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A Sikh Perspective on Ritual

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Every day is a celebration


In the Sikh faith every day is a celebration. The Sikh is grateful for every breath granted. There are no particular days of the week that are more auspicious than others.


I have obtained eternal bliss, and I constantly celebrate.

Guru Arjan Dev Ji (SGGS pg 372)


The Sikhs in India as well as in the West do celebrate and commemorate the birth date of the Gurus known as Gurpurabh as well as martyrdoms known as Shaheedi Divas. The largest and most popular event in the year is Vasakhi: it is the day of the birth of the Khalsa and the coming of the harvest, a new crop, a new year.


The Khalsa


The tenth Nanak defined, and showed by example, the initiation ceremony to be born as a Khalsa. Historical accounts are given of the way in which the Guru performed the ceremony, and Sikhs today mark this day as an auspicious one to partake in the initiation process. It is conducted in the same way today as was done over three hundred years ago. Certain countries in the West (the UK especially) allow their Sikh communities to celebrate this day by holding a Nagar Kirtan, a street procession of devotional singing and sharing of food in public to mark the event.


Other events such as Holi and Diwali are predominantly Hindu and Indian cultural festivals, but Sikhs celebrate Diwali simply because the sixth Nanak was released from Gwalior jail along with 52 other Hill Rajas by the tyrannical Emperor. As they were released at night, the Sikhs lit the way with candles to show the Guru the path home.


Empty ritual


The Guru spoke out openly about rituals and was against many of the procedures set in place by the ruling community that put pressure on ordinary people to fulfil certain rites and rituals or be punished in the next world. An example of this was when people had to call upon priests to cleanse and purify their homes to get rid of bad energies. The people were made to pay money, feed the priests and even give them things to take away with them: all this just to clear their homes of something that might not even exist and without guarantees or evidence that the task performed had actually cleansed or healed anything or anyone.


Women were also suppressed and were told that because of their menstruation, they were impure for a certain period of the month and hence unable to pray or cook etc.


The Guru said:


As a woman has her periods, month after month, so does falsehood dwell in the mouth of the false; they suffer forever, again and again. They are not called pure, who sit down after merely washing their bodies. Only they are pure, O Nanak, within whose minds the Lord abides.

(SGGS pg 472)


This is the purest and most cleansing time for the woman when she prepares to give birth and create life. There is no truth in her being impure, this is a gift of her creator, she is able to carry on and live as normal performing her daily duties including meditating and chanting as she pleases.


The Guru condemned other rituals, when common folk were warned not to eat certain foods on certain days or do certain tasks in the morning or evening. The Guru educated the masses saying that every day is equal and created by God; why should any day or month be more auspicious than another.


Another example of his fierce dislike of the way in which people would be enslaved by ritualistic behaviour was when the Guru came across some people in the fields who were throwing water towards the sun. The Guru questioned and asked them what they were doing. They replied: 'We are feeding our ancestors who have died in order that they may rest in peace and we will be blessed for our service to them.' The Guru responded by throwing water in the opposite direction.


'What are you doing?' asked the holy men.

'I am watering my fields in the Punjab so my crops will grow.'

'Don't be silly,' they exclaimed. 'You are wasting water, this will not reach your fields.'

'No?' the Guru responded. 'But yours will reach the dead ancestors in the after-life?'


The Guru's radical teaching methodology often challenged people and allowed them to process their own actions and make conscious decisions about how they lived. The Guru's philosophy was to work hard and honestly and share what was given with others in the present and not be afraid and follow empty rituals that might secure a seat in the after-life. His message was to serve and help the needy in the present.


Sikhs were instructed to live naturally and simply using their common sense and not be dependent on wise men, astrologers, etc, to make decisions concerning their personal life. People were conditioned and feared dates and times, they would ask for charts to be paid to calculate whether their marriage should take place. The Guru gave confidence back to the people and said when two bodies meet and become one soul, if the connection to the divine remains the focus, the marriage is a true union. People in India and even in the West are still very reliant on fortune-tellers and psychics; their lives are controlled by other factors such as auspicious dates and times and they cannot act before consulting other sources and are incapable of taking important decisions in their life without guidance.


Practice is not ritual


Finally, Sikhs have a daily practice and a rehat, which is a daily code of conduct. This is not a ritual, but merely a suggestion as to how to operate on a daily basis and achieve optimum results for a healthy body and mind. The first suggestion is to rise in the ambrosial hour, before sunrise, bathe, meditate, work and then in the evening to relax, meditate, enjoy family relationships and sleep after praying.


Sikhs that have taken Amrit (initiation to the Khalsa) are also required to wear the Five Ks, otherwise known as the kakkarrs (articles of faith). Each one is a useful tool and a reminder of the commitment made to the Akal Purakh, the divine spirit and to the Sikh teachings.


The first is the Kesh, long uncut hair, the second, a Kanga, a small wooden comb that keeps the hair tidy and reminds us of the importance of cleanliness and of our physical wellbeing. The third is the Kara, an iron bangle, which is the circle almost like the ring wedding us to our beloved and reminding us to be conscious of every action we perform with our hands.


The fourth is the Kachera or cotton shorts, a reminder to take responsibility for our sexuality and act responsibly, and finally we have the Kirpan, the sword of grace. This highlights that we must walk in life as saint-soldiers. When we see tyranny or injustice, we must not ignore the fact but should face up to the challenge in defence of others and ourselves.


In spiritual terms, those whose daily life is a constant remembrance (Simran) of God will express God's will (Hukam) in their actions. This is the shining message of the Gurus as set down in the Guru Granth Sahib ... Sikhs must recall God constantly, work honestly and share what they earn.


(Eleanor Nesbitt: Ethical Issues in Six Religious Traditions: Religious Identity & Authority)



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