When is Guru Nanak Gurpurab (07.05.2018)
Observed in Countries with Sikh populations, especially India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, United Kingdom, Canada, United States, Malaysia, Kenya, and Thailand
Observed on Full Moon day of Karttika, the eighth month of the Hindu calendar
Observed by Sikhs
The word gurpurab means “festival of the guru.” The Sikhs celebrate many gurpurabs at each gurpurab the particular guru to whom the day is dedicated is honored. The devotees organize akhand path (marathon readings of the Granth Sahib that go on for 24 hours), langars (community lunches and dinners), kar seva (social service performed by physical labor), and religious processions to celebrate the occasion.
The most important festival of the year for Sikhs is the Gurpurab celebrating the birth of Guru Nanak Dev (1469–1539), the founder of Sikhism and the first of its 10 human gurus. Because Guru Nanak is thought to have brought illumination to the world and into the darkened lives of ordinary mortals, the festival is also called Prakash Utsav, the Festival of Light.
Celebrations begin nearly two weeks before the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. Every day, religious processions (which also function as choruses), known as prabhat pheris, go around the streets in the early hours of the morning. A day before the festival, a massive parade (nagar kirtan) starts from the gurdwaras (“temples”) in the afternoon. Old and young alike join in this march of goodwill and peace. Leading the crowd are the panj pyaras (the five best disciples of the guru). Behind them, a profusely decorated palki (palanquin) rolls along, on which is placed the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. This is the Sikh’s holy book, which is also regarded as head of the Sikh religion and the 11th and last guru. A band of musicians and singers chanting shabads in honor of the guru follow the palanquin. As they wend their way through the lanes and alleys of the city or town, people come forward to seek the blessings of the panj pyaras, and bow in reverence before them. Musical bands of schoolchildren, eminent citizens, and gatka parties (acting out mock battles with traditional weapons) take part in the processions.
The route of the nagar kirtan (“parade”) is gaily decorated with flags, flowers, religious posters, ornamental arches, and banners depicting various aspects of Sikhism. The procession offers an opportunity to the old and frail to pay homage to the Guru Sri Granth Sahib before it is returned to the Sikh temple (gurdwara). This sacred volume is believed to sanctify the ground over which it travels.
On this special day, akhand path (marathon readings of the holy book) are organized in gurdwaras across the country. The divan (“assembly”) commences in the gurdwaras almost at the crack of dawn. A special shabad (“devotional song”), known as “Asa-di-Var,” is sung, followed by kirtans (“devotional group singing”) and kathas (“lectures and talks on various aspects of Sikhism”).
Devotees pour into the gurdwara from morning on, where they participate in all these programs until noon. After the head priest offers ardas (“formal prayers”), the entire congregation recites shabads based on the teachings of Guru Nanak.The special prayers end at midday with the bhog, the concluding ceremony. Food, which has been cooked in the community kitchen by volunteers, is then offered to the guru in an elaborate ceremony and his blessings are sought. Karah prasad (“sacred food,” a viscous sweetmeat prepared with flour or semolina, ghee, and sugar) is also distributed to everyone present.
Thereafter, men, women, and children, regardless of their ages, faiths, beliefs, and social position, sit down to share the food in the guru ka langar (“community kitchen”). At night, people light their homes with oil lamps and candles. Some set off firecrackers to celebrate the occasion. The Sikhs who cannot join the celebrations for some reason, or who live in places where there are no gurdwaras, hold the ceremony in their own homes by privately preparing kirtan, akhand path, ardas, karah prasad, and langar.
The birth anniversaries of the other nine gurus of the Khalsa Panth (the theocracy that governs the Khalsa made up of the panj pyaras) are also celebrated as gurpurabs, though not on the same scale as that of Guru Nanak. All 10 of the gurpurabs commemorate the virtuous lives and pious deeds of the Gurus.
The second major Gurpurab is the birthday of Sri Guru Gobind Singh. He was the 10th guru, who was born at Patna Sahib in the eastern Indian state of Bihar on December 22, 1666. His birthday generally falls in December–January and sometimes occurs twice in a year, according to the computations of the Hindu Bikram (lunar) calendar. The elements of the celebrations are similar to those of Guru Nanak’s birthday, including akhand path, processions and kirtans, kathas, and langar.
The Sikh diaspora living in various countries celebrate gurpurabs with traditional devotion, zeal, and fervor. Provided the conditions are congenial, the members of the Sikh community participate in peaceful, colorful processions wherever they live.
The Sikh expatriates and nonresident Indians throng the nearest gurdwaras (there are a few in every country) with their families and kinsfolk, where they participate in kirtans, chanting, and readings from the Guru Granth Sahib; karah prasad and langars are also organized on such occasions.
Very often a number of local dignitaries, including royal personages, presidents, and prime ministers, participate in such festivals, thereby setting examples of communal harmony and secularism.
Origins and History
During the medieval period, the northern part of India was perpetually in turmoil, with ceaseless Muslim invasions from beyond its northwestern borders. By the 15th century, constant feuds and factions between the Hindus and Muslims gave rise to a movement of saints, drawn from both communities.
They tried their utmost to foster harmony, brotherhood, and peace between the two warring communities and, in the process, attempted to make members of both religions realize that there was only one God.
One such noble soul who manifested himself in this world at that crucial juncture was Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.
Sri Guru Nanak Dev was born at Rai-Bhoi-di Talwandi in the Shekhupura district of western Punjab in what is now Pakistan, on Karttika Puranmashi, the full Moon day of the month of Karttika (October–November). The area has come to be known as Nanakana Sahib, and his home is now a shrine (gurdwara) known as Gurdwara Janam Asthan, where devout Sikhs from all over the world come together to celebrate the Gurpurab of Guru Nanak every year.
Born in a Hindu family to Kalu Rai Mehta (father) and Tripta Devi (mother), he refused to observe Hindu rituals and preached that there was only one God and that God was the only truth. He chose two persons, one each from the two communities, and undertook several journeys within India, as well as four to Ceylon, Tibet, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. Nanak constantly preached that he was neither a Hindu nor a Muslim, but a follower of the truth and that his knowledge came from the word, meaning that God could only be realized by meditation and self-improvement. He criticized and disparaged the Hindu customs and practices of fasting, pilgrimages, penance, and other austerities as well as the dominance of priests. He denounced the Muslims for their persecution of the Hindus and their practice of forcible conversions. Nanak asked his disciples to earn their living by honest means and insisted that they marry and raise families. He preached that a man could live a householder’s life, yet could also be a true follower of God by clinging to the truth.
No priests were required, nor was a particular place or time necessary for one to communicate with God.
Nanak’s followers came to be known as Sikhs, a derivation of a Sanskrit word shishya, which means “student.” Both Hindus and Muslims in large numbers became his followers.
Nanak became the first guru or master of the Sikhs and was followed by three others before the Mughal rulers at Delhi took notice of the fastgrowing sect. A few of the Sikh gurus fell to assassins’ swords while defending their faith. Their days of martyrdom are also celebrated as gurpurabs, though they are tinged with solemnity and sadness.
Martyrdom observances consist of kirtan, kathas, lectures, karah prasad, and langars in gurdwaras across the length and breadth of the country.
The fifth guru, Arjun Dev (1581–1606), was tortured and executed at Lahore in May 1606 on the instructions of Mughal Emperor Jahangir (1569–1627). This resulted in the members of the sect taking up arms to protect themselves.
Guru Tegh Bahadur (1621–75), the ninth guru, was arrested under the orders of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb (1618–1707). When he refused to give up his faith and accept Islam, he was beheaded on November 11, 1675, at the city square (Chandni Chowk) in Delhi.
Usually one-day celebrations of his martyrdom are organized in the gurdwaras. These occasions are also marked by special prayers and chanting from the Guru Granth Sahib. Religious discourses and free community meals (langar) are an integral part of the celebrations. Since it is the peak of summer, a chilled, refreshing drink made with milk, sugar, essence, and water (chhabeel) is freely distributed in gurdwaras and along the roads to all passers-by and bystanders.
The constant friction between the royal court in Delhi and the fledgling community led to the 10th master Gobind Singh (1666–1708), converting the members to a warrior class and calling them Khalsa, meaning the “Pure Ones” (those who are pure at heart and in their actions). Sikh men began adding the word singh (“lion”), and women, the word kaurs (“princess” or “lioness”) to their names. Since the 18th century the community has been in the forefront of battles against any kind of oppression or injustice. Three days before he passed away on October 3, 1708, Guru Gobind Singh conferred the mantle of guru of the Sikhs on the Guru Granth Sahib, also called the Adi Granth, the Sikh’s holy book. Ever since, this sacred book has been venerated as the 11th guru of the Sikh community, its supreme spiritual authority, and the leader of the Sikh religion. There have been no more human gurus.