Sikh weddings: Anand Karaj

Authority for the following article is “The Code of Sikh Conduct and Conventions” (Sikh Reht Mayada) issued by the Shromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, the supreme council of the Sikhs based at Amritsar.

The Sikh marriage is called Anand Karaj. This form of marriage was introduced from the time of the Sikh Gurus and was given statutory recognition during the British rule in India by the Anand Marriage Act 1909.

According to the centrally approved Sikh Code (Sikh Reht Maryada), persons not professing the Sikh faith cannot be joined in wedlock by the Anand Karaj ceremony.

Grown-up Sikh boys and girls get married when they are fully able to take on the responsibilities of married life. Child marriage is forbidden. Sikh marriages may be arranged and assisted by parents but this is not necessary. Boys and girls may meet directly and get married. Religious guidance is that a Sikh man and woman should enter wedlock without giving thought to the prospective spouse’s caste.

An engagement ceremony may take place before the wedding but this is not necessary. Any day suitable to the parties is fixed without regard to any superstition about auspicious, good or bad days. Hindu type of marriage rituals are strictly forbidden.

Most marriages take place in the morning. The ceremony starts with a meeting of the two sides called Milni at which holy shabads (hymns from the Sikh Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib) are sung. Often an Ardaas (supplication) is also said at the Milni (not prescribed).

The two sides say the Sikh greeting to each other with “Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh” (Khalsa belongs to the Wondrous Giver of Knowledge; to whom also belongs victory.)

The marriage ceremony takes place at a congregational gathering in the holy presence of Guru Granth Sahib. Shabads (Sikh hymns) are sung and the boy and the girl sit side by side facing Guru Granth Sahib. The girl sits on the left side of the boy. The couple and their parents (or guardians) stand up and an Ardaas is offered, seeking the Blessing of Waheguru (the Wondrous Giver of Knowledge) for the commencement of the Anand marriage.

Any Amritdhari Sikh (man or woman who has undergone traditional Amrit initiation and therefore practices the prescribed Sikh code in daily life) can perform a marriage ceremony. This officiating person apprises the couple of the duties of married life according to the Guru’s teachings. He explains their mutual obligations as husband and wife.

Sikh husband-wife love is modelled on the love between human soul and the Supreme Soul as described in the four lavan (hymns composed by the Fourth Guru in the Suhi raag section of Guru Granth Sahib). The bridegroom and the bride vow fidelity to each other in the presence of the Guru (Granth Sahib) and the holy congregation. They accept their obligations by bowing before Guru Granth Sahib. The Anand marriage is a sacrament and no document is necessary.

The main ceremony is very simple. The bridegroom wears a sash over his shoulder. The end of this is placed (by the bride’s father, guardian or any other responsible person) in the hands of the bride. The officiating person reads the four lavan (stanzas) from Guru Granth Sahib.

After the reading of the first stanza, the couple rises and to the accompaniment of music, while the same hymn is sung by the ragis (religious singers), walk slowly round Guru Granth Sahib, the bridegroom leading the bride.

After returning to their position in front of Guru Granth Sahib after each of the four hymns (lavan), they should remain standing while the next stanza is read before commencing the next circumambulation while the same stanza is sung by the ragis. (However, these days, couples prefer to sit down after each circumambulation of Guru Granth Sahib. Apparently, although cumbersome, this seems to have become acceptable.)

After the four lavan, the hymn of Anand Sahib is read by the ragis. There is an Ardaas (supplication) of completion of the ceremony. Holy Vaak (random reading of a hymn from Guru Granth Sahib) is read out and the holy sweet pudding Karah Pasad is distributed to all present.

Summary of what is allowed and what is forbidden

  • Persons not professing the Sikh faith cannot be joined in wedlock by the Anand Karaj ceremony.
  • Child marriage is forbidden.
  • All Hindu superstitions about good or bad days and rituals before, during and after marriage are strictly forbidden.
  • Sikhs practise monogamy.
  • Widows or widowers may remarry.
  • While husband and wife roles are regarded as complementary (and despite erosion of certain Sikh values due to the proximity and influence of the Hindu majority in India), men and women’s equality is enshrined in the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib.