sikhs.”

    A paper, prepared by the Khalsa College, Lyallpur, stated:

    “Guru Amar Dass tried to barter down all the injurious caste barriers, and, incensed at this noble effort of the third Guru, the Hindus excommunicated those Sikhs of the Guru who in obedience to his teachings had ceased to observe caste. Among those Sikhs was one named Randhawa. When he wanted to marry his daughter, the Brahmins refused to come and officiate at the solemnization of the marriage, saying that having become a Sikh of Guru Amar Das he had ceased to be a Hindu, and thus had forfeited every right to have the marriage of his daughter performed according to Hindu rituals.

    “Upon this the Sikh went to Guru Amar Das Ji, and said he was prepared to keep his daughter unmarried, but would on no account consent to the ceremony being performed according to Hindus who were so [full of] wrath at his having given up the whimsical caste distinctions. Realizing the fix in which the Sikh was, the Guru ordered his son-in-law (afterwards Guru Ram Das Ji) to go and officiate at the marriage of the Sikh’s daughter.

    “It was on this occasion that the four Laavaan were originally composed by the fourth Guru. The next noteworthy occasion on which the entire form prescribed conjointly by the third and fourth Gurus was observed was the marriage of the Sixth Master‘s daughter (Bibi Viro) at the village Jhabal in the Amritsar district.”

    Sundar Singh was able to convince the Imperial Legislative Council and as a result of his efforts the Anand Marriage Act was passed on October 22, 1909, recognizing he legality of the Sikh Anand Marriage tradition.

    Mention must also be made of Tikka Ripudaman Singh, the prince of the kingdom of Nabha, who was a strong proponent and advocate of Anand Marriage.

    The historical genesis of Anand Karaj in the times of the third and fourth Gurus is a topic worthy of further research and investigation. Today, it is an indisputable fact that Anand Karaj is clearly and unequivocally established as the Sikh form of marriage. It is codified in the Sikh Rehat Maryada (Code of Conduct) and is in practice in Sikh congregations all over the world.

    It is also not clear whether the Laavan were indeed composed for the express purpose of solemnizing the wedding ceremony, because their meaning is profoundly spiritual. While the Laavan, on the surface, seem to refer to the wedding rite, a quick examination of their meaning establishes that the union being referred to is not the worldly union of a couple, but rather the spiritual union between Man and God.

    The ideal state of a married couple, which is really a metaphor for the ideal spiritual state of a Sikh, is described thus by Guru Amardas:

    A physical relationship alone does not make a man and a woman, husband and wife. They alone may be truly called husband and wife, who have one soul in two bodies.

    The Laavaan may, in a sense, be described as the prescription for the spiritual journey that can bring a Sikh to the ideal spiritual state. The Laavan hymns of the Fourth Master inRaag Suhi, are as follows:

    In the first nuptial round, understand the importance of being one with the Lord.
    Instead of the esoteric Vedas, embrace righteous conduct and renounce sinful actions.
    Focus singularly on the contemplating the Lord's Name
    Such contemplation of the Lord will rid you of your sins.
    Fortunate are those who attain this state of bliss and savor the sweetness of the Lord
    Says Nanak, with this first nuptial round, the ceremony has begun. ||1||

    In the second nuptial round, the True Guru leads you to the Lord.
    All your fears are dispelled and your ego is erased.
    Singing the praises of the Lord, your mind fills with respect and you feel His presence.
    You comprehend the supremacy and the ubiquity of the Lord.
    Feel His presence within you and without and sing His praises in the company of the blessed.
    Says Nanak, in the second nuptial round, the mind of such a bride resounds with the praise of the Lord, as if on its own accord. ||2||

    In the third nuptial round the mind is seized by desire to unite with the Lord.
    Those who associate with the holy, find the Lord.
    They find the pure Lord and sing his glories.
    Those fortunate ones, in the company of the holy, comprehend the Lord’s mysteries.
    The name of the Lord resounds in the hearts of those who are so destined.
    Says Nanak, in the third nuptial round, the mind eagerly seeks the Lord’s love.||3||

    In the fourth nuptial round, I find the Lord and my mind is at peace.
    My mind and body are imbued with my love for Him.
    As I love the Lord, I become pleasing to Him and I focus on Him, day and night.
    I attain my Lord and my desire is fulfilled; His name resonates in my mind.
    Thus embraced by my Lord, my heart blossoms forth in joy.
    Says Nanak, in the fourth nuptial round, I find the eternal Lord.||4||2||

    The First Laav symbolizes a new beginning; the start of a journey, whose objective is to find the Lord.

    The Second emphasizes the ridding of ones fears through the grace of the true Guru and acknowledging the supremacy and ubiquity of the Lord.

    The Third invokes the urgency and intensity of the desire to be one with the Lord. An important sub-text is the importance of a communal spiritual practice, in the company of like-minded seekers.

    The Fourth is an expression of the pure joy that is experienced when union with the Lord is achieved.

    Thus the four Laavaan collectively describe the spiritual progression of the Sikh, who starts on a journey to be one with the Lord and ultimately experiences bliss when that union is achieved.

    This spiritual progression and roadmap provides rich guidance to a couple as they start their life together. Thus, the First Laav, representing a new beginning, reiterates the primacy of married life in the Sikh faith. The Guru’s guidance helps one eradicate ego and commit fully to the union. The support and reinforcement of the community and participation in communal spiritual practice, then leads to the bliss that ensues when two souls truly become one.

    Back to the wedding!

    The wedding day has dawned. The entire congregation is Sikh, with the exception of the bride and her family, who are Catholics from Indonesia. The initial hymns have been sung. I have just finished speaking about the significance of the Laavan and the actual ceremony is about to begin.

    The officiating raagi (minstrel) is about to sing the hymn that is always sung on this occasion to commence the ceremony.

    Forsaking praise, slander and all worldly attachments,
    Holding all other relationships to be false, O Lord, I now grasp your mantle

    In a traditional Sikh wedding, it is customary for the father of the bride at this point to take one end of the ‘palla’, or scarf, that the groom sports, and hand it to his daughter, signifying the severing of all other bonds and the joining of the couple with each other and with God.

    I ask some of the elders in my family if my sister-in-law’s (the bride) father has been prepped and if he is ready to hand her the end of the ‘palla’. My family is most anxious to not put the bride’s family on the spot, sensitive as they are to the great cultural divide that this marriage, about to begin, will span. They are fearful that thrusting them into the spotlight in the middle of a ceremony from a culture that is unfamiliar to them, particularly when they are heavily outnumbered, would make them uncomfortable.

    I am quietly advised to not put the bride’s father on the spot; an elder from our own family has been assigned the task of handing the ‘palla’ to the bride.

    Even though I absolutely applaud the sensitivity and understand the rationale, I feel a twinge of unease. After all, I think to myself, is it not the right, the privilege, nay, the duty, of the bride’s father to do this? A part of me feels that we are somehow shortchanging him, even though our motives are absolutely noble and kind.

    I decide to bow to the wisdom of my elders and sit back, waiting for the actual ceremony to begin.

    An then, something wonderful happens! The officiating raagi, who is completely unaware of the cross-cultural sensitivities at play, pipes up in English, before he begins. “Can the bride’s father please rise and hand the palla to her?”

    I look around. I see the bride’s father, who has clearly heard the raagi’s request, hesitating a bit. The groom’s father, my uncle, comes to his rescue and guides him to where the bride and groom sit. The bride’s father, with the utmost poise and graciousness, the smallest hint of a father’s proud and joyous smile on his face, places the palla in his daughter’s hand, as if he had seen this done a thousand times before!

    A small sign from God! But a powerful, auspicious and meaningful one. What a precious gift for my brother and sister-n-law, as the first Laav begins and they rise to take their first steps in the journey that will make their two souls one.

    September 17, 2013

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  3. OP

    spnadmin United States
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    Jun 17, 2004
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    I think it is great when good manners rise up from honest hearts. Good manners are not learned in a book. There was natural conclusion to the palla decision because everyone involved was coming from a place unencumbered by ego. The right thing came naturally
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  4. Tejwant Singh

    Tejwant Singh United States
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    Jun 30, 2004
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    And the beautiful ritual about Palla is that the father does not give his daughter's hand to the groom as in others' wedding ceremonies but hands over the other end of the Palla to the groom.

    In other words, by doing so,the father of the bride is lighting one jyot in two bodies just before the Lavan start.
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