Sikh rites of passage and Mystery traditions

The four rites of passage as per Sikh Rahit Maryada provide opportunities to weigh anchor and deepen the connection of grace from Creator to created and love from created to Creator - RANVIR SINGH

By Ranvir Singh | OPINION |

The heart of mystery traditions, it seems to me, is that people face death and then re-emerge re-born and better able to deal with life. As many of them have been destroyed, for example, the Elysian and Orphic Mysteries the account of a living mystery tradition, like Sikhi, can shed light on what may have occurred.

The marriage of living our dying and being dead while alive provides a sense of Reality through the transience of life, a stable and secure boat in the churning ocean, tossed and turned by waves of opportunity and terror. There are four rites of passage according to the Rahit Maryada or code of conduct of the Khalsa or Guru Khalsa Panth, the order of Sikh knights. They provide opportunities to weigh anchor and deepen the connection of grace from Creator to created and love from created to Creator.

The first is birth. Here the child is taken into the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh scripture, a prayer of thanks and for guidance is offered and the child’s name is taken from the first letter of the first word on the left hand page that is opened at random. This rite serves to establish several things. First, the centrality of the Guru Granth Sahib to the life of the child. A connection is drawn between the text of the scripture and the name of the child. Second, the Guru in Sikhi refers to the Light that blazes within each person “as fire within wood.” This Inner Tutor or intuition governs our ability to experience and know in this life. The Guru Granth Sahib is a book of hymns, they are a physical manifestation of the “unstruck melody” that is the “string that ties together all Life.” Thus, the naming ceremony connects them at once to the Being of being as well as a portal through which they may re-connect. Third, they are given a name. Sikh forenames are gender neutral reflecting teaching about the equality of genders. Gender distinctions are made through surnames — Kaur or princess for women and Singh or Lionheart for men. This reflected the idea of a direct relationship with the divinity within and therefore a rejection of intermediary priests, gods or kings. The Khalsa is a directly self-governing republic of virtue. ‘We’ are made through language. Language is never neutral, it always serves a social purpose.

The second rite is initiation into the Khalsa. While its social and political significance has been touched on above its personal transformative effect is explored in the passage written by a spiritual sister below. The panj piyaras or five beloved ones is the title given to those knights who are selected to initiate new members.

“I had selected the Panj Piyaras with care — I wanted only those who would not deviate from the current Sikh Reht Maryada, at present published by the SPGC, at all. The first one I came across was from Akaal Purkh Ki Fauj. It all seemed rather unreal as I stood there. During the Ardas I suddenly realised that I too would be in the list. How could I sit in the sadh sangat (spiritual community) with those who were cut limb by limb and kept their faith till their last breath, etc. I felt unworthy, as if my presence would pollute that holy sangat. The Hukms received, the process began, and I realised that the panj piyaras were Bhai Daya Singh, Bhai Dharam Singh, Bhai Himmat Singh, Bhai Mokham Singh, and Bhai Sahib Singh Ji. The faces were the same but the Spirit inhabiting it were different. I greeted them with a new reverence. As the Khanda scaped the batta, the sound was a scrubbing of my mind and the panj piyaras were the five thieves transformed into their true shape, making amrit. At the same time, the batta was creation and the panj piyaras were the five energies. I realised that the four princes were now my brothers. I began to sway but felt a hand on my shoulder and assumed that it was a friend who was acting as a Pehradar. I felt more ashamed than ever at the ways in which I had sought to hide from God and defied God, and at the great weight of God’s Grace. God had brought me here and become Amrit. Would I choose to accept or reject? I had been cut, accidentally, not long before, and the amrit entered my hand and my bloodstream. I felt my eyes, hair and innards turn golden. The filth in my mind was a dam to this flow, and to the revelations which continued to pound me. I wished to write them, to control them, but I felt assured that there was no fear, just the Giver and His Gifts. He had Himself come to save me. Later, when I asked my friend why he had come forward, he told me that he had never left his position by the door.”

Just to clarify, there is Only One Amrit, One Panth, One Living Guru. All individuals and jathebandis (Sikh groups within the Khalsa) are only branches of the One Tree, as were the misls (military-political bands) in their time, and other institutional forms will be in their time. There is no difference between receiving Khade-de-Pahul from one set of panj piyaras to another. In all cases one is entering the Order of the Khalsa from five representatives of the Guru Khalsa Panth. Leaving aside all other doors, enter That Door and Real-I-See your Destiny Affirming Unity. Creator and creation are One sharing One-ness. May my father, Lord of the Plume (Guru Gobind Singh), reborn in all who enter his family, pardon any and all follies in the writing of this series. We are One family, a Door Way into the Home of Love.

The third rite is marriage. The Anand Marriage as we know it today was always practised by small groups of Sikhs. Towards the end of the 19th century the original Nirankaris were its main proponents, the only group which stuck to this. However, many Sikhs refused to be married in this way preferring the Hindu marriage rites. The Singh Sabha reformers supported the Nirankari rite and this became recognised in the Anand Marriage Act of 1909. The Hindus were outraged that the Sikhs should have a recognised different ceremony. Later, Anand Karaj was integrated into the Sikh Reht Maryada produced as a result of Panthic consensus after fourteen years of consultation.

The Rite of Bliss, Anand Karaj, is an important ceremony for a Sikh. Each ceremony combines the mysteries and impulses of death and sex. The naming of the new-born infant by the Guru Granth Sahib Ji and the parents is a puzzle to the labours of love the soul will be involved in before it departs once more. Pahul involves accepting death (offering you head) for spiritual re-birth with new parents in the House of the Guru.

The true marriage of a Sikh is the marriage between the soul and the Spirit. The Lavan refers to this ascent in the four rounds. The path to God is not from A to B. For God is not apart from us. The spiritual journey is from the nightmare-phantasy of the ego to the beautiful reality of the here-and-now. “Wherever I see, there I see You.” It starts and ends in the same place, yet each time you are standing in a different experience because of the round. Therefore, the circuit around the Guru is used, rather than a straight walk. For a Sikh, it is not the case that God is not here, but is there. Rather, God is everywhere. The two humans re-enact a play of this spiritual journey. The Groom leads for the Gurbani usually signifies God as the personal Groom and the Guru-Sikh as the bride. The Gurus adopt the voice of the bride, the seeker, but also, In Truth, the sought.

Yet the couple are not just acting a play. They are making a commitment to this journey by enacting it — they are taking their first steps together. About human relations, the Guru comments that “only those are married who are One Spirit in two bodies. ”Without making this journey to the One the centre of their life path together (just as Guru Granth Sahib Ji sits at the centre of their marriage rite), they cannot be One. Rather the egos will always drive them into a wild dance, together and apart. The Anand Karaj is equally about spiritual union between soul and Spirit, the affirmation of physical life — sex leading to new life within this committed mini-sadh sangat, the physical-spiritual foundation of the Guru Khalsa Panth, but also the death of ego, which is a prerequisite for physical and spiritual wedding.

Finally, the death prayer is Keertan Sohila, which is also our bedtime prayers each day. It lasts only two to three minutes. There is a link between sleep and death, the smaller rest and the greater. The important point is that the first of the prayers which comprise the Sohila is about the marriage day, between soul and Spirit. When will that day, i.e. day of death and marriage come?

Ranvir Singh is a UK-based human rights activist and member of Akaal Purkh Ki Fauj. This article was first published here.


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