THE LEGACY OF THE ANAND KARAJ by Mankamal Singh of the UK
The greatest legacy we can pass on to our children and grandchildren is not money, property or other material things accumulated in our lifetime, but rather the legacy of heritage, character and faith.
It is the responsibility of one generation to nurture the next generation and so forth. Certainly, today we are direct products of the legacy left behind by our predecessors. Fruits of that great Sikh legacy are evident today in the growing number of Gurmat orientated social initiatives we are seeing Sikh groups leading, in many cases they are youth groups. Social initiatives have sprouted out up and down the country including langar seva groups, political activists, charity groups, equality empowering projects. They are very much Sikh led and grounded in the teachings of the Sikh Gurus.
So, it is not all the doom and gloom that many Sikhs have conditioned themselves into thinking. The Sikh of the Guru was never meant to remain a critic, there must always be a transition to being an active sevdar and giving back to society. It is a matter of joining all the dots, involving ourselves in these initiatives and being courageous to lead new initiatives.
The reason I write the above is to now link the great legacy to the Anand Karaj, or Sikh wedding ceremony as it is commonly translated, to how we shape the next generation.
The union articulated in the Anand Karaj goes beyond the union of the bride and groom on the day and enters a divine union with the Almighty Akaal Purakh (timeless one). The spiritual profile of the Anand Karaj is paramount and often lost in the chaotic activities of the day.
Our worldly intellect acts as a barricade and we may never physically see that divine union but the essence of the union is clear in the translation of the four Lava(n) composed by Sri Guru Ram Das Ji. Walking respectfully around Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji Maharaj, as a central point, is a clear symbolic message that the teachings of the Gurus will be central to that couple’s life, a commitment shown to the many hundred who are witnessing the Anand Karaj that special day.
‘Karaj,’ appears in Gurbani many times and stems from the Sanskrit word ‘karya’ meaning literally a work or undertaking. ‘Anand’ translates into bliss or an ecstatic feeling. Therefore, this undertaking or commitment being made on that day has to be seen through the Panthic (Sikh community) lens, as an undertaking to the Sikh values and principles upheld by our predecessors.
It is therefore paramount that the couple participating in the Anand Karaj understand they both must believe they are Sikh, aligned to the Sikh Guru’s teachings. That Sikh couple will become a Sikh family unit tomorrow and from them several Sikh generations will branch out and hence the legacy is passed down to generations.
This does have to have a formal implication and whilst it seems easy to classify one born in a Sikh family as Sikh, the issue arises when one not born in a Sikh family wishing to participate in the Anand Karaj. And yes, many of us have the right to argue that the issue also arises for those born in Sikh families who do not understand the dynamics of the Anand Karaj. The Sikh faith goes beyond ethnicity, caste and status and projects an inclusive ethos. This means anyone who wishes to be a Sikh will be embraced. The definition of a Sikh is clearly articulated in Article 1 of the Sikh Rehat Maryada (Sikh Religious Protocols), however many Sikhs themselves have complicated this definition:
Any human being who faithfully believes in:
-One Immortal Being
-Ten Gurus, from Guru Nanak Dev to Guru Gobind Singh
-The Guru Granth Sahib
-The utterances and teachings of the ten Gurus
-The baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru, and who does not owe allegiance to any other religion, is a Sikh.
The institutional protocol of specific religious marriage ceremonies being conducted between couples of the same faith have existed for thousands of years. Couples marrying in churches, synagogues and mosques are fully compliant and understand that if they wish to be married under that ceremony then they must understand their undertaking as members and practitioners of that Faith group.
Similarly, the institutional protocol of a Sikh marrying a Sikh in the Anand Karaj Ceremony has always existed in the Sikh Rehat Maryada. In practice, the performance of the protocol was lost in the management of the Gurdwara institutes over the past two decades, perhaps unintentionally.
We have now reached a pivotal point, where almost a retrospective introduction of the current Anand Karaj protocol to be adopted by individual Gurdwaras is being advocated in the UK. In some cases, it has taken the form of hostile protests and disruptions and in other cases it has taken Gurdwara Management getting together to review their own protocols.
Either way, there is a dire need for a national Anand Karaj Education Programme which not only incorporates an education programme for the Sikh couple but also guides Gurdwara Committees. It is welcoming to see a collaboration of Sikh youth groups and national Sikh organisations collectively working on developing such a programme at a national level. At a national meeting in August 2015, the Sikh Council UK agreed to lead and implement a national programme.
No doubt, a programme of this nature will face some challenges even attracting those labels of a radical or extremist approach. We live in an integrated society, where individuals have the right marry who they wish. However, in this great integrated society we also have the right to maintain our religious protocols to ensure that our legacy is allowed to be passed down generations.