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Sikhism and Rituals

In almost all religions of the world, some type of rites, rituals sacraments and ceremonies are performed through which Gods & Goddesses are worshipped to seek their blessings. Worship is done everywhere by people whether sitting in homes, shops, places of business or temples. These are the rites which people perform to please the Divine Power to get peace and happiness in this world or to seek salvation in the next. These rites form the organises mode of worship.

Ritualism in religion has come to us through the ages. Rites and ceremonies are valuable to the extent they remind the people of their relation with God. One rituals and the relation between the object and the symbol is crystal clear.

In ancient times, the priestly classes encourgaed ritualism and went to the extent of installing fear among peoples, saying that if such and such ceremony was not performed it would bring the wrath of God. On account of this hold of priests over people increased tremendously. In the primitive society, priest were known as magicians and were said to have possessed certain miraculous powers. They combined purification with sacrifice. People were asked to make sacrifices to escape the curse of God, god and goddesses The magic performed by priests is said to have brought fortune to people. It could bring rain for good crops, ward off natural calamities and even help defeat the enemy. Thus the primitive man's religion was based on occult powers and magic an rituals were part of it.

Then came Vedic age. New god and goddesses came into existence which were worshipped by the people in order to seek salvation. These gods were Indra, Surya, Agni,and Usha.They were invoked to bestow gifts, such as prosperity, long life and happiness. Hymns were chanted to please them to seek their blessings. Although people's attitude towards worship changed, the custom of making sacrifices continued unabatedly. Prayer too were like magic tricks which impelled the deity to do as the devotee desired. Hymns recited on the occasion of sacrifices were preserved as charms and were supposed to bring victory in war, prosperity and happiness in life.

Then developed another class of Brahmins. In the early Aryan society, they become the most dominant and influential class. Kings and Rajas sought the blessings of Brahmins in the performance of various functions of the State. Havans and Yagnas were performed with the help of Brahmins to seek blessings of God.

The Brahmins were supposed to be learned people. They were required to perform religious services; they also imparted education to the people. They were respected for their piety and simplicity. But with the passage of time people started offering them costly gifts; Rajas specially loaded them with wealth and treasures. They become the privileged class and began to exploit the innocent and ignorant people engrossed in superstitions. They led luxurious lives in the name of religious and service to the people. They become corrupt with money an the prestige they commended. They preached performance of rituals for the Brahmins became an institutions and occupied the place of religion. Worship was turned into mechanical performance of rituals.

They exploited the Hindu society so much and organized the religious aspect of social system to such an extent that from birth to death services of Brahmins became indispensable. Ceremonies at the time of a child's birth, mundan ceremony, wearing of holy thread and other ceremonies concerning marriages had to be performed and at the time of death the Brahmins was required to perform one or the other ritual.

With the advent of Islam in India, there was intermingling of cultures. Two streams of culture began to develop parallel to each other. Islam could not be absorbed in the mainstream of Hinduism . The Brahmins found his counterpart in the mullah, who was also considered a noble and privileged person. He was patronized by the rulers. The mullahs too accumulated wealth and riches and were exploiting the riches by creating fear in them about the day of destiny when everybody would have to give an account of his deeds. This fear lurked in the minds of the people and they followed the dictates of the mullahs without questioning.

Before the birth of Guru Nanak, besides the Brahmins and the mullahs, several hundred yogis, fakirs and sidhs wandered from place roamed from one end of the country to another, carrying with them their staffs, rosaries ad their pies of hemp; they smeared their bodies with asceticm and mortification of the flesh which were supposed to endow the practitioners with miraculous powers.

With the passage of time, there cam in them moral degradation and their values were decayed. They started indulging in immoral practices. In a way , they looted the people and extracted money from them. The innocent people worshipped them like gods for fear of their curse. If any person did not serve them well they gave him sarap (curse) and those who entertained them in a royal manner were given vars (blessings). They had considerable hold on the people and dominated the religious life of the people.

When Guru Nanak was born, people were ignorant, backward and deeply steeped in superstition. Huge sums were spent on fruitless ceremonies even if a person could not afford their cost or was barely making both ends meet. It was a life of blind conventionalism which led to hypocrisy and mammon worship. The spirit of both Islam and Hinduism found expression in a number of meaningless formalities, and extraneous observances. Formalities reigned supreme. Alchemy and thaumaturgy were freely professed and incantations and spells practiced.

In short, people in the country were hopelessly divided. Sunk low in the depths of ignorance and superstitions they had become spiritual slaves. The caste system had become rigid under the influence of the brahmanic revival. It was considered a horrible sin for a sudra to hear Vedic hymns and this could be punished by pouring molten lead into his ears. Nature had forever settled a person into the caste in which he was born, and he was bound to it for life without any regard to his poverty or riches, talents, character or skill. Human dignity and feelings were bound up in separate castes.

Bhai Gurdas tells us that there was quite a confussion when the four castes and as many as four ashrams got mingled. There were sanayasis offering different demonstrations and yogis set up their twelve paths. People were extremely divided and were sunk low in superstition in kalyuga.

The Hindus had four castes and the Muslims were divided into four sects. With jealousy, arrogance and vanity, they fought each other without any reason. The Muslims regarded Mecca and Kaaba as sacred while Hindus worshipped the Ganges and Benaras. Islam was reduced to simply circumcision whereas Hindus only wore sacrificial thread and frontal marks. Ram and Rahim denoted only one God but their followers traversed different paths in ignorance. People had altogether forgotten the teachings of their holy books - the Quran and the Vedas. The world was lost in avarice. Truth had vanished and mullahs and Brahmins were struggling against each other.

The Hindus were totally indifferent to the miseries and troubles of the contemporary world. Brahmins were considered superior to others and were the only ones having sanction to read Vedas and other holy scriptures. The masses were denied this opportunity, so they remained generally ignorant and were sunk in the quagmire of superstition. The priests had reduced religion to a mockery, its spirit was dead and instead there had sprung up a religion of formal ceremonies and rituals.

The priests, the hereditary guardians of Hinduism, could not unite all Hindus.

They shut themselves up in the impregnable fortress o caste. The privileged ones were taken in and the rest were left to fight their own battle in their own way.

Idol worship was the most common feature of religion. People having committed several sins in their daily life went every year on pilgrimage. They thought that all their crimes, corruption and other evils could be washed away by a dip in the Holy Ganges. Thefts were common and so was adultery. But the sacred thread worn round the body put on them the hallmark of high character.

The Hindu caste system had lost its originality and elasticity, and had become rigid giving rise to evils and miseries. The Brahmins mercilessly abused the situation. The so called high class priests neglected teaching of spiritual realities to the people who were sunk in superstition and materialism. Religion was confused with caste distinctions.

In the words of Sir Gokal Chand Narang: "The popular religion about the time of Nanak's birth was confined to peculiar forms of eating and drinking, peculiar ways of bathing and painting the forehead and other such mechanical observances. The worship of idols, wherever they were permitted to exist, pilgrimages to the Ganges and other sacred places, whenever they were allowed, the observance of certain ceremonies like the martial and funeral rites, the obedience to the mandates of the Brahmins and lavishing charitable gifts upon them constituted almost the whole of Hinduism as it was then current among the masses."

Thousands of god and goddesses came into existence and their following increased tremendously. A sort of rivalry was created among them and a competition developed as to who was the superior among gods.

As far as the common mass of Muslims were concerned, they were no better than the Hindus. They were ignorant of their religion and teachings of Islam were unknown to them. Mullahs and Qazis who professed the knowledge of the tenants of Islam were in reality ignorant of Shariat. They were fast delegating.

The ideal worship one God was preached by Prophet Mohammad but in actual practice most of Muslims worshipped pirs, fakirs and graves.

The teachings of holy Quran were altogether forgotten. They were promised beautiful nymphs in heaven and thousands of slaves, and fully furnished houses with all the luxuries of life. Such liberal promises of future happiness were enough to attract them to follow the teachings of pirs and fakirs.

People had thus lost their moorings. Moral standards were completely forsaken and religion had lost its sanctity.

Guru Nanak found himself in a precarious situation when he started preaching the Name of God. He strongly condemned ritualism and idolatry as also the priestly class. He told people to discard age-old ceremonies having no relevance to reality. He was opposed to superstitious type of worship of God. It was not the way a person worshipped the Almighty that was important but the sincerity of purpose. Even at a very early stage in His life, when Guru Nanak was asked to wear the sacred thread by the priest, he told him:

"Out of the cotton of mercy spin the thread of contentment,
The knots of continence,
Give it a twist of righteousness.
O, priest, put around me such thread
If thou hast it,
It will not break once worn,
Nor burnt, lost or get soiled.
Blest is the man, O Nanak, who wearth such a thread"
                                - Var Asa

Guru Nanak laid emphasis on ethical living and spiritual experience. He tried his best to wean people away from all the impediments and formalities which stood in the way of purity of true religion. Ethics was regarded as the basis of all religious beliefs. He told people that spiritual awareness could not be attained without noble actions, without selfless service and without piety and truthful living.

To keep the purity of religion Guru Nanak had to wage war against the forces of conservation, orthodoxy, ignorance and superstition. He attacked the citadel of Brahmins, mullas and yogies and fought against the cults of the priestly class. He infused the spirit of true worship among the people at large, and rid them of apathy of weariness of useless and meaningless ceremonies and rituals as also claims made by the Brahmins for the salvation of human beings. His tasks consisted of weaning people away from the worship of idols and images and leading them to worship only one God who was the Creator and the Destroyer. He fought against hypocrisy, superstition, forms and ceremonies and showed people the true path of worship for their emancipation. The Guru told the brahmins:

"O Brrahmin, make God the image of Thy worship
And right living the necklace of tulsi, sit in the boat of
God's Name and pray
O merciful Lord, be merciful to me
Why thou waterst the barren land wastest thy life.
The mud wall thou buildest shall fall
Then why thou plaster it
Fill the mind with noble thoughts
Make the raft of the Sacred Name,
Become beautiful and cross the ocean of life
Make thy body like a Persian wheel
Let thy mind be the bullock, yoked to run the wheels
Then irrigate thy mind with nectar
Let passion and wrath be thy weeder and
With them clear the farm of weeds.
The deeper thou digest, thou shall be happy
And the labour shall bear fruit
O God, if thou art merciful,
One becometh swan from a heron
Thus prayeth Nanak , the humble slave
O God, be Thou merciful to me."
                                - Rag Basant

Guru Nanak also explained the essential of a true Muslim. He said:

"It is far too easy to call oneself a Muslim
But far too difficult to become one
He who believes firmly in his faith
Has a right to be called a Muslim
His deeds must accord with his faith in prophet.
He must not have any fear of life and death
Resigned to Will of God
Believing the Creator as Supreme
He must quell thoughts of self
And be compassionate to all living beings.
He alone is worthy to call himself a true Muslim"
                                - Var Majh

To the Sanyasis and Bairagis, Gur Nanak had the following advice to give:

"Ye colour thy clothes to adopt the grab of the order
And ye seem to wear a surplice of worn out
clothes and a good sound bag to receive ablution
Ye go begging from door to door, without being humble
And ye, O blind fellows, lose all honur and respect
Lost in absurd superstition, ye comprehend not the word
And thereby gamble away the souls for a mere trifle
Women ye have abandoned, and subdued by passion.
Ye attach thy-selves with others' wives,
Mind ye, O people, blessed is he who dwelleth at
the feet of Lord, be he the householder or a sanyasi."
                                - Rag Maru

To the Yogis, Guru Nanak said:

"Yoga is neither a patched coat,
nor in the yogi's staff, nor in ashes
Smeared on the body, nor in the ear rings,
nor in shaven head, nor in blowing of horns.
Abide in the pure amidst the impurities of life
and yet remaineth spotless.
Thus thou shalt find the way of true yoga.
Yoga cometh not by tall talks,
for he alone is a true yogi who looked all men as equal
Yoga consisteth not in roaming about
nor in bathing at places of pilgrimage
If one remaineth detached in the midst of attachment,
Then, verily one attaineth the true state of yoga."
                                - Rag Suhi

About going on pilgrimages and washing sins in the holy rivers, Guru Nanak said:

"The more places of pilgrimage one visits
The more one puts on grabs
the more one suffers.
Suffer thou, these are thy own deeds.
By fasts one loses the tastes of tongue.
By not putting clothes one groans day and night."
                                - Asa-di-Var

Guru Nanak vehmently condemned idol worship. To him it was a futile attempt to attain salvation. He said:

"One worshipeth gods and goddesses
But what can one get out of them?
One washeth the stone gods with water
They sink themselves; how can they
ferry one across."
                                - Sorath

Instead of worshipping stones and images, Guru Nanak asked them to remember His Name only, He said:

"I shall never fall a prey to doubt
And shall never worship anyone else but God
I shall not go to graves or cremation grounds
I shall not visit others' houses influenced by desire
My thirst has been quenched by the Name."
                                - Sorath

Mantras and incantations have no place in Sikhism. Guru Nanak decried them outright:

"I have no faith in tantras and mantras
My mind is only absorbed in the Lord
Who resides in my heart."
                                - Suhi Mehla I

Havens and yagnas do not find any place in Sikhism. Guru Amar Das said:

Havens, yagnas, pilgrimage to holy places are performed
But they all lead to ego and other vices.
                                - Gauri Mehla V

All the sacraments were rejected in Sikhism. Guru Amar Das said:

"So many ceremonies are performed,
But without the Name of the Lord
They are but woe and egoism
One is entangled in Maya's fetters
He can secure release only, though the
light of the Guru, sayeth Nanak"
                                - Gauri Mehala III

Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Master, too condemned idol worship. He said:

"Some worship stones and put them on their heads,
Some suspend lingams from their necks;
Some see God in the south,
Some bow their heads to the west,
Some ignorant people worship idols,
Others worship the dead,
The whole world is engrossed infurtile ceremonies
Hath not found the secret of the Lord.
                                - Akal Ustat

The Guru repeated the same ideal while addressing idol worshippers. He said:

"O great beast that doth not recogniseth Him
Whose glory filleth all the worlds.
Thou worshipeth things the touch of which
shall make you lose heaven
Instead of worshipping the Supreme Lord
By intending to perform good deeds
Thou committest so immortal acts
Which ashamed the greatest sins.
Fall at the feel of Lord, O fool,
Who is not in a stone."
                                - Akal Ustat

Guru Gobind Singh said again:

"Some believe in the images of Vishnu,
Others call Shiva their Lord.
Some consider His abode in the temple
Others belive He lives in Mosque,
Some call him Rahim, some Krishna,
Some accept the incarnations of God.
Abandoning all these ways, I only
believe in the Creater who hath created all of them."
                                - Sawayyas (12)

"Why dost thou worship stones,
A stone cannot contain the Lord.
Worship Him only as thy Lord, by
worshipping whom all pains vanish.
All ailments, physical and mental,
Shall be cured when thou remembers Him.
Meditation on Him only is acceptable;
these futile deeds are meaningless."

Guru Gobind Singh has furtherelucided this point. He said:

"The wicked hill chiefs and their henchmen
conspire my life to finish everyday,
For I worship only the Lord and
break the stone gods whom they worship."
                                - Zafarnama (95)

Thus, in the Sikh religion, there is no place for rituals and rites. Guru Nanak exorted people to bring about simplictiy in religion. Sikhism does not believe in vars (blessings) or saraps (cures). When Guru Nanak visited Jagannath Puri, he did not performed the arti because earthen lamps were lighted in thalis and incence and flowers were offered. The Gur sang a hymn and gave a new form of arti. He said:

"The entire sky is the salver,
The moon and sun are the lamps.
The luminous stars are studded in it like jewels,
The wind waft the scent of all the flowers of earth.
The incense is the scent of the sandalwood on the mountain
Thus is His worship performed."
                                - Rag Dhanasri

Such form of worship was advocated by Guru Nanak. In Sikhism there is no place for symbols, rituals and pilgrimages to holy places. Guru Nanak diverted people's attention from the formal and outer side of religion and laid emphasis on the inner life through ethical living.

In short, Gur Nanak and his successors laid great stress on the essential inwardness of true religion. For the sikh Gurus, ritualswere meaningless. What mattered was the purity of mind and sincerity of purpose, and worship which lacked such qualities was only mechanical in nature and thus futile. The Guru said:

"Burnt be those rituals and fprmalities
That make me forget my Beloved Lord."

Guru Nanak's faith can be summarised in His hymn:

"As the lotus remaineth detached in water
or as the duck in the stream,
So doth one cross the ocean of life by
meditating and ensuring the Lord in his heart."
                                - Sidh Gosht

Again Guru Nanak said:

"What all these rituals are worth?
If the heart is not pure."

Only simple ceremonies are performed by Sikhs on different occasions. All these ceremonies are common nature. They remind us of the truth and reality and the religion of man with God. They are means to an end which is union of soul with the Lord. On all occasions, happy or otherwise, hymns from Sri Guru Granth Sahib are recited and prayer is offered to the Akalpurkh. Shabad is of greater importance than rituals and is recited to remember God.

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