Sikh Life Style : Life in Sikhism
At the time of Guru Nanak, Indian society was divided into several castes and sects which were like water-tight compartments. Birth determined the status of an individual; his deeds or merits did not count for anything. The concept of eqality was inconceivable; for the same reason, the spirit of oneness was almost nonexistent.
In Sikhism, there is no place for divisions based on caste. No Sikh is expected to consider himself superior to anybody else, for no man is born high or low. All are equal. A Sikh should be humble and modest and should have a desire to serve mankind.
Guru Nanak does not divide men on the basis of their creeds. For him men are of two kinds: Gurmukhs and Manmukhs. The former look to God and practise truth and work for the welfare of the entire mankind. The latter follow deceit, falsehood and selfishness. Whatever a man may call himself he has to tread the same path if he wants to attain liberation from pain and misery and from mundane life. Everybody has to folow the same code of conduct.
Thus complete equality among all men is a fundamental of Sikhism. Guru Nanak said that the laws of nature were the same for all. All castes and creeds were treated equally in the next world. In the house of Lord nobody was superior or inferior in any way. Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji said:
"What merit is of caste
He who tastes poison will surely die."
"All say there are four castes
But God creates one and all
The same clay makes up the whole world;
Vessels are made of the same clay by the potter
The five elements make up the body,
And nobody can say who has less or more."
Guru Gobind Singh declared caste a hindrance in the brotherhood of the Khalsa created by him. He said:
"True service is the service of the people;
I am not for serving people of high castes.
Charity bears fruit in both the worlds
if given to worthy people.
All other charities are futile and useless,
From top to toe whatever I call my own,
Whatever I possess
I dedicate to these people."
Woman, who gives birth to great men, saints and soldiers, is the most significant part of society. She is revered in Sikhism. Thus, in Sikhism women are not only treated as equals of men but are given a higher place in society. Before the advent of Guru Nanak, Indian women were treated like low castes. They had no status or rights in society. As a girl, parents protected her, as as adult the husband held her in his clutches and as a widow, she lived under the supervision of her sons. Women were described as snares. Guru Nanak raised a strong voice against this way of thinking in society and condemned those men who oppressed women. He siad:
"Why call her low, who gives birth to great men
A women is born of a woman, no one was born
but from the womb of woman
God alone is independent of woman."
Widow remarriage was not allowed even among high caste Hindus and they were persuaded to burn themselves alive at the pyre of their husbands. Guru Amar Das strongly condemned the practice and not only advocated remarriage of widows but also exhorted his followers to prevent women from performing sati.
Infanticide was also prevalent. Female babies were killed at birth. Guru Gobind Singh forbade this evil practice and asked his followers to shun the company of those who induged in it.
The Sikh Gurus upheld the right of all men to equality, and stood up against untouchability. People of all castes both high and low were asked to assemble and partake food from the common kitchen. All men were taught to lead a life of virtue and truth, regardless of the circumstances of birth or pedigree.
An individual must be alert mentally and spirtually in an ideal society and should be physically fit. In the ideal Sikh society, a Sikh shall be a true Sikh in all respects and should possess certain qualities. Guru Ram Das said:
He who calls himself the disciple of the Guru; the true Guru
Shall rise in the early hours of the morning
And meditate on Naam
Shall take bath to cleanse his mind in the 'nectar pool'
And shall labour during the day
He shall hear the words of the Guru
And repeat the Name
For then will his sins be forgiven and
His sorrow and suffering cease.
With the advantage of the day, he shall sing the
hymns of the Guru and keep God in his mind in all that he does
He who repeats the Name with every breath
And with every morsel that he eats
He is the true Sikh, him the Guru loves.
He to whom the Lord is gracious
Listens to the teachings of the Guru and he becomes his disciple.
Nanak, your humble servant begs for the dust of the feet of Sikhs
Who worship and lead others to the path of worship."
The birth of Khalsa was a natural consequence and culmination of all that had happened before in the development of Sikhism. Guru Nanak taught of brotherly love for all the humanbeings. He made it clear that man and universe were indivisibily one. He guided his disciples to the their own realisaton and experience of absolute truth and helped them free themselves from the cycle of birth and death. This could be achieved without renuciation or practising asceticism. He stress that an individual could continue to act a part in the great divine play even while remaining in the stream of life; in fact, this was the ideal state to be in.
Guru Gobind Singh demonstrated these teachings of Guru Nanak by graciously apply them in his own life . In order to give a realistic meaning to his doctrine, he initiated the ceremony of amrit and, to ensure a high standard of moral and spiritual behavour, he laid down certain rules for the guidance of Sikhs. He said:
He who repeats day and night the Name of God,
Has full faith and confidence in Him
Bestows not a thought on anyone but only one God
Whose enduring light cannot be extinguished;
Has no faith in fasting and worshipping cemeteries and monasteris
Recognises only one God and makes no fetish
of pilgrimages, aims, charities and austerities
He is recognised as true member of the Khalsa
In whose heart the light of the Perfect One shines."
- Sawayyas I
The Guru enjoined upon Sikhs some general duties which are defined in Rahitnamas and Sikh Rahit Maryada. These may be called the code of conduct for the Sikhs.
The origin and validity of some of the Rahitnamas is claimed on the basis of their having been dictated by Guru Gobind Singh himself. Bhai Kahan Singh has described three of them, namely, Tankhanama and Prashan-uttar of Bhai Nand Lal and Rahitnama of Bahi Desa Singh based on their dialoges with the tenth Guru. Chaupa Singh's Rahitnama is also ascribed to Guru Gobind Singh.
There is another Rahitnama also. It was completed by Prehlad Singh. Of all these, a conversation of Guru Gobind Singh with Bhai Nand Lal is of utmost importance. It gives a gist of the duties a true Sikh should perform.
"O friend, hear me, this is the way of life for a disicple of the Guru
Rise in the early hours of the morning, take bath,
recite Japji and Jap Sahib, and meditate on the
Name of the God in the evening, join the sangat
and hear the recitation of Rehras, the prasises of
God, and the edifying sermons. Those who follow
such a routine, always endure.
Nand Lal, listen carefully to what I say. In
these categories I sublist : the category of the
Attributes, the category of the Word of the Guru.
That which the Guru teaches, men should hear
and preach. Men should hear the word of the Guru
with love in their hearts and faith in their
minds. This, the Form of the Guru, the men should
behold, day in and day out. Men should serve
each other, without pride and selfishness.
Those who serve humanity, their service
do I acknowledge as the service to My person.
Listen, O Nand Lal, thus humanity shall be
freed and attain everlasting bliss."
The code defines a Sikh as who belives in the word of the Gurus, baptism prescribed by the tenth Guru and the Adi Granth and does not believe in any other religious tradition. A Sikh should live according to the teachings of the Gurus and should have belief in one God.
He should not believe in the existence of gods and goddesses and should regard only ten Masters and their teachings as the path to salvation. He should have no faith in castes nor should he practice them. He should not believe in untouchability and miracles and should reject all superstitions and accept the unity of God as the Supreme Reality.
The Khalsa should seek the blessings of the Supreme Lord in all the deeds he performs. The supplications, which requires him to pray for the welfare of all, is meant to remind him that he should desist from deeds inconsistent with this prayer. The daily prayer of the Khalsa is meant to reinforce his will and put a healty moral effect on his activites and conduct.
The code says that the Sikhs should not take intoxicants nor should they commit female infanticide and should refrain from social contact with those who commit such immoral acts. Monogamy is advocated. Widow remarriage is allowed. Adultery sould not be practiced. Extramarital relations are forbidden. Men are ordained to respect women and regard daughters of other men as their own and others' wives as their sisters and mothers.
A Sikh should earn his livelihood through right and honest means. He should help the poor and needy and regard such help and assistance as an act of service to the Guru. Stealing and gambling is prohibited.
The Code specifically prohibits removal of hair, eating of meat prepared by the process of a gradual and painful slaughter of the animal and use of tobacco. The code also lays down that in the case of a violation of these imperatives the defaulter may himself appear before sangat to seek their award and re-baptised.
The injunctions can be summarised thus:
- At initiation a Sikh should take no other baptismal water but amrit, stirred with a double edged sword. He shall then be called a Singh.
- Where there are five Sikhs the Khalsa faith shall be deemed to have been completely represented. A Sikh desirous of seeing the Guru will find him in sangat (an assembly if Sikhs).
- All Sikhs will beleive in the immortal God and wear the five Kakkas.
- There shall be no caste distinction between one Sikh and the other. Every Sikh shall be krith-nash (disregarder of all prejudices and distinctions based on professions or trades) and kul-nash (disregarder of rituals or ceremonies), for man is to be judged by his actions alone.
- A Sikh shal honour and reverve Guru Nanak and His successors and follow their teachings as embodied in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. He will occasionally visit Amritsar and have a dip in the sacred tank.
- A Sikh shall prize and cherish arms and delight in wear when all peaceful means to set things right fail. Whosoever kill his foe in the battle, or, even as himself subdued does not lose heart, shall be exalted both in this and the next world.
- Whatever wealth a Sikh brings home should be the result of his honest earning; out of this he should be regard the mouth of the poor as the receptacle of the Guru, believing that whatever is put there reaches the Guru.
- A Sikh is distinct from both Hindus and Muslims. He is not to believe in Hindu temples or their idols, their sacred places, their god and goddesses, their modes of worship, their mantras or their fasts. Nor should he have any faith in fasting or the graves of the Muslim saints.
- A Sikh should regard the wife, sister or daughter of another person as his own daughter, sister and mother. He should not indulge in gambling or stealing and should avoid taking tobacco and intoxicants.
- The Sikhs can freely inter-marry but must not have any social or matrimonial relations with smokers, with persons who kill their daughters, with the descendants or followers of Prithi Chand, Dhir Mal and Ram Rai - masands who had gone astra from the principles of Guru Nanak.
- The saluation among the Sikhs shall be waheguru ji ka khalsa, sri waheguru ji ki fateh (Lord's is the Khalsa, Lord's is the Victory).
- Smoking and cutting of hair, eating fleash of animals killed in the semitc Muslim manner and sexual intercourse with any but one's wedded wife are the cardinal breaches of the Sikh faith. Anyone guilty of any of these must show repentence, pay a fine, promise not to offened any more and re-baptised; otherwise he or she stands excommunicated from the Khalsa.
Attributes of the Khalsa
Through born of and brother to the Hindus, the Khalsa is a distinct community, entirely different from the former in outward form, conception of God and Gurus, language and script of the scriptures, religious rites, modes of worship, social customs and in its attitude towards caste and creed.
- The Khalsa symbolises the oneness of God, all humanity and the abolition of caste barriers.
- The Khalsa is a peaceful and progressive brotherhood dedicated to serve of humanity.
- The Khalsa is a new order of society in which the lowest is equal to the highest, in race as in creed, in political rights as in religious hopes.
- The Khalsa is an organisation of the Sikhs for the preservation and development of godly principles of conduct initialted, practiced and propagated by the Great Gurus.
- The Khalsa is a comunity gifted with a rare combination of child-like magnanimity in daily life, lamb-like humanity in peace and lion like bravery in war.
- The Khalsa's is a life of invincible optimism, of serene smiles at one's own sorrows and of action to alleviate the sufferings of others.
- The Khalsa represents a victorious challenge to any mighty political power counting on "might is right".
- The Khalsa is a kingdom from where lust, greed, idolatry, superstition, pride and pessimism are banished and what regns supreme are faith in one God, repetition of His Name, simplicity of habbits, humality of temper, truthness of disposition, earning through honest labour and sharing it with the needy, resignation to His Will, prayer for good of humanity at large and sympathy for the afflicted.
- The Khalsa is a an institution with a cosmopolitan outlook based on love for all, malice towards none, and standing for peace, progress and prosperity of all without distinction.
- The Khalsa is an unparalled and magnificent structure of society, the elements of which were cemented together by ten Master-Masons for over a period of two centuries with the spirit of love for all, service of society and sacrifice for the right cause.
- The Khalsa is a programme of life concerned with conduct rather than creed and covering all aspects of human life - social, economic, political, moral, religious and spiritual.
- The Khalsa is a nation of devotees, warriors and martyrs the examples of whose privations and sufferings for their faith stand unrivalled in human history.
- The Khalsa is a fragrant flower of which the seed was sown by Guru Nanak and nourished by his successors by his successors with their very spirit and blood.
- The Khalsa is the ideal of humanity, the marvellous creation, the greatest contribution and the crowning glory of Great Guru Gobind Singh.
Thus, natural in form, modern in mind, progressive in views, optimistic in outlook, believer in the oneness of God and of all humanity, embodiment of service and sacrifice, imbued with religious humality and martial spirit and with traditions of unparalled glory, the Khalsa occupies a proud position in the community of nations.
"He is Khalsa
who speaks evil to none
who gives in charity
who subdues his passions
who does not yield to superstitions
who is awake day and night
who delights in the sayings of the Gurus,
and does not fear at all
Does not offend anybody
Otherwise the Lord will himself be offended.
He is the Khalsa
who protects the poor
Who combats evil
who remembers God,
who achieves greateness."
Rites and Ceremonies
Although rituals as such are not performed by the Sikhs, certain rites and simple ceremonies are usually performed by them on certain occasions.
When a child born in a Sikh family,it is an occasion for great rejoicing. Some relation or friend of the family recites the invocation to the Almighty which is given as Premble to japji Sahib. He then takes a drop of honey or water mixed with suger on tip of the kirpan and touches with it the tongue of the child. A prayer is also generally offered and karah prasad is distributed in the gurdwara.
When the mother is fit after confinement and is able to take bath, she goes to gurudwara along with her relatives. No particular time is fixed for taking bath. In the gurdwara hymns from Sri Guru Granth Sahib are sung and the Almighty is thanked for bestowing the child.
When the child grows a little, his naming ceremony takes place. It can be held either after performing Akand Path, Saptahik Path or even after simple Prakash of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. A passage is read out from the holy book and beginning with first letter of the first word of sangat is asked to suggest a name for the child. Several Sikh Baby Names are sugggested and the one ulitimately approved by the sangat is announced by the Bhai Sahib sitting in front of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. To a boy's name the word 'Singh' and to a girl's name the word 'Kaur' is added. After reciting six stanzas from Anand Sahib, the prayer is offered. Then karah prasad is consecrated with a kirpan and distributed among all those present.
Sikh boys and girls are married on reaching maturity. A marriage is performed according to Anand rites. This form of marriage has been observed since the earliest days of Sikhism. However, it was legalised by the passage of the Anand Marriage Act in 1909.
A formal betrothal ceremony is not essential. However, the betrothal, if it takes place, is very simple. The relations of the boay go to the house of the girl where they are welcomed and entertained. Then a kirpan and sweets are given to them for the boy. The prayer is offerd and God's and Guru's blessings are sought.
On the occasions of marriage, the bridegroom goes to the house of the bride with his friends and relatives. The parties sing hymns and welcome each other after prayers. This is called Milni. Early next morning, the two parties assemble in the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib and after Asa-di-Var, the bride and bridegroom are seated in front of the holy book. The bride sits on hte left side of the bridegroom. Then the Granthi (priest) or any other person asks the couple and their parents to stand up and invoke God's blessing. Then he tells them about the new phase of life they are going to enter and their respective duties and responsibilities. Marriage is a companionship for spiritual advancement and not for physical enjoyment. Thereafter, the scarf of the bridegroom is placed in the hands of the bride by her father and both are asked to stand. Then the four lavans are read out one by one from Sri Guru Granth Sahib. With each lavan both the bridegroom and bride take a round of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The bride follows the bridegroom. The first lavan emphasis discipline and the second the growth of love and enthusiasm. The third lays stress on restraint and the fourth and last mentions the harmony of perfect bliss derived from marriage.
"They are not wife and husband who only sit
together, rather are they husband and wife who have one
spirit in two bodies
- Var Suhi 3
Before lavans are performed a hymn is sung:
"I attach myself to thee, leaving all my
relations who are false,
I come to cling to thee."
- Var Ramkali
And the end of each lavan, the couple bow down and take their seats. There after, the Anand is read and the prayer is offered. After distribution of karah prasad the ceremony is over. Then lunch, or whatever the case may be, is offered to the marriage party.
When a person is on death bed, his relations and friends read Sukhmani, the Psalm of peace, to console him. Complete silence prevails. The dying person is not removed from the charpai, nor any other ceremony is performed. No earthen lamp is lit. Only the Name of God is repeated.
When a person dies, no lamentations are allowed. Instead, everybody is supposed to bow before the Will of God. Waheguru, Waheguru is repeated again and again.
All the dead bodies, even of infants, are cremated. Before cremation, the dead body is washed and clothed, complete with all Sikh symbols, before it is taken out on a bier to the nearest cremation ground. The funeral procession recites hymns from Sri Guru Granth Sahib. In big cities, now-a-days, dead bodies are carried in vans, especially made for the purpose. At the cremation ground the body is placed on the pyre and the eldestest son of the dead person lights the fire. If the eldest son is not there, the prre can be lit by a near relative. When the fire is fully ablaze, Sohila is read. People then leave the place and come to the house of the dead person where they are generally thanked by the bereaved family.
On the fourth day, the relations of the dead go to the ceremation ground and collect the charred bones of the dead. These are generally taken to Kiratpur and immersed in the river.
On the 7th, 11th or 13th day, as convenient to the members of the bereaved family, Bhog of Sri Akhand Path or Saptahik Path is performed when friends and relations of the bereaved family gather and pray to God to give the departed soul a place near His feet. After the usual prayers, karah prasad is distributed and the assembly disperses.
It is forbidden to errect monuments over the remains of the dead. However, some scholl or hospital or ashram can be constructed in the memory of the deceased.
After all the formal ceremonies,life goes on as usual. Everybody bows before the Will of God and usually Guru's hymn is repeated:
"Thy will is sweet, My Lord,
The Grace alone I beseech."