Every important Sikh ceremony is performed in the presence of the Holy Granth. The ceremonies which are most important to a Sikh are:
Sikhs name their children only after they are born, as it is customary to bring the child into the presence of the Holy Granth as soon as it is convenient and the mother is well enough to go to the Gurdwara. The Holy Granth is opened at random and an extract (Shabad) is read. Then the first letter of the ‘Shabad’ (hymn) on that page is chosen as the initial of the child’s name. Now this could be any letter of the alphabet. For example if the letter is ‘S’ then any name such as Surinder, Surjit, Sukhdev, Satnam, Sarabjit, Satwant, Sukhwinder etc. could be chosen by the parents to their liking. Sometimes relatives and friends also help by suggesting names. The selected name is then declared by the officiating priest to all present. To this the word ‘Singh’ or ‘Kaur’ is added. ‘Sing’ is used for a boy and ‘Kaur’ for a girl. Literally ‘Singh’ means lion and ‘Kaur’ means princess. Now the full name could be Surinder Singh for a boy or Surinder Kaur for a girl and so on. Some Sikhs do not think it essential to add any family name or surname to their first full name, but most do.
Some of the most common Sikh surnames found in Britain are Bedi, Sodhi, Sahni, Kohli, Gill, Mann, Sidhu, Sandhu, Attwal, Sanghera, Bahra, Bhogal, Sahota, Cheema, Chahal, Mavi, Bansal, Chhatwal, Grewal, Bajwa, Virdi, Ahluwallia, Nijhar and scores of others.
Baptism or Amrit
Baptism and marriage are the most important ceremonies in the life of a Sikh. It is in the form of a formal oath and initiation ceremony by which a Sikh becomes a true Khalsa (purified or chosen one), and like the Christian at confirmation, acquires full membership of the Sikh brotherhood. As the ceremony culminates in the drinking of Amrit* (specially prepared sweet Holy water) so the term ‘Amrit Dhari Sikh’ is often used. However, a Sikh should only take Amrit when he or she is mature enough to realise the nature of the obligations he or she has chosen to accept.
Marriage or Anand Karaj (ceremony of bliss)
‘Anand Karaj’ literally means a good deed which is going to bring happiness and contentment. No Sikh marriage is regarded as truly complete unless the bride and groom present themselves before the Holy Granth and are blessed by the Guru, as well as by the congregation or the families present.
The Death Ceremony
Usually, this ceremony is very simple. When a Sikh dies the body is first washed and new clothes put on. Then it is carried to the cremation ground in procession where appropriate prayers are said before the funeral pyre is lit by close relatives. In Britain a crematorium built for this purpose is used. Later, the cooled ashes are collected and immersed into or presented to natural running water- a river.
To complete the ceremony, then either in the home or in the Gurdwara, the daily reading of the Holy Granth begins. This takes about ten days. When all the 1430 pages have been read, the final service is held. Relatives and friends gather to join in the final prayers. The Parshad (holy food) is served and the people disperse. This marks the end of the period of mourning.
Amrit is Baptismal water which is prepared in an iron bowl by dissolving some Patashas or sugar cubes in water in the bowl. The water is constantly stirred with a Khanda (a small double edged sword), and the Gurbaani (Holy verses) recited- which transform the sweet water into Amrit (literally elixir). Part of this Amrit is taken through the mouth and the rest sprinkled sparingly on the eyes, face and head.
Mere water, sugar cubes, double edged sword and the bowl all symbolize something:
- Water- a symbol of life, cleanliness and purity as well as coolness and humility.
- Sugar Cakes- easily soluble, symbolize the breakdown of social divisions and caste barriers as well as love and sweetness.
- ‘Khanda’- the double edged steel sword is symbolic of strength, power, single-mindedness and determination.
- ‘Baata’- the bowl symbolizes the human mind where all the above virtues have taken a new shape.