Sikh way of marriage is called Anand Karaj. Let me start with giving you some historical perspective of Anand Karaj. Everything in Sikhism starts with Guru Nanak. It was Guru Nanak who refused to get married as per the traditional Hindu way by performing some rituals in front of the god of fire and Havana. He successfully argued to get his marriage solemnized remembering God that pervades and permeates the entire cosmos. It was not an easy job. Some people even tried to kill him for doing this. Message of Guru Nanak was followed by his successors. But the movement did not really picked up during the time of Gurus though there is enough evidence in history showing that it was getting adopted by Sikhs. There is a mention in Sikh history of the marriage of Bhai Kamila and Matho having been performed by reciting verses written by Gurus. Marriage of Veero, the daughter of Guru Hargobind, was also solemnized in the same manner. In fact it also became a kind of necessity for the Sikhs. When Sikhism started spreading in a big way the Brahmin priest tried to stop this by refusing to officiate at the marriage ceremonies of Sikhs. There was one Sikh named Randhawa who faced this problem at the time of the marriage of his daughter. When the Brahmin refused to officiate he went to Guru Amar Das for advice who sent his son in law Bhai Jetha (later Guru Ram Das) to officiate at the ceremony. Interestingly the clever Brahmin later took an about turn for monetary reasons and started officiating at the marriage ceremonies of Sikhs. However for varied reasons the Sikh way of marriage fell into disuse to be revived only later in the nineteenth century. It was at this revival that Sikhs started calling it Anand Karj and the four stanzas of the verse composed by Guru Ram Das were read and became a standard norm for Anand Karj. An act called Anand Marriage Act was also passed by Indian government in early 20th century but it is yet to become a law for political reasons.
Anand means joy or happiness. Karj means an act. Some people say that the name Anand Karj comes from the famous verse called Anand in Guru Granth Sahib which is also read in part at the time of this ceremony. This does not seem to be right. These parts of the verse Anand are read on all ceremonies in the life of a Sikh. None of them is named Anand. My view is that Sikhs call it Anand because Sikhism encourages its followers to celebrate and enjoy life. This was a huge difference between Sikhism and other prevailing religions. In other religions celibacy is encouraged and revered. Sikhism does not do this and instead encourages family life. Anand Karaj is an act that gives you joy. In many religions marriage is considered as something unreligious. Sikhism does not consider marriage an obstacle in your journey to spiritual uplifment.
Before explaining the four stanzas of the verse popularly known as Lavan, it will be useful if I give you meanings of some of the terms used in these four stanzas.
Laav in Punjabi means to break away from something or to take a turn away from something. In Punjabi culture it is said that at the time of marriage the bride breaks away from her family to assimilate into the family of the groom. There are beautiful folk songs and soulful melodies depicting this scenario. In fact the “break away” does not convey the real meaning and we might say it is kind of branching out. Both bride and groom break out from their families to branch out into a new family.
Parvirtee Karam refers to a state of mind which is deeply interested and involved in this world. Its opposite is “Nirvirtee” which describes a state of mind indifferent and apathetic towards the worldly affairs. This should give you enough indication why Guru uses this term in the very first line of this verse.
Kilvikh means sins or bad deeds.
Anhad Sabad means unstruck celestial melody- It is said that when a person realizes the ultimate truth about life he/she finds himself immersed in the waves of this celestial melody.
Bairagiya means those who pine and yearn for truth (God). It does not mean running away from life.
Gurmukh means a person who has disciplined his/her mind with Knowledge from Guru and he is in control of his mind. Its opposite is Manmukh who follows the instincts for his mind.
This verse contains four stanzas. Let me make it clear that this verse was not written for this purpose but you will realize that this is quite suitable and appropriate for the occasion. The form of this verse is called Chhant or Chhand which is a part of Punjabi folklore. Traditionally the bridesmaids used to ask the groom to recite some Chhands at the time of wedding. The subject matter of these folk songs used to have a tinge of fun in it.This verse on its own tracks the journey of an inquisitive mind on its path of realization of truth. In oriental mystical literature God is always deemed to be the groom and everyone else his bride. Guru has taken this groom-bride symbolism to describe the journey of an inquisitive mind to attain the ultimate truth (God). Probably that is why Sikhs picked up this verse for the wedding ceremony.
I have translated the four stanzas below. This is not a literal translation but a translation of the sub text. I have also given screen prints of the original text just in case you want to read it in Punjabi.
O dear God, at the first round Guru guides me to get involved and interested in this world
Gurbani which is my only religious text, motivates not to be wicked.
Reiterating the Dharma I get more and more disciplined in the laws of God
Remembering the perfect Guru I shun all the bad deeds and vices
Celestial bliss dawns upon me making me fall in love with God
So says Nanak that at the first round I start my journey to God.
O dear God at the second round perfect knowledge is revealed to me
I get rid of all the fears and renounce my ego
I experience pure love of God and perceive Him every where
I feel God expanding in all directions in and out
I sense God pervading inside and outside filling me with blissful joy
Nanak says that in the second round I am charmed by the unsung melody.
O dear God at the third round I crave for God
I experience presence of God in the company of good people
We sing God’s praises and talk about him all the time
We relate with God by relating his untellable tales
I listen to God’s symphony played in my heart and feel blessed and privileged
Nanak says that in the third round I pine and yearn for God.
O dear God, in the fourth round tranquility and equipoise dawns upon me
I enjoy company of Gurmukhs with perfect ease
I get attuned with the presence of God all the time
I realized my dream and law of God appeals and enspires me like a melody
God has outlined this journey for me to appreciate his laws in my heart
Nanak says that in the fourth round I realize the immortal God.
This journey described above is more or less similar to the journey of a married couple as together they progress to a successful and satisfying married life. Just as our ego is the distance between us and God, similarly at the start of their married life husband and wife are two separate individuals having their own unique personalities and egos. This uniqueness and ego keeps them apart and slowly as they progress in their married life they develop an understanding between them sacrificing their egos.
You may ask why Guru Nanak revolted against the prevalent way of marriage. The rituals of the prevailing wedding ceremonies are not in line with the beliefs for Sikhism. In Hinduism the marriage is solemnized in the presence of Fire Deity and it is presided over by a designated priest. Sikhism do not recognize any such deity and concept of a priest. In Hindu wedding there is one ritual called Saptapadi in which bride and groom exchange seven vows. The groom takes his vows saying “I as a form of Vishnu”. Vishnu is the name of a Hindu God. This is against the tenants of Sikhism. No person can be an incarnation of God. Guru Nanak revolted against this and insisted on exchanging his vows in the presence of formless God as he described it in Mool Manter of Sikhism. The prevailing Hindu ceremony was/is long and complicated one and he made it very simple. Any Sikh can preside over this ceremony. Unfortunately we are again introducing complexities in it. The Muslim way of marriage is called Nikah. This is a kind of contract between two parties. It is an application from one side which is approved by the other side and witnessed by two adult Muslims. It also prescribes the amount to be paid on the breach of the contract. You can see that while the Hindu way of marriage is all full of rituals in the garb of spirituality. The Muslim way of marriage is devoid of any spirituality and is a kind of a financial deal. The Sikh way of marriage as envisaged by Guru Nanak is based on spirituality devoid of any rituals. Because Sikhism believes that spirituality and family life are not mutually exclusive. In fact they complement each other.
(This article was written at the time of marriage of my elder son on 17th of December 2016)