Introduction to Sikh Prayers
A Prayer is a personal communication addressed to a deity in form of supplication, adoration, praise, contrition or thanks giving. But in Sikhism all other deities except God have been rejected. All other gods, goddesses, angels and the spirits are prone to death. Why should one serve or remember him, who takes birth and then dies down (Var Gujri M-3, p.509). Even Brahmas, Vishnus and Shivas pass away after the lapse of their fixed period of life. (10 Swayas Dasam Granth). Only one Lord will be there in all the ages.
Who has not died and who will not die? (Maru M-1, p.1022). Death is a certainty and the souls because of their actions undergo transmigration, the human being wears the garments of both pleasure and pain, happiness and sorrow, (Var Majh M-1, p.149), which he receives from the Lord, according to his worth. But the suffering mostly pervades in our lives. The so-called pleasures of the world also bring pain. As many are the pleasures of the body, so many are the sufferings (Var Malar M. 1, p.1287). The sensuous pleasures result in sufferings and maladies (Basant M-1, p. 1189).
Nanak Dev has said, "There is suffering in birth and suffering in death and suffering in all the dealings of the world" (Var Sarang M-4, Shalok M-1, p.1240). "There is suffering in separation, there is suffering in hunger; there is suffering of the mighty Yama. There suffering caused by physical ailment" (Malar M-1, p.1256). Nanak Dev has also conclusively said, "Though the Jivas move toward their destruction by the fire of suffering, still the suffering itself is the remedy (Var Sarang M4, Shalok M-1, p.1240). And this giving remedy is the Prayer, gushing out from the core of the heart.
The formal prayer is like a ritual. Everyday the prayer is offered in Sikh Temples in the morning as well as in the evening. The real prayer is neither ritualistic nor it can be captured in the vesture of language, by the human beings without devotion, faith and love. The prayer creates a bridge between the soul and the Lord. It wells up in the mind of the man of God. The prayers are offered not only by the men of God but also by the men of the world. The men of the world may express worldly demands in their formal prayers. They may also pray from their hearts if they need something for themselves very badly. They may also request for a grave danger to be averted from someone whom they love. The men of God may express worldly requirements which can help in their spiritual quest. They may also pray for strength to be granted to them for the welfare and service of humanity, in which they visualise the All-Pervasive Lord. Even the formal prayer of the Sikhs ends with the following words:
(The Name of the Lord emanating from the Guru (Guru Nanak) may bring high spirits and the welfare of all in his will).
Most of the hymns of Guru Granth Sahib written by the Sikh Gurus and radical saints are the prayers offered to the Lord or the Guru. A Sikh offers his prayers in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh scripture, if he can. But if he is out of his home or in journey, he can offer his prayers anytime at any place. The prayers fixed for daily observance are recorded in the beginning of Guru Granth Sahib. There are some later additions in Rahrasi. They are meant for three times during the day viz.
1. Japu a longer bani of Guru Nanak Dev-in the morning.
2. So-Daru or Rahras consisting of nine hymns of the Gurus and a few additional hymns of the third, fifth and tenth Gurus alongwith the Ardaas (traditional prayer) in the evening.
3. Sohila or Aarti or Kirtan Sohila consisting of five hymns of the Guru-at bed time.
Bhai Gurdas, the Sikh theologian has made a mention of these prayers in the first Var.
Besides the above daily observances, a Sikh offers his prayers based on the hymns of the scripture at any time convenient to him. At the beginning of his prayer he says, "I pray with folded hands; If Thou likest, Thou may set it right. With Thy Grace, engage me in Thy devotion; This person Nanak may always remember the Lord." (Suhi M-5, pp.736-37). The prayer can be offered before the Lord with utmost humility (Var Asa M-1, p.474). The Sikh says, "Am I worthy of offering Prayer-my sins and virtues are both evident before Thee" (Asa M-1, p.30). "The Prayer of the man of God does not go in vain." (Bilawal M-5, p.819). He begins his prayer like this:
The prayers of the man of God can be rendered in the following words:
The devotee in his prayers can talk of nothing else except the suffering of separation, the profound love and the eternal union with the Lord. But the necessities of worldly life which help in the spiritual development may also form part of the prayer. Here below an instance of such a prayer:
More on Sikh Prayers
The Sikh's conception God is personal. He moves in him like a fish in the water, and lives with him like a wife with her husband. He is in constant communion with Him through prayer. Therefore prayer is much used in Sikhism. The Scripture consists chiefly of prayers. No ceremony whether religious or secular, is complete without prayer. Nay, most of the ceremonies and rituals contain nothing else. Before going on a journey, or opening a shop or occupying a new house, the Sikhs open the Holy Scriptures and asks God's blessing. Often if time and means permit, he also arranges for the singing of hymns of thanks-giving. But he will never omit a short prayer, which even the poorest can afford. No priest is required to address it. Anybody, man or woman old or young can lead in prayer. Even a boy or a girl may be seen conducting the morning or evening service and leading in prayer a big congregation consisting of the most learned and advanced in age. This is purposely encouraged, so that everybody may learn to shoulder his or her responsibilities without the help of a priestly class. The prayer varies in size and contents. Sometimes only a few words will do. A man starting on horseback with one foot in the stirrup, may mutter to himself : "O Lord of plume ! help. The Humble servant" Or a few lines may be quoted from the Scripture by way of saving grace before or after meals.
As a piece of composition it is one of the rarities of literature. It is not the work of any one man or any one time. The whole Sikh nation has been at work on it for centuries. The custom of offering prayers must have begun with the rise of Sikhism, but by the time of Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth successor of Guru Nanak Dev, when places of worship had been organized and a definite book of faith had been installed in them, it became an established rule together for the purpose of praying in congregations. According to the Dubistan-I-Mazaheb when anybody wanted a gift from heaven, he would come to such an assembly of Sikhs and ask them to pray for him. Familiar expressions of prayer began to accumulate until by the time of Guru Gobind Singh a definite form was given to it. As it now stands it can be divided into three parts:
Six lines of verse by Guru Gobind Singh invoking God and the first nine Gurus.
From line 7 to 25 rhythmic prose, composed by generations of Sikhs as the events of their history went on leaving their impressions on their minds. The community even now has not abdicated its right of molding this part of the prayer it can refer in any suitable terms to the present day difficulties and sorrows of the panth e.g. ..........in connection with the wearing of Kirpans and the reforming of Gurdwaras.
The Prayers proper the composition of which except a few words here and there depends entirely upon the man who is praying.
The first seven lines and the last two lines can in no case be altered or omitted, in all other lines changes can be made we can shorten omit, add to or do anything with them. Though everybody is required to be able to lead in prayer, everybody cannot be expected to be original and to express himself in an assembly in a correct concise and moving manner. Therefore it is provided that the man offering the prayer should begin with a recitation and get more and more free as he proceeds. After the composition of the Guru and the community he has a chance to try his free hand in expressing his bosom thoughts or the conjectured ideas of the whole congregation it is so helpful so educative. The prayer is communal not only in the composition of its language, but also in the nature of its subject matter. The Sikh, while offering it, is made to realize that he is a part of the corporate body, called the Panth or Khalsa, whose past and present history is recounted with all its sacrifices, successes glories and needs. In order to understand why so much of the prayer is taken with historical details, we must consider the meaning of the Sikh prayers. The Gurus were very careful in the imparting of their teaching. They did not deliver lectures or write books and leave them to be understood by their Sikhs. They took as much care in the preparation of the disciple as of the lesson itself. They wanted to see that what they gave was capable of being digested and assimilated by him. Therefore the teaching was in the disciple's own vernacular, and was given in the form of a song or discourse. Further, it was not delivered at once in one life. The Guru took in hand the training of a nation and each one of them at a time gave as much instruction as was needful passing it on to the next Guru when the work of one generation was complete. In this way the whole course of training extended over ten generations.
In other ways, too the Gurus took care to see that no effect of their teaching was lost upon the disciple. The different morning and evening services were fixed according to the mood or the atmosphere of the time. The philosophical JapJi ( or the meditation of Guru Nanak) is to be read in the morning and the Kirtan Sohila, which breathes the spirit of calmness and resignation is fixed for the bed time. If we look into the nature of the compositions, we shall find that the difference is just suited to the difference between our inward mood of the morning and that of the evening. The passions, which are the dominant in the evening, in the morning leave the field for the contemplative part of the soul. The mind has been tranquillized by the calm sleep and is nearer heaven. It is quite fresh and clear, and can dwell on the difficult problems of human life discussed in the JapJi. Our whole being irritated and over strung by the nervous excitement of the day, reaches by night time and culminating point of its human vitality; and as we sit in the bed, preparing for sleep, we can no longer bear the strain of hard thinking. Therefore a short musical piece is all that has to be recited before we give ourselves up to sleep. The thoughts contained in the poem are further made easy by being woven in the form of imaginative figures. Our imagination just at that time is very active so the abstract ideas are presented to us clothed in images. See how the difficult idea of the oneness of the God amidst the diversity of His manifestations is made clear to us by being compared to the oneness of the sun in spite of the divisions of time and season. Look at the figure of pride approaching the door of her spouse, while oil is being poured on it by the friends of the family. It is really the human soul yearning to meet God after waiting day and night to receive a call from Him. Again, how beautifully the diversity of God's presence, diffused in the face of nature is presented in the form of the stars and planets moving around the alter of God to perform an arti. We have given instances enough to show what paints the Gurus have taken to suit their teaching to the mood of the disciple's mind.
In the case of the prayer, the same care has been taken. The Sikh has to bring himself into a prayerful mood before he addresses himself to his God, when we actually pray. We stand face to face with God. But before we enter into the innermost tabernacle of God and reach that consummation, we have much to traverse the ground of moral struggle and spiritual preparation. We have to realize what the communion with God has meant for those who have loved him. What sufferings and sacrifices they had to undergo to be able to see His face. We have to refresh ourselves with the sweet faith of those immortals and fortify our minds with their patient strength and resignation. Prayer does not mean a mere physiological union with God an undisturbed rest in him. It means an active yearning of the soul to feel one with God who is always active and patient, who is always hopeful. Prayer should, therefore, refresh our spirit and make us ready to do God's will. This can be done if we first commune ourselves with the God revealed in History, and reverently watch the organic growth of Divinity in mankind. To do this we have to feel ourselves a part of that congregation of God-like being who represent the best in man. We should steep ourselves in association of those in whose in company we feel the presence of God.
The Sikh prayer was composed from this point of view it begins with an invocation to God and then different sole are invoked in the order of precedence. The highest ideal of godliness according to the Sikhs was realized in Guru Nanak and his nine successors. Therefore they are mentioned next. Then the five beloved ones, who for their sacrifice were invested with collective Guruship by the last Guru, then the Guru's sons, who bravely met martyrdom and though young, kept up the brave tradition of their forefathers; then other great men and women who were arms and practiced charity and in the face of unspeakable suffering kept their faith unsullied. The part of the prayer is the work of the whole community, past and present and is the most important vigorous in style and language. How many hearts in these long centuries it has soothed in affliction and braved in difficulties. It bears the stamp of all that is the best and most moving in Sikhism. It is the crystallization of the Sikh nation's history. It is the living monument of its greatness which generation of the Sikhs will repeat to themselves to keep alive the old fire in their midst.
After bringing before their vision the mighty deeds of their forefathers, they think of their present conditions, their Gurdwaras, their associations, their choirs moving nightly round the Golden Gurdwara their banners, their mansions, which remind them of their past glory and call blessings on them. Then begins the proper. Here one is quite free to express oneself. In the last but one line the Sikh prays for the advancement of God among men; but this missionary work is to be carried on with due regard to other's right and sentiments, for in the next line he prays for the good of every body without distinction of caste or creed. This prayer comes down from the days of the conflict with the Muhammadans, in which the Sikhs suffered martyrdoms that are enumerated in it. Yet nowhere is shown any sign of bitterness or revenge, there is no reproach on curse on the enemy; only one sufferings are enumerated which are taken as sacrifices made by the community.
Ode to the daily by the Tenth King :
Having first remembered God the Almighty, think of Guru Nanak.
Then of Angad Guru and Amar Das, and Ram Das, may help us.
Remember Guru Arjan, Guru Har Gobind and the holy Guru Har Rai.
Let us think of holy Har Krishan whose sight dispels all sorrows.
Let us remember Tegh Bahadur and the nine treasures shall come hastening to our homes.
May they all assist us everywhere.
May the tenth King holy Guru Gobind Singh the lord of hosts and protector of the faith assist us everywhere:
Turn your thoughts. O, Khalsa to the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib and call on God. (Wonderful Lord !)
The five Beloved Ones and Master's four sons, the forty Saved Ones and other righteous steadfast and longsuffering souls : think of their deeds and call on God. (Wonderful Lord !)
Those men and women who keeping the name in their hearts shared their earnings with others; who piled the sword and practiced charity; who saw other's faults; but overlooked them : think of their deeds and call on God. (Wonderful Lord !)
Those who for their religion allowed themselves to be cut up limb by limb had, their scalps scraped off, were broken on the wheel, were sawn of flayed alive : think of their sweet resignation are call on God. (Wonderful Lord !)
Those who to purge the Gurdwaras of longstanding evils, suffered themselves to be ruthlessly beaten or to imprisoned to be shot, cut up or burnt alive with kerosene oil, but did not make any resistance or utter even a sigh or complaint : think of their patient faith and call on God. (Wonderful Lord !)
Think of all the different Gurdwaras, thrones of religious authority and other places hallowed by the touch of the Guru's feet and call on God. (Wonderful Lord !)
Now the whole Khalsa offers his prayer.
Let the whole Khalsa bring to his mind the Name of the Wonderful Lord.
And as he thinks of Him, may be feel completely blessed.
May God's protection and grace extend to all the bodies of the Khalsa wherever they are.
May the Lord's glory be fulfilled and His dispensation prevail.
May victory attend our charity and our Arms.
May God's sword help us.
May the Khalsa always triumph.
May the Sikh choirs, banners, mansions abide for ever and ever.
The Kingdom of justice come.
May the Sikhs be united in love.
May the hearts of the Sikhs be humble, but their wisdom exalted - their wisdom in the keeping of the Lord O Khalsa. Say the Lord is wonderful. (Wonderful Lord !)
O true King ! O loved Father ! In these ambrosial hours of the morn we have sung. Thy sweet hymns heard They life giving Word and have discoursed on They manifold blessings May these things find a loving place in our hearts and serve to draw our souls towards Thee.
Save us, O Father, from lust, wrath greed, undue attachment and pride : and keeping us always attached to Thy feet.
Grant to they Sikhs the gift of Sikhism. The gift of They name, the gift of faith, the gift of confidence in Thee, and the gift of reading and understanding They Holy Word.
O kind Father, loving Father through. The mercy we have spent the night in peace and happiness : May Thy grace extend to our labors of the day, too, so that we may according to Thy will, do what is right.
Give us light, give us understanding, so that we may know what pleaseth Thee.
We offer this prayer in presence, O wonderful Lord.
Forgive up our sins. Help us keeping ourselves pure.
Bring us into the fellowship of only those men of love. In whose company, we may remember they name.
Through Nanak may Thy name for ever be on the increase.
And may all men prosper by the grace.
The Khalsa belongs to the Wonderful Lord, who is always victorious.
Excerpts taken from these books.
The Sikh Prayer by Teja Singh ji.
Published by SGPC, Amritsar