The Sikh Marriage
The Sikh marriage is not merely a physical and legal contract but is a holy union between two souls where physically they appear as two individual bodies but in fact are united as one. The Sikh marriage ceremony is also known as Anand Karaj meaning 'blissful union'. Anand Karaj consists of the couple revolving around Siri Guru Granth Sahib four times as the Lavan (Marriage hymns) are being recited. Revolving is the sign of making commitment with the Guru as a witness. In addition, revolving signifies that Guru is the center of the couple’s life and springs life and the understanding of the journey of the soul crossing this world to be One with God. In the marriage ceremony, Siri Guru Granth Sahib represents the core while the congregation (Sadh Sangat) represents the support.
According to Sikhism, when a girl attains maturity, it is incumbent upon her parents to look for a suitable match for her. It is neither desirable nor proper to marry a girl at tender age. The daughter of a Sikh should be given in marriage to a Sikh. If a man is a believer in Sikhism, is humble by nature, and earns his bread by honest means, with him matrimony may be contracted without a question and without consideration for wealth and riches. Sikh marriages are usually arranged. The people from other cultures do not always properly interpret the word ‘arranged’. An arranged marriage does not mean forcing man or woman into wedlock of parents' choice only. It is agreeing to marriage proposed by mutual discussion between the man and the woman on one side and his and her parents and relatives on the other. This is in fact selecting the right partner with the approval of all. Most importantly the man and woman themselves must get to know each other to convey their consent to their parents.
The Sikh marriage is monogamous. In the case of broken marriage, divorce is not possible according to the Sikh religious tradition. The couple can, however, obtain a divorce under the Civil law of the land. Marriage, in Sikhism, is regarded as a sacred bond in attaining worldly and spiritual joy. About the ideal marriage, the Guru says: "They are not husband and wife who only have physical contact; rather they are wife and husband who have one spirit in two bodies." The fourth Guru, Guru Ramdas Ji, originally composed Lavan, the wedding song, to celebrate a holy union between the human soul (Atma) and God (Parmatma). The Guru wishes that our married life should also be molded on the ideal laid down for our union with the Parmatma. The bride and bridegroom then share their life, happiness and sorrow; from two individuals they become 'Ek Jot Doe Murti' meaning one spirit in two bodies.
As soon as the bridegroom, and the two families are assembled the Milnee is performed, which involves the meeting of parents and close relatives of the bride and groom and exchange of presents. The marriage ceremony is conducted in a Gurdwara or at the bride's home or any other suitable place where Guru Granth Sahib is duly installed. A priest or any Sikh (man or woman) may conduct the ceremony, and usually a respected and learned person is chosen. Appropriate hymns for the occasion are sung while, family, friends, guests and groom arrives.
The groom is first seated before Guru Granth Sahib and when the bride comes she take her place on his left. The couple and their parents are asked to stand while the rest of congregation remains seated. A prayer is then conducted invoking God’s blessings for the proposed marriage and asking His Grace on the union of the couple. This connotes the consent of the bride and the bridegroom and their parents. The parties then resume their seats and a short hymn is sung. Upon translation, the hymn would read as follows:
Call upon God for task thou wouldst have accomplished,
He will bring the tasks to rights, so witnesseth the Guru.
In the company of the holy thou shalt rejoice and taste only nectar,
Thou art the demolisher of fear, thou art compassionate, 0’ Lord,
Nanak singeth the praises of the Incomputable Lord.
This is followed by a brief speech addressed particularly to the couple, explaining the significance and obligation of the marriage. The couple is then asked to honor their vows by bowing together before Guru Granth Sahib. Then the bride's father places one end of saffron-colored scarf in the groom’s hand, passing it over the shoulder and placing the other end in the bride's hand. Thus joined, the two will take the vows. This is followed by a short hymn.
Praise and slander have I all ceased to relish, O Nanak, False, I count all other relationships, To the fold of Thy fabric am I now affianced. (SGGS 963)
Guru Granth Sahib is now opened and the first verse of Lavan is read from it. The same verse is then sung by the musicians while the couple slowly encircles Guru Granth Sahib. The groom leads in a clock-wise direction and the bride, holding the scarf, follows as nearly as possible in step. When the couple reaches the front of Guru Granth Sahib, they both bow together and take their respective seats. The same protocol is repeated for the remainder three verses.
The 4 verses of Lavan explain the four stages of love and married life. After translation into English the Lavan quartet or the Sikh epithalamium would read as follows:
First Lavan (Emphasizes the performance of duty to the family and the community)
By the first nuptial circuiting The Lord sheweth ye His Ordinance for the daily duties of wedded life The Scriptures are the Word of the Lord, Learn righteousness, through them, And the Lord will free ye from sin. Hold fast to righteousness, Contemplate the Name of the Lord, Fixing it in your memory as the scriptures have prescribed. Devote yourselves to the Perfect and True Guru. And all your sins shall depart. Fortunate are those whose minds Are imbued with the sweetness of His Name, To them happiness comes without effort; The slave Nanak proclaimeth That in the first circling The marriage rite hath begun.
Second Lavan (Signifies the stage of yearning and love for each other)
By the second circumambulation, Ye are to understand that the Lord Hath caused ye to meet the True Guru, The fear in your hearts has departed; The filth of selfness in your minds is washed away, By having the fear of God and by singing His praises I stand before Him with reverence, The Lord God is the soul of the universe! There is naught that He doth not pervade. Within us and without, there is One God only; In the company of saints Then are heard the songs of rejoicing. The slave Nanak proclaimeth that in the second circling Divine Music is heard.
Third Lavan (Signifies the stage of detachment or Virag)
In the third roundabout, There is a longing for the Lord And detachment from the world. In the company of the saints, By our great good fortune, We encounter the Lord. The Lord is found in His purit, Through His exaltation, Through the singing of His hymns. By great good fortune we have risen. In the company of the saints Wherein is told the story Of the Ineffable Lord. The Holy Name echoes in the heart: Echoes and absorbs us. We repeat the Name of the Lord, Being blessed by a fortunate destiny Written from of old on our foreheads. The slave Nanak proclaimeth That in the third circling The love of God has been awakened in the heart.
Fourth Lavan (Signifies the final stage of harmony and union in married life during which human love blends into the love for God)
In the fourth walk-around, The mind reaches to knowledge of the Divine And God is innerly grasped: Through the Grace of the Guru We have attained with ease to the Lord; The sweetness of the Beloved Pervades us, body and soul. Dear and pleasing is the Lord to us: Night and day our minds are fixed on Him. By exalting the Lord We have attained the Lord: The fruit our hearts desired; The Beloved has finished His work. The soul, the spouse, delighteth in the Beloved’s Name. Felicitations fill our minds; The Name rings in our hearts: The Lord God is united with His Holy Bride. The heart of the Bride flowers with His Name. The slave Nanak proclaimeth That in the fourth circling We have found the Eternal Lord.(SGGS 773 -74)
The ceremony is concluded with the customary singing of the six stanzas of the Anand Sahib (Song of Bliss), followed by Ardas (prayer), and Vak (a random reading of a verse from Guru Granth Sahib). The ceremony, which takes about an hour, ends with the serving of Karah Parshad to the congregation.
Before and after the religious ceremony numerous cultural customs are conducted. Practices contrary to Sikhism are: the tying of head-bands, rituals depicting ancestor-worship, pretended sulking or sadness, singing by professional dancing-girls, the drinking of alcohol, burning of so-called sacred fires, holding bride while circling, and many other similar customs derived from cultural practices.