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All the Sikh ceremonies like birth, baptism, marriage and death, are simple, inexpensive and have a religious tone. They are held in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib and include Kirtan, the singing of appropriate hymns for the occasion, saying of Ardas - formal prayer, and the distribution of Karah Parshad, sacred food, to the congregation. The baptism ceremony called Amrit, is the most important of all Sikh ceremonies.
Sikh Baptism (Amrit)
Baptism is necessary before joining the Khalsa Panth. Guru Gobind Singh initiated the practice with the establishment of the order of the Khalsa in 1699.
The Amrit ceremony (baptism) is held in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib. Five baptized Sikhs known for their piety are called Panj Pyaras, all wearing the five symbols - Kes (long hair), Kanga (Comb), Kachehra (Knickers), Kara (Iron wristband), and Kirpan (Sword) sit in front of the Guru Granth Sahib. One of the five explains the principles of Sikhism to those who want to be baptized. After the candidates have signified their acceptance, one of the five offers Ardas. Then all the five sit round an iron-vessel containing fresh water and a quantity of sweets - Patasas. They recite the five Banis: the Japji Sahib, Jaap Sahib, Ten Swayyas, Chaupai Sahib and Anand Sahib. The reciter stirs the water with a double-edged sword, a Khanda, which he holds in his right hand. After recitation is over, the five initiators stand up, holding the vessel in their hands. Each one of them then offers prayer (one of the five Banis) for the nectar just prepared.
As each candidate receives five handfuls of Amrit (holy water) which he drinks shouting "Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh". The Amrit is put five times in his eyes and five times in his hair while he repeats the above greeting. The Amrit that remains is sipped by all candidates to remove caste prejudice. The five initiators repeat the Mool Mantra five times, this is then repeated by the candidates. Then one of the five explains the vows of Sikh discipline - Rahat. The candidates are to regard themselves as sons of Guru Gobind Singh and Mata Sahib Kaur. Their home is Anandpur Sahib. They are to abstain from the four misdeeds: removing hair, eating meat, adultery and using tobacco. One of the five Panj Pyaras then offers Ardas and reads a passage from the Guru Granth Sahib. Those who adopt Sikhism for the first time receive a new name, ending in Singh for a male and Kaur for a female. All the baptized Sikhs then eat Karah Parsad from the same vessel. If a Sikh has done any of the four misdeeds - Kurahats - mentioned above, he has to be baptized again after due confession and penance.
The Naming Ceremony
The Sikh naming or christening ceremony is well established and it takes place in a Gurdwara8 in the presence of relatives and friends. The family offers donations, Karah Parshad and a Rumala which is a covering for Guru Granth Sahib, made of high quality silk, cotton or embroidered cloth. Prayers are offered asking for a special blessing of good health, long life and the Sikh way of life, Gursikhi for the child.
After reciting Ardas, Guru Granth Sahib is opened at random. The first letter of the first word of the hymn on the page is selected as the first letter of the child's name. The given name is common for either sex. The word Kaur meaning 'princess' is added after a girl's name, and the name Singh meaning 'lion' after a boy's. For example, if the first letter is "P", the male child may be given a name like Partap Singh, Pritam Singh or Puran Singh or any other such name beginning with the letter "P". If the newly-born is a girl the name would like wise be, Partap Kaur, Pritam Kaur or Puran Kaur.
When the name is selected by the family, the congregation gives approval by a holy cheer or Jaikara: 'Bolay So Nihal! Sat Siri Akal!' The ceremony ends with the distribution of Karah Prasad, and the placing of the Rumala over Guru Granth Sahib. Sometimes, sweets or Langar, free food from the Guru's kitchen, is served but this is not a part of the ceremony.
The Death Ceremony
To a Sikh, birth and death are closely associated, because they are both part of the cycle of human life, Ava Guvan, which is seen as transient stage towards Nirvana, complete unity with God. Sikhs thus believe in reincarnation. Mourning is therefore discouraged, especially in the case of those who have lived a long and full life. The death ceremony may be split into two parts; Saskar, the cremation and the Antim Ardas, the final prayer at the end of the Bhog ceremony.
At a Sikh's death-bed, relatives and friends read Sukhmani Sahib, the Psalm of Peace, composed by the fifth Guru Arjan Dev Ji, to console themselves and the dying person. When a death occurs, they exclaim 'Waheguru', the Wonderful Lord. Wailing or lamentation is discouraged. For cremation, the body is first washed and dressed with clean clothes complete with the Five K's (in case of baptised Sikhs). If the death occurs in a hospital, the body is taken home for viewing before the funeral. In Punjab, body will be burnt on the funeral pyre, but in Western countries crematorium is used. A prayer is said before the start of the funeral to seek salvation for the departed soul. On arrival at the crematorium, a brief speech about the deceased is generally given, the Sohila, bed-time prayer is recited and the Ardas, formal prayer is offered. The cremation is generally done by the eldest son or a close relative. Where cremation is not possible, disposal of the dead body by placing it in the sea or river is permitted. At the end of the cremation the member of the funeral party return to their homes. The ashes are collected after the cremation and later disposed of by immersion in the nearest river or sea. Some families, living outside India, prefer to take the ashes to Punjab. Sikhs do not erect monuments over the remains of the dead.
The second part is called Antim Ardas, the final prayer during the Bhog ceremony which includes a complete reading of Guru Granth Sahib either at home or in a Gurdwara. This is called a Sahaj Path, and is usually completed within ten days. If the family can read, they must take part in the reading; if they cannot, they must sit and listen to it. The reading is meant to provide spiritual support and consolation to the bereaved family and friends. During Ardas, the blessing of God for the departed soul is sought. The Gurus emphasized the remembrance of God's Name as the best means of consolation for the bereaved family. Sikhs are always exhorted to submit to and have complete faith in the will of God, called Bhana Manna.
Generally, all the relatives and friends of the family gather together for the Bhog ceremony on the completion of the reading of Guru Granth Sahib. Musicians sing appropriate hymns, Saloks of the ninth Guru Tegh Bahadur are read, and Ramkali Saad, the Call of God, is recited. After the final prayer, a random reading or Hukam is taken, and Karah Parshad is distributed to the congregation.
If the deceased person is elderly, food from Guru's kitchen, Langar, is served. Presents are distributed to grandchildren. Donations are often announced for charities and religious organizations. Sometimes, at the end of the Bhog, eldest member is presented with a turban and declared the new head of the family.