“Why I Believe Anand Karaj is Only For Sikhs” Bal Kaur

Here we share a post on the recent debate regarding what happened at Leamington Spa Gurdwara from one of our recommended speakers, Bal Kaur. Via: SIKHPA

I have had numerous conversations with people over the last few days about the Leamington Spa Gurdwara incident. Some have said to me they are surprised that as someone who advocates the Sikh ideal to ‘recognise the human race as one’ I am not in favour of interfaith Anand Karaj’s. So I will share my thoughts here and hopefully this may provide some clarity on my thoughts and beliefs.
I – like most Sikhs who hold a similar view regarding the sanctity of the Anand Karaj – am not opposed to interfaith marriages or people from different communities marrying. If an individual meets someone they are happy with and wants to spend the rest of their life with that person, who is anyone to stop this? Love is a very powerful emotion and I wish the best to anyone who is lucky enough to meet a person they are truly in love with. Thus, the issue is not with the colour of someone’s skin or which part of the world they originate from. Good people come in all shapes, sizes and colours!

Interfaith means a marriage between two people following different faiths. Confusion about the issue arises when one assumes that people with white or black skin are a different faith. However, there are Sikhs from many different parts of the world. So Sikhs can be white, black, yellow whatever. If two Sikhs of different ethnic backgrounds wish to begin their married life with an Anand Karj, there is no objection to this at all.

What needs to be understood is the Anand Karaj is not simply a Sikh marriage ceremony as marriage is understood in most parts of the world. The Anand Karaj consists of the couple revolving around Guru Granth Sahib Ji four times as the Laavaan (the poetic vows) are being recited. Revolving is the sign of making commitment with the Guru as a witness. In addition, revolving signifies that Guru is the centre of the couple’s life, springing to life the understanding of the journey of the soul crossing this world to be One with God. During the marriage ceremony, Guru Granth Sahib Ji represents the core, while the congregation represents the support. In essence, the Sikh marriage is not merely a physical and legal relationship but is a holy union between two souls, where physically they appear as two individual bodies but in fact are united as one. Anand Karaj translates as “blissful union”.

“By carrying out an empty ritual one is starting their married life based on a lie.”

If one views the Ananad Karj merely as a cultural ritual this is an empty gesture and a reprehensible insult to Guru Granth Sahib Ji and Sikh beliefs. Many other faiths will not allow those following a different faith to undergo a spiritual union unless both parties are of the same faith, so why undermine our Guru for the sake of a ‘nice ceremony’?

The issue arises when a person who does not follow the Sikh faith , hence has no allegiance to the Sikh way of life or Guru Granth Sahib ji, partakes in Anand Karaj. This undermines the sanctity of the Sikh faith and our Guru.

By undertaking an Anand Karaj one is promising themselves to the Guru and to follow the path of Sikhi and do their best to live a GurSikhi jeevan (life led by following the Guru). This essentially means asking someone non-Sikh to have an Anand Karaj is asking them to renounce their faith. Is this what anyone looking to have an interfaith marriage wants to ask of their partner? Is this what Sikhi is about? For Sikh families to propose the paradox that is an interfaith Anand Karaj is to either forcibly convert someone to be Sikh for the sake of one ceremony, or to carry out a meaningless showcase wedding. Neither is aligned with Sikh teachings, and therefore have no place in our Gurdwaras.

We must define what is for those looking to commit to the Guru and what is for those that are not. By saying this one ceremony is for Sikhs only, it does not invalidate the inclusiveness of Sikh culture. Not when you have every Gurdwara in the world open to anyone of any background, with our langar kitchens feeding millions of people of all races daily for free. Not when Sikh scripture encourages people of other faiths to wholeheartedly follow their own faith. Not when groups like Khalsa Aid and countless other Sikh organisations, are working around the world for “sarbat da bhala” (for the good of all), as guided to do so by our daily prayer.

Ultimately the blame for these upsets lies with those who manage the Gurdwaras. These people who are meant to uphold the sanctity of Sikh institutions are booking these interfaith Anand Karj’s without educating the families on the meaning of the ceremony. These issues are a result of lack of vision and self-promotion in place of community development from our self-appointed “community leaders”. Sikh educational charity Basics of Sikhi are working on a pre-Anand Karaj course. I welcome this as a much needed initiative, and would suggest this is made mandatory for all those booking an Anand Karj ceremony anywhere. What can be more beautiful than two individuals entering a life together and understanding every word and sentiment they are being joined by?

“It pains me to see our youngsters being portrayed as thugs or hooligans in the media.”

The protests that occurred are disappointing and I fear that many young lads may now be facing criminal records, which will impact their life and future prospects. I am not in agreement of pushing our youth into these situations. It pains me to see our youngsters being portrayed as thugs or hooligans in the media. I understand the emotions and passion that is behind the protesting, however, I would implore the youth to think about how they appear with their faces covered up.

I would suggest them to engage with others who can provide guidance to make your time and efforts fruitful. Look for solutions to these problems and work together to bring about the change needed. The events of this weekend have polarised the Sikh community with the majority not knowing the facts of the matter or understanding the real issue.

I would also add that it is not a different case if a Sikh boy marries a non-Sikh girl. An interfaith Anand Karaj should not take place full stop. There is no need to be abusive to girls who choose to marry a non-Sikh.

I strongly believe the UK Sikh Community should seek answers from those managing the Leamington Gurdwara. Why did they feel it was appropriate to make the call to the police and escalate this matter the way they have? The management committee knew full well these youngsters would not attack the Gurdwara or harm individuals. There have been many such protests at this Gurdawra, how many casualties have occurred before? Secondly, what value do they give the Anand Karaj and why can anyone pay £800 and book one?

We have many issues to deal with in the Sikh community. This is one of the easier ones to resolve. I hope those involved can see sense and treat the Anand Karaj with the respect it deserves.

This was written by Bal Kaur, general secretary of Sikh ethos humanitarian group Khalsa Aid and chairwoman of national safeguarding group Safer Sikhs Partnership.

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