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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 20

Anand Karaj

Friday 9 May 2008, by K S Duggal


Of late Anand Karaj, ‘the Ceremonial Bliss’, has been a great deal in the news. A few weeks ago Pakistan gave it legal sanction for the first time after the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. And now Punjab (India) has recognised it by passing the Anand Marriage Act mandating compulsory registration of marriages for which an elaborate infrastructure has been provided.

Anand Karaj is the prescribed Sikh ritual before a couple is declared husband and wife and recognised by the society as such. Its introduction has an interesting story in the annals of Sikh history.

Founded by Guru Nanak (1469-1539) Sikhism campaigned against the far too much ritualism with which ancient Hinduism had burdened itself. At times it irked the Hindu of the day; while the followers of Guru Nanak rejected the Hindu rituals in the absence of adequate alternatives, they observed some of them as a social necessity or a sheer traditional way of life.

It so happened that at the time of the third Sikh apostle, Guru Amar Das (1479-1574), a devotee by the name of Nihala came to the Guru complaining that he had a grown-up daughter to be married; while the groom with the marriage-party had arrived in the village, the Brahmin priest refused to perform the wedding ceremony since the Guru’s Sikhs ridiculed the Hindus day in and day out for their ritualism.

The Guru appreciated his devotee’s predicament and without asking for the Janam Patris or minding caste or any other considerations had the wedding performed in accompaniment of the recitation from Anand Saheb, a Sikh scripture.

This was formalised by his successor, Guru Ram Das (1534-1581), the fourth Sikh Guru who composed the text of what has come to be known as Lavan, in four parts and instead of the seven Hindu perambulations reduced the ceremonial to four rounds representing the spiritual evolvement— cherishing the Lord God, meeting the True Guru, meditation and attaining the state of Sahaj*.

THE Anand Karaj, as it is performed today, consists in the wedding couple perambulating the Holy Granth four times while the text of Lavan is recited, every sequence accompanying the corresponding round. It is simple, without any fuss, taking less than half an hour.

The first round dictates the norms of the world
- As directed by the Lord.
- With the recitation of the Vedas of Brahma and adherence to dharma,
- The Lord God helps and your sins you discard.
- Adherence to the dharma and meditation on the Name
- As prescribed by the Smritis
- Along with remembering the True Guru
- Helps cleanse you of evil and impurities.
- Thereby the blessed one arrives at Sahaj*
- And he starts cherishing the Lord God.
- Says Nanak, the slave, with the first circumambulation
- The ceremonial of the nuptial starts. (1)

With the second round you meet the True Guru,
- As blessed by the Lord.
- Banishing fear, you become fearless
- And the filth of conceit departs.
- With the fear of the Immaculate in the heart and singing His praises
- You live in the presence of Rama P. 774
- Who pervades all over
- And can be seen in varied form.
- Inside and out lives the Master,
- You adore Him in the company of the men sublime.
- Says Nanak, the slave, with the second round
- The unstruck melody begins to chime. (2)

With the blessing of the Lord,
- The third round evokes love in the heart smitten with dispassion.
- Lucky are those indeed
- Who find company of the men of God and arrive at
- His Mansion.
- Meeting the Immaculate and adoring Him,
- You sing His praises with the Scriptural Word.
- Fortunate are the devotees who imbibe their Master
- And tell His tale that remains to be told.
- There sounds in their heart a Divine strain
- And they engage in meditation as blessed by the Lord.
- Says Nanak, the slave with the third round,
- The heart starts longing for the Almighty God. (3)

In the fourth round the mind is in a state of Sahaj*;
- God blessed, you take to the Lord.
- A happenstance you meet the Guru—conscious,
- The Creator comes to be cherished by your soul and heart.
- You long for the Creator and love Him dearly.
- Your days and nights are directed to meditation.
- Whatever you cherished you come to gain
- And the Name brings you ample ovation.
- The Lord Himself conducted the task
- With the Name blossoming in your heart.
- Says Nanak, the slave, with the fourth round,
- You come to imbibe the Immortal Lord. (4)

History repeated itself in 1808 when Baba Dyal, a 25-year-old Sikh activist, wished to marry Mool Devi, daughter of Charan Das. It happened to be the month of Chet when weddings, according to the Hindu tradition, were not permitted. No Brahmin priest would come forward to solemnise the wedding ceremony. Baba Dyal had his wedding performed by the groom and bride perambulating the Holy Granth four times with the chanting of the corresponding four sequences of Lavan as composed by Guru Ram Das.
There was a great deal of murmuring all around; some said that the children born out of this wedlock be treated as illegitimate.

This led the Sikh intelligentsia to devote the issue its due consideration. Tikka Ripudaman Singh of Nabha State led the campaign for legitimising Anand Karaj. He was followed by Sir Sunder Singh Majithia, a member of the Viceroy’s Council. They had to face considerable opposition from the tradition-ridden elements in the community. But they ultimately succeeded in getting the Anand Marriage Bill passed unanimously on October 22, 1909 and adopted by the entire British India, including Pakistan and Bangladesh. Pakistan giving it legal sanction the other day and Badal’s government in Punjab passing the Anand Karaj Act now designed to confirm it.

A simple ceremonial, Anand Karaj is popular with couples opting for inter-communal marriage or not wanting to get involved in casteism and other elaborate ceremonial fuss. There is no provision for divorce in Anand marriage. The bride and groom are two bodies, yet one entity, a spiritual union.

The author, a noted Punjabi writer, is a former nominated Member of the Rajya Sabha; he is also an erstwhile Member of the Planning Commission. He can be contacted at e-mail:

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