Introduction to Sikhism:The Sikh Prayer and Shrines
THE SIKH WORSHIP
1. The Sikhs worship only one Almighty God in his abstract form. They are not allowed to worship any images or photographs or graves or objects. (Compare this with Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism)
2. Like other World religion, they respect their prophets and show extreme type of affection and honour for them, but they are not allowed to elevate them to the status of God. It is a blasphemy to give the status of God to the prophets.
Guru Gobind Singh in one of his hymns has categorically said, “Whosoever will dare to equate me with God, he/she will be thrown in the cauldron of hell”.
3. The Sikhs bow to Guru Granth Sahib and other Sikh scriptures. This is an act of reverence and not worship.
4. Like most of the world religions, the Sikhs recite/listen to the holy hymns from their scriptures and also say their prayers.
5. A Sikh prayer can be either an individual prayer or a community prayer. An individual prayer can be said at any place. It can be said when a person is walking or commuting to his/her work or doing gardening or swimming or doing early morning exercises. There are no set formalities or rituals to say individual prayers. The set individual prayers are as follows:
Morning prayers: (These must be said before starting the daily work)
Japji Sahib – a long hymn of 38 pauris (stanzas) and two sloaks (couplets) composed by Guru Nanak (as recorded by Guru Ramdas). First sloak also appears in Guru Arjan’s Sukhmani, and the second sloak as the bani of Guru Angad (Rag Maj pages 146/147 of Guru Granth Sahib). It takes about 20 minutes to recite or read it. It is recorded on pages 1-8 of Guru Granth Sahib.
Jap Sahib – a long hymn of 199 verses composed by Guru Gobind Singh (It takes about 25 minutes to recite or read it). It is recorded on pages 1-10 of the Dasam Granth.
Sudha Swayas – a short hymn of 10 stanzas composed by Guru Gobind Singh (It takes about 7 minutes to recite or read it). These are recorded on the pages 13-15 of the Dasam Granth.
Evening prayer: (This prayer is said at the time of sunset)
Rehras Sahib – a long composition comprising hymns of different Gurus (It takes about 20 minutes to recite or read it. The Rehras as recorded in Guru Granth Sahib (pages 8-12) has nine shabads in it. Five shabads (3 of Guru Nanak, 1 of Guru Ramdas and 1 of Guru Arjan) are recorded under the heading of `Sodar’; and four shabads (1 of Guru Nanak, 2 of Guru Ramdas, and 1 of Guru Arjan) are recorded under the heading of `Sopurkh’. Later, tradition has added 15 more compositions with the original Rehras; 3 compositions of Guru Gobind Singh, 6 pauris of Anand Sahib by Guru Amardas, 1 shabad by Guru Nanak and 5 compositions of Guru Arjan). The additional compositions appear only in the Gudkas.
Night time prayer: (This prayer is said before going to sleep)
Kirtan Sohila – a short composition comprising of hymns of different Gurus. (It takes about 5 minutes to recite or read it. It is recorded on pages 12-13 of Guru Granth Sahib and has 5 shabads (3 shabads of Guru Nanak Dev, 1 shabad of Guru Ramdas and 1 shabad of Guru Arjan Dev).
In addition to the above prayers which are read or recited from the Gudkas, a short form of scriptures, a thanksgiving prayer is also said once in the morning and second time in the evening. This prayer is called Ardas.
THE COMMUNITY PRAYER:
The community prayer is said or performed in a Sikh temple (Gurdwara) or in a house where the community gathers to say a collective prayer. Though community prayers were prevalent in the life times of all the Sikh Gurus, they were formalised and declared as an essential part of a Sikh life by Guru Hargobind during 1606-1645. In this era the tradition of morning choirs (prabhat pheris) was also introduced. The most popular community prayer is `Sukhmani Sahib`, a long composition composed by Guru Arjan Dev. It takes about 1.5 hours to read or recite it. All prayers should be said in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib.
THE PRAYERS IN A SIKH TEMPLE (GURDWARA):
In a Gurdwara, the prayers are said every day of the week. Guru Granth is ceremoniously opened at about 4 a.m. and ceremoniously closed at about 10 p.m.
The sequence of a Gurdwara service is as follows:
Asa di var – a long composition of pauris (24) and sloaks (59, 44 of Guru Nanak and 15 of Guru Anand) composed by Guru Nanak (It takes between 1.5 hours to 2.30 hours to recite it. It is recited with musical instruments). It starts on page 462, in Guru Granth Sahib. In total there are 22 Vars recorded in Guru Granth Sahib. .
Other Shabads (the musicians, called raagis, sing other hymns from the scriptures)
Anand Sahib – this is the end hymn and must be recited at the end of every service. It is composed by Guru Amardas. The complete bani has 40 pauris, but according to the tradition we recite 6 pauris (first 5 and the 40th) only. It starts on page 917, in Guru Granth Sahib.
Ardas – This prayer is in three parts and is said when the congregation is standing with folded hand facing Guru Granth Sahib:
Part 1 – it is a set prayer composed by Guru Gobind Singh (Var Bhagauti, page 119 of the Dasam Garnth).
Part 2 – a set prayer composed by the Sikh scholars
Part 3 – words of thanksgiving
Vak (also called as Hukamnama): A random reading from Guru Granth Sahib. This is known as the order (of Waheguru) of the day.
Distribution of Kara Prasad (a sweet pudding)
Langar, the community meal
During weekdays the services ends at about 8 a.m., whereas on weekends it ends at about 1 p.m.
The evening prayer starts at about 6 p.m. and ends between 9-10 p.m., after which the holy book is ceremoniously put to rest.
Rehras Sahib (please refer to individual prayer)
For ii-vii please refer to the morning prayer.
The Reading of Guru Granth Sahib:
In addition to the regular prayers, the Sikhs also do path (reading) from Guru Granth Sahib. These readings can be:
Akhand Path: the continuous reading These are arranged for important days, like birthdays, anniversaries, house warming, bereavements etc. The readings are done by a groups of pathis i.e., readers, each reading for about 2-4 hours. It takes about 48 hours to complete the reading. The reading is done both at daytime and night. After the bhog (the end of the reading) an Ardas is offered followed by distribution of parshad and langar.
Saptahak Path: the reading to finish in a week These are also arranged for important occasions and done by a group of people. The main difference between the Akhand path and the Saptahak path is that in Saptahak path most of the reading is done during the day and the Granth is closed for the night. After the bhog an Ardas is said followed by the distribution of parshad and langar.
Sadharan or Khula Path: slow reading and no fixed time to finish the Granth. These are arranged to coincide with some important family diary dates. These are normally done by the immediate family member or members. Like Akhand path and Saptahak path, after the bhog an Ardas is said and parsahad and langar are distributed.
THE SIKH PLACE OF WORSHIP:GURDWARA:
The Sikh Shrine: Gurudwara:
- A Sikh shrine is called a Gurdwara, meaning the doorway to the house of God.
- The first Gurdwara was built by Guru Nanak Dev at Kartarpur.
- The Sikh Gurdwaras must have a religious flag, called Nishan Sahib in the front of the Gurdwara.
- Guru Granth is placed on the far side centre of the hall.
- There should be no photographs of the Gurus or others in the hall where Guru Granth Sahib is installed.
- Gurdwaras normally have two halls/rooms. The main hall where Guru Granth Sahib is placed and the second hall where the community kitchen is served.
- All entrants must take off their shoes, wash their feet and cover their heads before entering the main hall.
- All Sikh services end with the distribution of parshad (sweet pudding) and langar (dinner/lunch).
Five historical Sikh gurdwaras have been declared as the Sikh Takhats (thrones). These gurdwaras are vested with the power and authority to regulate the religious life of the Sikh nation. The head priests of these shrines constitute a Sikh parliament and they are empowered with executive, legislative and judicial powers regarding the Sikh religious issues. All Sikhs are under the authority of the five takhats. The takhats are as follows:
The name of the Shrine The names of the Guru its relates to: Takhat Akal Takhat Founded by Guru Hargobind Takhat Patna Sahib The birth place of Guru Gobind Singh Takhat Hazoor Sahib The place where Guru Gobind Singh breathed his last. Takhat Kesgarh Sahib The birth place of the Khalsa Takhat Damdama Sahib The place where Guru Gobind Singh composed the second version of Guru Granth Sahib.
ll the five takhats relate to the two Gurus who were Saint-soldiers.
1. The Sikh place of worship is called Gurdwara. The word is made up of two syllables, `Gur’ and `Dwara` meaning the doorway to the house of God.
2. The first Gurdwara was built by Guru Nanak in 1523 at Kartarpur. He called it `Dharamsala` meaning an inn. Later Gurdwaras were built by the Sikh Gurus in the area of their residence.
3. The most important historical landmark of the Sikh history was the building of Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple) by Guru Arjan Dev in Amritsar. This Gurdwara later became the holiest of the Sikh shrines and focus of all the Sikh activity. Everyday the Sikhs, in their prayer, pray to Waheguru to give them both means and efforts to visit and bathe at this shrine.
4. Four times in the Sikh history, this shrine was desecrated by the rulers to put a stop on the growth of Sikh religion, but each time the Sikhs had come out victorious with more converts to their faith. The dates are as follows:
1740 – When Masa Rangar, the police chief of Amritsar, occupied the shrine by force and converted it into a dance house. He was killed by two devout Sikhs at the cost of their own lives.
1757- When Ahmed Shah Abdali, the ruler of Afghanistan led his fourth invasion on India, he ordered Harimandir Sahib to be blown up and the holy pool to be filled up with slaughtered cows, to avenge the resistance put up by the Sikhs. Baba Deep Singh, a veteran Sikh avenged the first attack by defeating the Mughals and re-occupying the shrine. After Baba Deep Singh’s death the Mughals took back the occupation of the shrine and desecrated it again.
1764 – Ahmed Shah Abdali, during his sixth invasion on India, again blew up Harimandir and filled the pool with the cow dung and dead cows. The Sikh reoccupied the complex in 1765 and rebuilt the shrine and cleaned the pool.
1984 -When at the orders of Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India, the army invaded the holiest of the Sikh shrines and indiscriminately killed thousands of innocent pilgrims. Two young Sikhs, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh, later avenged this desecration of the temple by gunning down Indira Gandhi in the lawns of her own house.
5. There are about 158 historical Gurdwaras in the world. In addition there are many thousand local Gurdwaras built by the natives and residents of various areas. In United Kingdom, there are about 160 local Gudwaras. In other European countries there are about 15 Sikh Gudwaras scattered all over the European Union. In Middle East there is one historical Sikh Gurdwara located in Baghdad. There are historical Gudwaras in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Tibet and Sri Lanka. Most of the Gurdwaras outside India were built to commemorate the visit of Guru Nanak there.
6. A Sikh is required to attend a Gudwara as a part of his daily mode of worship. A congregational prayer is as important to a Sikh as an individual prayer. A Sikh believes that God is manifest in `congregation` (Sangat), and God’s blessings can be invoked by serving and loving the Sangat.
7. A Gurdwara is open to all the visitors irrespective of their faith and religion. All entrants to a Gurdwara, however, must take off their shoes and cover their heads before entering the shrine. No intoxicants and tobaccos in any form are allowed inside the Gurdwara.
8. Outside a Gurdwara a Sikh religious flag, called `Nishan Sahib` is sited at a distinctive place. The colour of the flag is Kesri, a mixture of yellow and orange colours.
9. In the Gudwara complex there are also rooms to deposit the shoes and other prohibited items. There are also wash-hand basins and small water pools to wash both hands and the feet.
10. Like other religious shrines, the Gurdwaras also have domes and minarets as a part of their outer structures.
11. Inside a Gurdwara, the main focal point is `Guru Granth Sahib`. The holy book is placed on a specially designed couch resting on pillows and covered with sheets. The couch is usually placed at the far-end centre of the main hall. During the day the Granth is kept open, though covered with roomalas, specially made sheet-coverings. At night time, after the evening prayer, the Granth is ceremoniously closed and removed to a specially built room for the night rest, from where every morning it is taken to the main hall in a stately procession.
12. Other objects which are found inside a Gurdwara are:
A canopy – to cover the whole area where Guru Granth Sahib is placed.
A fly flicker – to be waved over the holy book.
A steel bowl – to distribute the Kara Prashad.
A money box – to deposit the offerings
13. No photographs or images are allowed inside the Gurdwara.
14. Adjoining the main hall of the Gurdwara are the kitchen and dining room. All present at the service must join in here to participate in the community meals. There are examples in the Sikh history that Emperor Hamayun and Emperor Akbar were asked to eat in the community kitchen before they could have the audience of the Guru.
THE GOLDEN TEMPLE
1. The Golden Temple is the holiest of the Sikh shrines. The blue prints of its architecture were the master mind of Guru Arjan Dev. Its foundation stone was laid by a Muslim saint Mian Mir on 3rd January 1588. The work of its pool was, however, started by Guru Ramdas in 1577. Guru Arjan had envisioned an eternal shrine that would make the focal point of the Sikh faith, an image of its firmness, resolve, strength, courage and toughness. It would become an emblem of its immortality and indestructibility.
2. The construction of the shrine and the bridge which connects it with the main complex was completed in 1604, when on 30th August, Guru Granth Sahib was courtly installed in there. Harimandir is a place of rejuvenating one’s soul, it is God’s house where one goes in search of peace, happiness and comfort.
3. The dimensions of the pool are: length 500 feet, breadth 490 feet and depth 17 feet. The bridge which connects the main shrine with the entrance hall is 240 feet long and 21 feet wide. The shrine is floating like a lotus in the centre of the pool.
4. The shrine has four gates, representing the equality of man. People of any country, caste, creed, sect and faith are welcome in the shrine.
5. To reach the shrine the faithful have to go down the steps, which is symbolic of humility and modesty. All around the pool is a parikarma, walk-way, which every visitor has to follow to reach the shrine. This is reminiscent of oath of loyalty and faithfulness for Almighty God. Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen of England, visited the shrine, in October 1997, to pay her obeisance. She along with her entourage walked barefoot in the parikarma to reach the shrine, where she bowed to the holy book and asked for the divine blessings. It is a historical fact that in recent times, most of the Indian Prime Ministers visited the shrine to invoke the blessing of Waheguru though they were not Sikhs. The examples of V.P. Singh, Chander Shekhar, Atal Bihari Vajpaye, Dev Gowra and I.K. Gujral can be cited.
6. From the main gates which open at the bridge, to the threshold of Harimandir, there are 84 steps which remind one of liberation from the 84,00,000 lives and their sufferings.
7. Guru Hargobind, the son of Guru Arjan Dev, left Amritsar and retired in the Shivalik hills to avoid repeated conflict with the Mughals. Guru Harrai, Guru Harkrishen and Guru Gobind Singh could not go to Amritsar for political reasons. The control of the temple thus remained in the hands of the people hostile to the Sikh faith. Guru Tegh Bahadur, after his anointment as the ninth Guru of the Sikhs, did go to the temple to pay his respects, but the occupiers of the temple closed its doors and refused him an entry into the shrine.
8. In the post Guru period, many times the Mughals and other Afghan invaders blew up and desecrated the temple to demoralise the Sikhs, but each time it gave the Sikhs more moral courage, strength and firm resolution to fight the tyranny and rebuild their temple.
9. When Sikhs ruled Punjab (1749-1849), the Maharaja, Ranjit Singh, arranged for gold leaf to be set on to its upper two storeys and all the domes and minarets giving it a new name, the Golden Temple.
10. In 1608, Guru Hargobind built another shrine opposite Harmandir and called it Akal Bunga, later on known as Akal Takhat. It represented both spiritual and temporal authority of the Guru.
11. During the times of Mughals, when there was a prize on the head of every Sikh, and later after the fall of Sikh Empire in Punjab, both the Harimandir and Akal Takhat remained under the control of sects organised by Sri Chand, a son of Guru Nanak and Prithi Chand, the eldest son of Guru Ramdas. The members of these sects did not keep long hair so that they could denounce their faith in times of adversity. With the lapse of time the control became hereditary and corrupt and the Sikh masses revolted against it.
12. Against the Sikh traditions, images were installed in the Harimandir and the people of low caste were refused entry into it.
13. Even during the first fifty years of the British rule in Punjab, both shrines remained in the occupation of Mahants, the descendants of Sri Chand and Prithi Chand. The British gave them protection against the upsurge of the Sikh masses. For some time the keys of the treasury of Golden Temple were also confiscated by the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar. At the end, on 17th January 1922, the British government yielded and handed over the keys to the President of SGPC, a newly constituted body for the management of all the historical Gurdwaras in Punjab.
14. The Golden Temple precincts were then cleaned and all the images removed and entry opened to all the devotees.
THE SIKH TAKHATS (THRONES)
1. The word Takhat means a throne. The dictionary meaning of the word throne is a ceremonial chair for a king or for the sovereign power. In Sikhism the word Takhat has been used in both of these senses. The Takhats are designated historical Gurdwaras, which have the power to legislate on the Sikh religion. The head priests of these shrines make a mini parliament and their decisions are law for the Sikhs. They have the authority to reprimand and punish the religious wrongdoers. They are also the final authority on all religious pronouncements.
2. Guru Hargobind, the sixth Guru of the Sikhs, built the first Sikh Takhat at Amritsar in 1608 known as Akal Takhat, the seat of Almighty God. During his stay at Amritsar, the Guru held his courts at the Akal Takhat. He said that this Takhat has been built, by the command of all powerful God, to guide the Sikhs for the planning and guidance of their political and religious future. All through the Sikh history the assemblies of the Sikh parliament (Sarbat Khalsa) had been held in the forecourt of this Takhat.
3. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru, built the second Takhat at Keshgarh in Anandpur. This is the place where the Khalsa was baptised in 1699
4. Later on in the Sikh history, the Gurdwaras of Patna Sahib, the birth place of Guru Gobind Singh and Hazur Sahib, where Guru Gobind Singh breathed his last were also declared to be the third and fourth Takhats of the Sikh. The Gurdwaras at these places were built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
5. For many hundred years the Sikhs had only four Takhats. However, in the sixties, Gurdwara Damdama Sahib, the place where Guru Gobind Singh had prepared the final version of Guru Granth Sahib and where he rested after a long spell of his battles with the Mughals and the hill Rajas, was declared by the SGPC as the fifth Takhat of the Sikhs.
6. The important judgments from the Takhats are:
Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the King of Punjab, was summoned before the Akal Takhat for his religious wrong, by the then high priest Akali Phoola Singh
Master Tara, an undisputed leader of the Sikhs during 1940-1960 was reprimanded by the Takhats for his religious pitfalls.
Sant Fateh Singh, another veteran of the Sikhs during 1950-1960 was punished by the Takhats for his religious betrayal.
Surjit Singh Barnal, the former Chief Minister of Punjab, Buta Singh , the former Home Minister of India were also punished by the Takhats for their religious wrongs.
Excerpts taken from:
‘Sikhism – An Introduction’
Dr Sukhbir Singh Kapoor
Vice Chancellor World Sikh University, London