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Anand Karaj: The Sikh Wedding Ceremony

by nishaan@magazine


Since ancient times mankind has formulated customs for the different phases of life. Thus every society/culture has followed the customs prescribed for various events in life. These can be correlated to birth, death, wedding, and other aspects of life. The Sikhs have distinct customs for these aspects of life. One of these, the customs adopted for weddings has been analyzed in the following paragraphs.
The Sikh wedding ceremony is called ‘Anand Karaj’, which literally means the ‘ceremony of bliss’. The centerpiece of this ceremony, as with the lives of Sikhs, is the Guru Granth Sahib (the ‘Everlasting Guru’) – the word of the Sikh Gurus, other holy prophets and the ‘word of God’.
Thus, with the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib at the wedding, The Guru and God are the witnesses to the marriage. The Guru Granth Sahib is written in verse and has been set to various ragas (classical hymns) by the Gurus. Therefore, during this “ceremony of bliss” there is melodious rendering of various compositions from the Guru Granth Sahib. This leads to a serene spiritual environment resulting in “a union of two blessed souls”.
Guru Amar Das Ji initiated the Sikh Anand marriage rite which required the recitation of the ‘Anand Sahib’ for the marriage of His daughter Bibi Bhani to Bhai Jetha in 1553. Later on when a Sikh complained to Guru Ram Das Ji that a Brahman had refused to solemnise the marriage of his daughter (as he could not pay him a high fee), Guru Sahib (Guru Ram Das Ji) composed “Lavan” (Wedding song) and made it a part of the Sikh ceremony. This could be solmenised in a Gurudwara easily. The purpose of this type of marriage is to make the couple realize that they should cast their relations in a spiritual frame of mind. 
A new householder family thus comes into being under the comforting umbrella of the spiritual preceptor and the Lord. It marks the beginning of a new spiritual mission lived in the worldly surroundings. Nothing is given up and everything acquires a new meaning and significance.

Events prior to the Anand Karaj
The Reception of Barat
(The Welcome of the Groom & his family)

The ‘Barat’, the procession of the Groom, his family and friends, is traditionally welcomed by the Bride’s family and friends with the recitation of a hymn and a prayer (Ardas).

Raag Soohee Mehalaa 1 Shhanth Ghar 2 (SGGS 764)
Ham Ghar Saajan Aaeae ||Saachai Mael Milaaeae ||
Sehaj Milaaeae Har Man Bhaaeae Panch Milae Sukh Paaeiaa ||
Saaee Vasath Paraapath Hoee Jis Saethee Man Laaeiaa ||
Anadhin Mael Bhaeiaa Man Maaniaa Ghar Mandhar Sohaaeae ||
Panch Sabadh Dhhun Anehadh Vaajae Ham Ghar Saajan Aaeae ||1||

My friends have come into my home. The True Lord has united me with them. The Lord automatically united me with them when it pleased Him; uniting with the chosen ones, I have found peace. I have obtained that thing, which my mind desired. Meeting with them, night and day, my mind is pleased; my home and mansion are beautified. The unstruck sound current of the Panch Shabad, the Five Primal Sounds, vibrates and resounds; my friends have come into my home. ||1||
The Bride’s parents then welcome individual members of the Groom’s family by exchanging floral garlands and giving small (token) gifts.

The Anand Karaj Ceremony

The Bride and the Groom, as well as all members of the two families and all the guests then assemble for the Anand Karaj. There is melodious rendering of appropriate hymns. The following hymn is sung to seek the Blessings of The Almighty for initiation of the ceremony:

Siree Raag ki Vaar M. 4 (SGGS 91)

Keethaa Lorreeai Kanm S Har Pehi Aakheeai ||
Kaaraj Dhaee Savaar Sathigur Sach Saakheeai ||
Santhaa Sang Nidhhaan Anmrith Chaakheeai ||
Bhai Bhanjan Miharavaan Dhaas Kee Raakheeai ||
Naanak Har Gun Gaae Alakh Prabh Laakheeai ||20|| 

 Whatever work you wish to accomplish-tell it to the Lord. He will resolve your affairs; the True Guru gives His Guarantee of Truth. In the Society of the Saints, you shall taste the treasure of the Ambrosial Nectar. The Lord is the Merciful Destroyer of fear; He preserves and protects His slaves. O Nanak, sing the Glorious Praises of the Lord, and see the Unseen Lord God. ||20||

It is significant due to the fact that “Before undertaking any action in one’s life, we
seek the grace and Blessings of God”. The Bride and the Groom bow before the Guru Granth Sahib and are seated in front of it.

Ardas by the Family

The ‘Granthi’ (the officiator of the marriage) asks the Bride, the Groom, as well as
the parents of the couple to stand up. (All other members of the congregation remain seated). On their behalf, the Granthi then performs an Ardas, (literally requesting permission for conducting the Anand Karaj).

After the Ardas, the couple and their parents resume their seats.
The Granthi then reads a (verse) hymn from the Guru Granth Sahib dedicated to the occasion. (This is called the Hukam Nama – literally translated ‘The Word of God’)

Palla Ceremony
(Giving away the Bride)

The  Raagi Jatha render the following hymn:

Salok Ma 5 || (SGGS 963)

Ousathath Nindhaa Naanak Jee Mai Habh Vanjaaee Shhorriaa Habh Kijh Thiaagee ||
Habhae Saak Koorraavae Ddithae Tho Palai Thaiddai Laagee ||1||

I have totally discarded praise and slander, O Nanak; I have forsaken and abandoned everything. I have seen that all relationships are false, and so I have grasped hold of the hem of Your robe, Lord. ||1||  
The Bride’s father then takes one end of the ‘palla’ (scarf worn around the neck of the Groom) and places it into the hands of the Bride, as a symbol of joining them together as husband and wife.
Chaar Lavan
(The Four Rounds)
The ‘Chaar Lavan’ (the four rounds) are the marriage verses (composed by Guru Ramdas Ji), and are read at intervals from The Guru Granth Sahib. The reading of each Lavn is followed by the singing of the same verse. The word ‘Lavn’ literally translated means a round.
In a literary sense in Sanskrit, ‘lavn’ means “breaking away from the bonds of ‘Maya’ (the material world) to join the spiritual world. Symbolically, it means ‘moving on’ as one goes from one stage in life to another.
In the Guru Granth Sahib, the lavan describe the four stages of the journey to the union with God. Each lavn describes in detail a stage in the development of a life of love with God. (Thus, the four lavan symbolically describe the union of the husband and wife into a life of love).
  • The first stage is the performance of duties to family and community as well as the continual remembrance of God.
  • The second stage is that of unconditional and selfless love and reverence – A stage of love, yearning, and enthusiasm.
  • The third stage is that of the couple’s detachment (‘Vairag) from all except God and each other, a stage of constant association and understanding.
  • The fourth and final stage is that of complete harmony and union.
 There is divine comprehension, love and happiness – A union of souls.
A complete presentation of this feature of the “Anand Karaj” is as follows:
Soohee Mehalaa 4 || (SGGS 773 – 774)
Har Pehilarree Laav Paravirathee Karam Dhrirraaeiaa Bal Raam Jeeo ||
Baanee Brehamaa Vaedh Dhharam Dhrirrahu Paap Thajaaeiaa Bal Raam Jeeo||  
Dhharam Dhrirrahu Har Naam Dhhiaavahu Simrith Naam Dhrirraaeiaa ||
Sathigur Gur Pooraa Aaraadhhahu Sabh Kilavikh Paap Gavaaeiaa ||
Sehaj Anandh Hoaa Vaddabhaagee Man Har Har Meethaa Laaeiaa ||
Jan Kehai Naanak Laav Pehilee Aaranbh Kaaj Rachaaeiaa ||1||
In the first round of the marriage ceremony, the Lord sets out His Instructions for performing the daily duties of married life. Instead of the hymns of the Vedas to Brahma, embrace the righteous conduct of Dharma, and renounce sinful actions. Meditate on the Lord’s Name; embrace and enshrine the contemplative remembrance of the Naam. Worship and adore the Guru, the Perfect True Guru, and all your sins shall be dispelled. 
By great good fortune, celestial bliss is attained, and the Lord, Har, Har, seems sweet to the mind. Servant Nanak proclaims that, in this, the first round of the marriage ceremony, the marriage ceremony has begun. ||1||.    
Har Dhoojarree Laav Sathigur Purakh Milaaeiaa Bal Raam Jeeo ||
Nirabho Bhai Man Hoe Houmai Mail Gavaaeiaa Bal Raam Jeeo ||
Niramal Bho Paaeiaa Har Gun Gaaeiaa Har Vaekhai Raam Hadhoorae ||
Har Aatham Raam Pasaariaa Suaamee Sarab Rehiaa Bharapoorae ||
Anthar Baahar Har Prabh Eaeko Mil Har Jan Mangal Gaaeae ||
Jan Naanak Dhoojee Laav Chalaaee Anehadh Sabadh Vajaaeae ||2||
In the second round of the marriage ceremony, the Lord leads you to meet the True Guru, the Primal Being. With the Fear of God, the Fearless Lord in the mind, the filth of egotism is eradicated. In the Fear of God, the Immaculate Lord, sing the Glorious Praises of the Lord, and behold the Lord’s Presence before you. The Lord, the Supreme Soul, is the Lord and Master of the Universe; He is pervading and permeating everywhere, fully filling all spaces. Deep within, and outside as well, there is only the One Lord God. Meeting together, the humble servants of the Lord sing the songs of joy. Servant Nanak proclaims that, in this, the second round of the marriage ceremony, the unstruck sound current of the Shabad resounds. ||2|| 
Har Theejarree Laav Man Chaao Bhaeiaa Bairaageeaa Bal Raam Jeeo ||
Santh Janaa Har Mael Har Paaeiaa Vaddabhaageeaa Bal Raam Jeeo ||
Niramal Har Paaeiaa Har Gun Gaaeiaa Mukh Bolee Har Baanee ||
Santh Janaa Vaddabhaagee Paaeiaa Har Kathheeai Akathh Kehaanee ||
Hiradhai Har Har Har Dhhun Oupajee Har Japeeai Masathak Bhaag Jeeo ||
Naanak Bolae Theejee Laavai Har Oupajai Man Bairaag Jeeo ||3||
In the third round of the marriage ceremony, the mind is filled with Divine Love. Meeting with the humble Saints of the Lord, I have found the Lord, by great good fortune. I have found the Immaculate Lord, and I sing the Glorious Praises of the Lord. I speak the Word of the Lord’s Bani. By great good fortune, I have found the humble Saints, and I speak the Unspoken Speech of the Lord. 
The Name of the Lord, Har, Har, Har, vibrates and resounds within my heart; meditating on the Lord, I have realized the destiny inscribed upon my forehead. Servant Nanak proclaims that, in this, the third round of the marriage ceremony, the mind is filled with Divine Love for the Lord. ||3||
Har Chouthharree Laav Man Sehaj Bhaeiaa Har Paaeiaa Bal Raam Jeeo ||
Guramukh Miliaa Subhaae Har Man Than Meethaa Laaeiaa Bal Raam Jeeo ||
Har Meethaa Laaeiaa Maerae Prabh Bhaaeiaa Anadhin Har Liv Laaee || 
Man Chindhiaa Fal Paaeiaa Suaamee Har Naam Vajee Vaadhhaaee ||
Har Prabh Thaakur Kaaj Rachaaeiaa Dhhan Hiradhai Naam Vigaasee ||
Jan Naanak Bolae Chouthhee Laavai Har Paaeiaa Prabh Avinaasee ||4||2||
In the fourth round of the marriage ceremony, my mind has become peaceful; I have found the Lord. As Gurmukh, I have met Him, with intuitive ease; the Lord seems so sweet to my mind and body. The Lord seems so sweet; I am pleasing to my God. Night and day, I lovingly focus my consciousness on the Lord. I have obtained my Lord and Master, the fruit of my mind’s desires. The Lord’s Name resounds and resonates. The Lord God, my Lord and Master, blends with His bride, and her heart blossoms forth in the Naam. Servant Nanak proclaims that, in this, the fourth round of the marriage ceremony, we have found the Eternal Lord God. ||4||2||
After reading of each verse (lavn) by the Granthi, The couple stands up and makes a circle around the Guru Granth Sahib (while the verse is sung) and returns to their seats.
After the completion of the ‘fourth lavn’, flower petals are traditionally showered on the couple as a sign of celebration of the wedding.
The “union of souls” as explained in the Lavan is beautifully indicated in a composition by Guru Amardas Ji as follows:
Sohee ki Vaar M. 3 (SGGS 788)
Dhhan Pir Eaehi N Aakheean Behan Eikathae Hoe ||
Eaek Joth Dhue Moorathee Dhhan Pir Keheeai Soe ||3|| 
They are not said to be husband and wife, who merely sit together. They alone are called husband and wife, who have one light in two bodies. ||3|| –
Anand Sahib and Shabads
(Concluding hymns)
After the completion of the ‘chaar lavan’, the closure of The “Anand Karaj” Ceremony begins with the singing of Anand Sahib, the Hymn of Bliss.
Following this, two additional hymns are also sung:
Sireeraag Mehalaa 4 Ghar 2 Shhantha (SGGS 78)          
Veeaahu Hoaa Maerae Baabulaa Guramukhae Har Paaeiaa ||
Agiaan Andhhaeraa Kattiaa Gur Giaan Prachandd Balaaeiaa || 
My marriage has been performed, O my father. As Gurmukh, I have found the Lord. The darkness of ignorance has been dispelled. The Guru has revealed the blazing light of spiritual wisdom.
Raag Vaddehans Mehalaa 5 Shhanth Ghar 4 (SGGS 577)
Pooree Aasaa Jee Manasaa Maerae Raam ||
Mohi Niragun Jeeo Sabh Gun Thaerae Raam ||
Sabh Gun Thaerae Thaakur Maerae Kith Mukh Thudhh Saalaahee ||
Gun Avagun Maeraa Kishh N Beechaariaa Bakhas Leeaa Khin Maahee ||
 No Nidhh Paaee Vajee Vaadhhaaee Vaajae Anehadh Thoorae ||
Kahu Naanak Mai Var Ghar Paaeiaa Maerae Laathhae Jee Sagal Visoorae ||4||1||. 
My hopes and desires have been fulfilled, O my Lord. I am worthless, without virtue; all virtues are Yours, O Lord. All virtues are Yours, O my Lord and Master; with what mouth should I praise You? You did not consider my merits and demerits; you forgave me in an instant. I have obtained the nine treasures, congratulations are pouring in, and the unstruck melody resounds. Says Nanak, I have found my Husband Lord within my own home, and all my anxiety is forgotten. ||4||1|| 
Ardaas by Congregation
(concluding Prayer)
The entire congregation then stands up for the recitation of Ardaas (Prayer) for the happiness of the newly married couple.
After this, the congregation resumes their seats and the Granthi reads another verse from the Guru Granth Sahib.
Finally, the ‘Anand Karaj; Ceremony ends with the distribution of ‘Karah Prasad’, an offering of blessed food to all, symbolizing the equality of all.
Congratulations to the Couple
After the conclusion of the Anand Karaj Ceremony, The Granthi offers floral garlands/or a ‘siropa’ to the couple.
The family members and the invited guests then approach the couple to congratulate them on their wedding.
It is important to know that this “Sikh Marriage Ceremony” has been accepted as “valid” since the enactment of “The Anand Marriage Act, 1909”. Thus, All marriages which may be or may have been duly solemnized according to the Sikh marriage ceremony, commonly known as Anand Karaj shall be, and shall be deemed to have been with effect from the date of the solemnization of each respectively , good and valid in law. The certificate issued by the Gurudwara where the Anand Karaj was solemnized is accepted as proof for registration of the marriage by the State Governments. Until as recently as 2016, Sikh couples united in wedlock following the Anand Karaj ceremonies, were registered under the Hindu Marriage Act in many States including Delhi. But, now Sikh couples are registered under “The Anand Marriage Act” in Delhi.
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