An Akhand Path refers to the reading of the Guru Granth Sahib, with no breaks and in full from page one through to page 1430 over a pre-determined period of time. The period of time is usually within 48 hours, but there are also variants of the Akhand Path which denote different time spans.THE HISTORY
History makes mention on several occasions of the Gurbani (Bani of the Guru) being read following the demise of the Gurus, but it wasn't until the tenth Guru - Guru Gobind Singh Ji's days that the Akhand Path as we know it today took form. At that time, the Guru asked that nobody mourn his demise, but that the Bani be read instead. The Guru had recently compiled the final version of the Guru Granth Sahib, he had also in these last days bestowed it as the everlasting Guru - the physical ascension had come to an end. He declared that he would be spiritually present when the Gurbani was being read as such.
During Baba Banda Singh's days, the Akhand Path became more frequent as it brought the Sikh community closer together, particularly due to the harsh persecution that they faced and the sadness of the last Guru's demise. As time passed on, the Akhand Path became more frequent, it came to mark happy and sad occasions as well as important dates.HOW THE AKHANDPATH IS PERFORMED
Today, an Akhand Pat is normally performed to mark a specific occasion e.g. a birth, a birthday, a wedding, a death, an anniversary, a historic occasion etc. Some Gurudwaras perform the Akhand Pat regularly - to mark no specific occasion. An Akhand Pat can be performed in a Gurudwara or at home, the choice is left to the discretion of the individuals organising it. Akhand Pats marking important dates in the Sikh calendar are most often performed at the Gurudwara, whereas those marking personal family events are normally performed in the home.
The Akhand Path begins with a reading of the Bani known as Anand Sahib, a Hukam Nama is then read aloud. The Hukam Nama is a randomly selected shabad which those with faith accept to be the Guru's command on the occasion. An Ardas follows with mention of the circumstances of the Akhand Pat. Following the Ardas, the Akhand Path begins - a Pati will begin reading from Page 1 of the Guru Granth Sahib - the Japji Sahib. It is normal for somebody to wave the Chauri over the Guru Granth Sahib for the duration of the Akhand Pat and on some occasions, the Japji Sahib is also read continuously alongside the Akhand Pat for the same duration.
After the period of the Akhand Path is over, the Japji Sahib is read again, followed by a singing of a Bani known as the Arti. The singing is performed by Kirtanis, this is followed by a final Ardas, the Hukam Nama is read again and normally further Kirtan would follow.
The standard Akhand Path is performed over a period of 48 hours in an unbroken manner by a number of Pathi - the individuals who are responsible for reading the scriptures over that time. The reading is broken into 2 hour segments - each known as a Rol and typically a Pathi would complete a Rol before being relieved by another Pati who would continue from the word that the previous Pati left off - and so forth. A Pathi is required to be very respectful during his Rol. He would have a bath before performing the Rol and is expected to be a practising Sikh. No speaking is allowed during a Rol and the Pati is expected to concentrate solely on the reading of the Guru Granth Sahib throughout this period. The mouth and nose are normally covered by a piece of cloth known as a Parna.
a. The non-stop reading of the Guru Granth Sahib is carried on at hard times or on occasions of elation or joy. It takes approximately fortyeight hours. The non-stop reading implies continuous, uninterrupted reading. The reading must be clear and correct. Reading too fast, so that the person listening in to it cannot follow the contents, amounts to irreverence to the Scriptures. The reading should be correct and clear, due care being bestowed on consonant and vowel even though that takes a little longer to complete.
b. Whichever family or congregation undertakes the reading should carry it out itself through its members, relatives, friends, etc., all together. The number of reciters is not prescribed. If a person, himself, cannot read, he should listen in to the reading by some competent reader. However, it should never be allowed to happen that the reader carries on the reading all by himself/herself and no member of the family is listening in to the reading. The reader should be served with food and clothing to the best of the host's means.
c. Placing a pitcher, ceremonial clarified-butter-fed lamp, coconut, etc. around, during the course of the uninrerrupted or any other reading of Guru Granth Sahib, or reading of other Scriptural texts side by side with or in the course of such reading is contrary to the gurmat (Guru's way).
Commencing the Non-Stop Reading (Akhandpath)
While undertaking the intermittent reading of the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred pudding (Karhah Prashad) for offering should be brought and after reciting the Anand (six stanzas) and offering Ardas, Hukam should be taken.
While beginning the unbroken reading, the sacred pudding should first be laid. Thereafter, after reciting the Anand(six stanzas), offering the Ardas and taking the Hukam, reading should he commenced.
Concluding the Reading
a. The reading of the whole Guru Granth Sahib (intermmitent or non-stop) may be concluded with the reading of Mundawani or the Rag Mala according to the convention traditionally observed at the concerned place. (Since there is a difference of opinion within the Panth on this issue, nobody should dare to write or print a copy of the Guru Granth Sahib excluding the Rag Mala). Thereafter, after reciting the Anand Sahib, the Ardas of the conclusion of the reading should be offered and the sacred pudding (Karhah Prashad) distributed.
b. On the conclusion of the reading, offering of draperies, fly-whisk and awning, having regard to the requirements of the Guru Granth Sahib, and of other things, for Panthak causes, should be made to the best of means.
VARIANTS OF THE AKHANDPATH
Saptah means seven and a Saptahik Pat is an Akhand Pat performed over the duration of a week. It will be performed with convenient breaks between the reading. Typically, one Pati will perform it, perhaps reading the scriptures for a few hours in the day. The Saptahik Pat is begun and finished in the same way as an Akhand Pat.
Ati Akhand Path
An Ati Akhand Pat is performed by one Pati in it's entirety without a break. The Pati will neither eat nor drink in that time and will not be relieved, the duration is not specifically stated, but has been known to be accomplished within 27 hours. It is obviously very rare.
The Sanpat Pat is usually performed in a week, through an unbroken reading. A certain Shabad - or Shabads are selected (this is known as the Sanpat) and these are read after each shabad in the Guru Granth Sahib, hence increasing the duration of the reading. On rare occasions the Sanpat might be read after each verse and this can increase the duration to up to a month. The time period is determined beforehand and the Patis will make all efforts to adhere to the time limit - increasing or decreasing the speed of their reading accordingly. The shabad chosen to be the Sanpat will reflect the occasion of the Akhand Pat.Sahij Path
This is very similar to the Saptahik Pat, in that the entire reading is accomplished through a series of readings. There is however, no time limit as to the reading and it can take place over more than a week.
a. Every Sikh should, as far as possible, maintain a separate and exclusive place for the installation of Guru Granth Sahib, in his home.
b. Every Sikh, man, woman, boy or girl, should learn Gurmukhi to be able to read the Guru Granth Sahib.
c. Every Sikh should take the Hukam (Command) of the Guru Granth Sahib in the ambrosial (early)hours of the morning before taking meal. If he/she fails to do that, he/she should read or listen to reading from the Guru Granth Sahib some time during the day. If he/she cannot do that either, during travel etc., or owing to any other impediment, he/she should not give in to a feeling of guilt.
d. It is desirable that every Sikh should carry on a continuous reading of the Guru Granth Sahib and complete a full reading in one or two months or over a longer period.
e. While undertaking a full reading of the Guru Granth Sahib , one should recite the Anand Sahib (the first five and the last stanzas) and perform the Ardas. One should, thereafter, read the Japuji.