Sikh Intellectual’s Response to Interfaith Anand Karaj Controversy

A personal view

This article informs the current debate about the Sikh religious marriage ceremony of Anand Karaj.

The Sikh Code of Conduct and Conventions, the Sikh Reht Maryada, allows an Anand Karaj between a Sikh man and a Sikh woman.

This article originally Published by:  Gurmukh Singh on Sewa UK Website

A Sikh, as defined by Sikh Reht Maryada, “faithfully believes in One Immortal Being, Ten Gurus from Guru Nanak Dev to Guru Gobind Singh, Guru Granth Sahib, the utterances and teachings of the ten Gurus, baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru and who does not owe allegiance to any other religion.”

The above definition suggests a faith-centred approach to Sikhi, the Sikh way of life. It is focused on a belief system. Sikh tradition from the times of the Guru-persons confirms, that it is a broad-based, river-bank type of approach, which guides all Sikhs in the same Panthic direction.

Unlike orthodox religions, the essence of Sikhi lies in acceptance of diversity under the large Panthic umbrella from the Times of Guru personalities.

Therefore, Anand Karaj is a SIKH as well as a FAITH ceremony. It brings together a Sikh man and a Sikh woman before Sri Guru Granth Sahib to focus on one Guiding Light, the Guru-bani, as the 4 Lava(n) are recited, and repeated by Kirtan (singing). Sikhi sikhia (advice) is given about the code of conduct to be followed during married life, and the couple make a solemn promise to live accordingly together as husband and wife, and raise a Sikh family.

It is a solemn Sikh religious ceremony so that the couple can select one path in life and tread along that path as two bodies guided by the same Guiding Light (as “Ek jyot doay moorti”).

Guru Nanak Sahib’s founding ideology evolved through the Sikh institutions to the organisation of the Khalsa Panth as a distinct way of life. It has its own disciplines and rites (sanskaars): mainly birth, marriage, and death, which distinguish the Sikh faith as an independent path. Massive sacrifices have been made to defend this egalitarian ideology against an oppressive state, mentored by orthodox religious fanaticism.

Arguments given in favour of Anand Karaj involving couples from Sikh and non-Sikh backgrounds, range from mildly amusing to the most absurd.

For some, the only way to save Sikhi is to start by compromising, and even dismantling, Sikh institutions! One of the most sacred of these institutions is the Anand Karaj sanskaar (religious rite), which puts a Sikh couple on track for responsible married life as householders, to bring up children as Sikhs.

Some refuse to understand that there is no talk here about “Sikhs” of diverse racial or other backgrounds; or of those communities which always had faith in Guru Granth Sahib only.

Some argue in favour of “mixed” (Sikh/non-Sikh) Anand Karaj on the basis of Bani (sacred hymns) of Bhagats (saintly people) of different religious backgrounds being honoured in Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

The founding ideology of Guru Granth Sahib starts with the Mool Mantar, which is the founding basis for Sikh miri-piri (temporal-spiritual) institutions.

The Mool Mantar is then repeated at the beginning of every Section of Guru Granth Sahib. Such repetition of the Founding Formula of Sikhi has an ideological reason. It is for the same reason, that even the selected Bani of the Bhagats has been qualified by some small but significant additions to keep returning to the life-affirming, whole-life (miri-piri) theme of Sikhi based social activism and a path of truthful conduct.

Many forget that not all Bani of the Bhagats was selected for inclusion in Guru Granth Sahib. From recent views expressed on forums, it seems that even many well educated Sikhs do not understand the reason for this selective treatment of Bhagat Bani, which was to ensure consistency of the unique message of Sikhi. The Bhagat Bani was selected and qualified, where felt necessary by the Guru, to ensure consistency with the unique Sikhi themes. The inclusion of this Bani in Guru Granth Sahib has little to do with the religious background of the Bhagats.

Interfaith Anand Karaj “ is a contradiction in itself, and cannot be related to the religious backgrounds of the Bhagats in Guru Granth Sahib.

Some argue that many Sikhs also have very little knowledge of Sikhi. So, instead of arguing for better educational arrangements at Gurdwaras BEFORE Anand Karaj, they argue for Sikh/non-Sikh “Anand Karaj”! All Sikh born children are on the same religious ladder, albeit, on higher or lower rungs. They should be educated about the meaning of Anand Karaj before marriage.

The latest argument I heard supporting “mixed” Anand Karaj was: “Tusseen ki galla(n) karday ho; ki Panj Piarian di eko religious background si !!” (What are you talking about? Did the Panj Piaray have the same religious background ?) Such logic leaves one speechless.

There is an argument that by retaining the faith-based Anand Karaj (i.e. a Sikh marrying a Sikh), young Sikhs will be driven away from Sikhi and Gurdwaras. Sikh history shows the opposite to be true.

With the erosion of Sikhi institutions and Gurmat based sanskaars during the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Sikh numbers were inflated by the perks of Khalsa Raj established by 18th Century Khalsa Singhs. The moment the Khalsa Raj was no more, there was a drastic reduction in Sikh numbers until the revival through Singh Sabha movement. Sikh numbers started increasing again – put it to the army, Sikh military tradition etc, but the core ideology revived by great Sikh scholars, was the main driving force.

At Gurmat camps we find that young people do think about such matters. The impression is that it is the large scale erosion of Sikh way of life and values which in turn may be driving young Sikhs away from Sikhi, in addition to other influences of modern living.

We can have dialogue between religions to establish better understanding and to lower the fences; but I doubt if, unlike “mix” married couples, different religions would be willing to share the same ideological bed! The Anand Karaj is a distinctly Sikh institution which has deep faith significance as taught during the ceremony. Otherwise, Gurdwaras will always welcome all, including “mix” married couples.

My personal view is that only Sikh tradition can teach us how to survive as Sikhs.
Continual cross references to other religions may not be the best way forward. The present excessive negativity is not justified. Since my arrival in the UK 55 years ago we have always faced challenges and thrived !

Finally, this is a plea to young Gursikhs who feel that there should reforms in Gurdwara procedures. I quote from an earlier article written in another context, “Even when protesting in a democracy, we need to abide by and influence others through Sikhi values. A few years ago, I had the privilege of covering a protest by young Sikhs at Trafalgar Square in response to a challenge by some religious zealots from another community threatening public conversions. The behaviour of the Sikhs was exemplary and highly praised by the police and the on-lookers. The protest was totally effective.” (article on Sikhnet: “Sikh Tradition of Morchas & Martyrdoms”)

Breaking the law is an offence and, in addition to lowering community image, legal consequences have to be faced. To remain peaceful while articulating the mainstream Sikhi viewpoint is the way to win hearts and minds: to bring about any reforms considered necessary in consultation with local Sangats and responsible Gurdwara managements.

Harsh language used by people in position responsibility or influence, including those in media positions, even if “metaphorical” is also regrettable. More so in view of the background of Sikh lives lost due to “mistaken identity”. They expose the whole Sikh community to life-threatening danger by using such language.

Meanwhile, Gurdwaras face a challenge, which is also an opportunity to review practical Sikhi education in Gurdwaras, including that relating to Anand Karaj.

Gurmukh Singh

© Copyright Gurmukh Singh (U.K.)

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