Anand Karaj for Dummies - Everything you need to know about the Sikh wedding ceremony
So wedding season is upon us, many of us probably have at least five invitations sitting at home from that close cousin, or your Mama’s Chachi’s Sister’s Son-in-law’s dog breeder’s neighbour’s doctor’s daughter’s friend’s sister. Either way, we enjoy the Punjabi traditions, like the jaggo and the sitthiniyaan, but I’ve noticed that when it comes to the ACTUAL wedding, people are clueless- ESPECIALLY the wedded couple. Well, here is a compilation of what the actual official wedding in accordance to Sikh philosophy and tradition is all about.
THE ANAND KARAJ IS NOT A UNION OF TWO PEOPLE
This concept is very Judeo-Christian/Abrahamic/Western. In Sikhi, the Anand Karaj is the intertwining of two souls in a bond that will help them unite with God. The Anand Karaj has no mention of the material union of the couple at all. Yes, once you are married you share assets, and you are intimate with one another, but the bigger picture is that you are setting forward on a journey to help one another unite your souls with the Creator.
THE ANAND KARAJ IS A MORNING AFFAIR
The main hymns that are sung for the Anand Karaj (the Laavan- I’ll explain what they are in detail later) fall under raag Suhi. Raags are musical measurements that has a set mood and time of day. The time set out for Raag Suhi is the third prahar/pehar of the day, which falls between 9am and 12pm. Therefore, the Anand Karaj should take place within that 3 hour window. The only exception to this is Amrit Vela (pre-dawn) weddings. Amrit Vela is considered the holiest time of the day, and therefore it is fitting to perform the Anand Karaj during that time if the couple deems it fit. either way, the ceremony is a morning affair.
ORDER OF THE DAY:
1. Singing of Keeta Lorhiye Kamm
Contrary to popular belief, the milni (where the soon-to-be-in-laws formally greet one another) and the tea are completely cultural and do not hold religious meaning behind them.
The actual Anand Karaj that Guru Sahib has given to us begins with the singing of Keeta Lorhiye Kamm. At this time, all the guests have arrived in the Darbar and the couple have made their entrance and have been seated in front of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, the centre of religious and political authority in Sikhi. When they pay they respects, both the bride and the groom present a rumalla- a robe of honour- to Guru Granth Sahib as a symbol of respect.
The raagis (singers) then sing the hymn Keeta Lorhiye Kamm (for the full script, translation, and transliteration of the shabad, click HERE). This serves to remind everyone that before any task is to be performed the very first thing we must do is supplicate and ask our Creator for guidance and help. Marriage is a giant undertaking, so this shabad revealed by Guru Nanak Dev Ji is of great importance.
Once this shabad has begun being recited, the ceremony has officially begun.
2. Arambhta Ardaas
Before undertaking any task, it is the commandment from Guru Gobind Singh Ji that we do Ardaas (the Sikh prayer for supplication- for more info on the Ardaas click HERE). Therefore, before the Laavan begin, an Ardaas is performed.
Many people began calling this the “Chhoti Ardaas” (lesser Ardaas) because some traditions hold it that only the couple and their parents perform the Ardaas. However, that is a new innovation, and puratan tradition holds that everyone would participate and collectively pray for the couple.
Either way, it is a disservice to call this Ardaas “chhoti” as an Ardaas is never lesser in the eyes of God. Every Ardaas is important and every Ardaas is vaddi or great. Thus, this Ardaas should be called the Arambhta Ardaas, or preliminary Ardaas.
3. Arambhta Hukamnama
Hukamnama basically translates to “address of commandments,” and it takes place after every Ardaas that happens in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Ji’s Saroop is opened up at a random page and the very first shabad on the top left hand corner of the left-most Ang is read aloud as a message to the soon-to-be wed couple. In Sikhi we believe that this is the LITERAL hukam of the Guru and therefore it should be treated with respect and reverence. The contents of the shabad provide personalized guidance to the couple surrounding the Anand Karaj.
4. Palle Di Rasam
After the Arambhta Hukamnama, the Palle Di Rasam begins. The raagis sing the shabad Palle Tende Laagi (for the full script, translation, and transliteration of the shabad, click HERE). The shabad narrates the soul’s longing to unite with the Lord, and the way the soul forsakes all worldly attachments to attach itself to the Lord. This serves as a reminder that the couple is to help one another make that connection with their Lord.
While the shabad is being sung, the bride’s father, or another figure from the household, takes the end of the groom’s palla- stole that he has draped over his right shoulder- and hands it to the bride. This is similar to a tying-the-knot or gatth-bandan ceremony, and it signifies that these two physical beings are now becoming one spriritually.
5. The Laavan
The “main attraction” of the wedding now begins. The Granthi begins reading the first Laav, and, depending on the tradition, the couple either sits or stands to listen to the recitation. The Laavan are hymns written by Guru Ram Das Ji and provide a guideline as to how the soul unites with God (for the full script, translation, and transliteration of the four Laavan, click HERE). Each Laav is first read from Guru Granth Sahib Ji by the Granthi, and then the Raagis sing the Laav in Raag Suhi while the couple first prostrates in submission to God, then circumambulates around Guru Granth Sahib Ji in a clockwise motion. (If you would like to hear the Laavan being sung, click HERE. Warning: May cause an extremely blissful experience.) Once the couple has circumambulated for the Laav, they wait until the Laav has been sung, and then prostrate to accept the truth behind the Laav.
The couple then stays standing or sits down, depending on the tradition, and they listen to the Granthi recite the second Laav, they then prostrate and circumambulate while the Raagis sing the second Laav. This is repeated for all four Laavs. This is the gist behind them:
-First Laav: Renounce duality and falsehood and worship the One Lord alone.
-Second Laav: Fear God and feel the Presence of the Creator everywhere.
-Third Laav: Surround yourself with good company and feel the Lord’s Love.
-Fourth Laav: Surrender your very being and become one with the Creator.
Once the fourth laav is recited, the couple is officially married!
6. Anand Sahib and Celebratory Shabads
According to Sikh tradition, at the end of ever religious service the first five and last stanza of Anand Sahib must be recited (for the full script, translation, and transliteration of the shabad, click HERE). Anand means bliss, and the shabad symbolizes the bliss someone feels when they feel closer to God, which is the ultimate goal of any Gurdwara service. At this moment, the Granthi puts both the rumallas the bride and groom presented on Guru Granth Sahib as a symbol of the Guru intertwining the two souls.
Once the final shabads are recited, everyone stands for the main Ardaas, where we pray that the couple has a happily married life together.
8. Hukamnama and Degh
A hukamnama is then received, and this hukamnama is Guru Ji’s hukam for the newly wed couple on how to conduct their marriage. Degh, a communal wheat pudding, is then distributed amongst everyone to signify our unity as a congregation and our willingness to accept God’s graces.
Now is the least anticipated part of the day. The Sikhiya speeches. From how to carry out a marriage, to what the Anand Karaj means, these speeches are meant to provide guidance to the couple, but lets face it, many of us can find this part to be a bit of a bore.
FOOOOOOD!!!! What wedding is complete without a feast? However, the langar holds deeper meaning than just a regular meal. It is a symbol of equality and unity, where we all eat from the same kitchen, on the same floor as everyone else.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
-Showing up hungover is as bad as showing up drunk. This is Guru Sahib’s Darbar and the ceremony you are about to witness is sacred, so out of respect please limit your alcohol consumption the night before.
-The Anand Karaj is not the time for fanfare. That’s what the reception is for.
-Please make an effort to undertand the meaning of the ceremony before you yourself get married.
-It would be helpful to make pamphlets for your non-Sikh friends so they can read along and stay up to date during the ceremony.
-If you are carrying a kirpan, then please please pleeeease treat it with respect. It is not a prop sword to make you look cool. It is a sacred symbol of our faith.
-The Laavan are not a time for you to look around and goof off. I once saw a groom fist bump one of the bride’s brothers as he was walking….don’t do that. Please.
CEREMONIES THAT ARE NOT A PART OF THE ANAND KARAJ BUT DO NOT INHIBIT IT AND CAN COEXIST:
-Milni: Nothing wrong with a little kinship and love
-Sagan: Yes, you do NOT have to sit for hours while people fill your lap with five dollar bills. That is cultural and you can omit it and save your legs from the two days of cramping you will feel. But if that’s your thing, that’s cool.
-Sehra: Our Gurus themselves have worn the flower veil as a cultural symbol of being a groom. However, remove it before the Laavan begin.
-Rings: You can exchange rings once the final ardaas and hukamnama is complete. To do so in front of Guru Sahib is so special and meaningful. :)
CEREMONIES THAT DO NOT HAVE A PLACE IN THE ANAND KARAJ AND WE SHOULD DISCONTINUE (or at least not do in the Gurdwara premises):
-The kalgi: The kalgi is a plume kings put on their turban, and in Punjabi culture the bride and groom are king and queen for the day, so the grrom usually wears the plume when he walks into darbar, only to have it removed later. We should not be wearing the plume in the first place, Our only King is Guru Granth Sahib, and we are mere paupers in Their presence. If you are wearing a kalgi, remove it (unceremoniously lol) BEFORE you enter Darbar.
-“Helping” the sister walk the Laavan: This is a fairly recent (past few decades) trend, and one that is deeply sexist and contrary to Gurmat. Basically, brothers hold onto the bride and guide her along while she circumabulates. While this may look sweet, it is sexist. Women in Sikhi are given independence to do their own duties, and the laavan are between the couple and the Guru, not the couple, the Guru, and the bride’s brothers- that’s a recipe for an unhealthy marriage lol.
-Sister’s, I know the Mughal-esque face veil is coming back into trend, but face veils are actually prohibited in the presence of Guru Sahib.
The Anand Karaj is way more than a contractual ceremony. It isn’t about the physical couple. They don’t even face each other during the ceremony. They sit, stand, walk, and prostrate simultaneously side-by-side, facing and circumambulating the centre of our universe, Dhan Dhan Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji Maharaaj, as their souls intertwine and prepare to become one with The Lord. The Anand Karaj is so mystic that Western paradigms do it no justice.
It is our duty as Sikh youth to educate ourselves and preserve this beautiful ceremony that seems to have become void of meaning to people year by year.
If I missed anything or made any mistakes, bhul chuk muaaf karni. _/\_