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Religion Library: Sikhism

Sacred Time

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Besides the lunar holidays, Sikh communities gather to celebrate the birthdays of the Gurus and other days associated with their lives. An early hagiography (Janam-Sakhi) of Guru Nanak details the holy time of the founder's birth, recording the time of day, month, and year. Early Sikh manuscripts recorded days associated with the Gurus' lives, as well. Sikhs continue to gather in Gurdwaras and observe days called Gurpurabs ("Guru-days") associated with the Gurus' births, martyrdoms, and other major events in the community's history.

HolidayTime of yearSignificance
VaisakhiAprilSpring harvest, and elevation of community to Khalsa under Guru Gobind Singh
Shahidi DivasJuneGuru Arjan's martyrdom in 1606
DivaliOctober or NovemberFall Harvest, and Guru Hargobind’s release from Mughal custody
Hola MahalaMarchEnd of winter, and celebration of Sikh martial tradition

Sikhs have also incorporated cultural holidays into their annual rhythms. Hola Mohala (March) is an example of an Indian holiday at the end of winter (Holi, associated with Krishna) appropriated by Sikhs and re-imagined to display Sikh martial prowess. Hola Mohala is celebrated with much fanfare in historical Sikh Gurdwaras like Kesgarh Sahib in the city of Anandpur on the day after the Hindu holiday. In the West, one may certainly see many Sikhs attending gurdwara services on December 31st, to ring in the "secular New Year" in the Guru's graces, as well.

The idea of Kaliyug ("the Dark Age") has had a long history in India throughout Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions. The Sikh founders used this concept to describe the world in which they lived. According to this idea, human beings today live in a decrepit age that is the result of eons of moral deterioration. Guru Angad (1504-1552) described this age:

The poor man is the emperor, and the fool is considered a scholar
The blind man is a visionary, this is how it goes!
Mischief is at the helm, and liars are exalted
Nanak! The Gurmukhs recognize that such is justice in the Dark Age.
(GG 1288)

The Sikh tradition's writers inverted the moral pessimism of the concept of Kaliyug and stated that only the Guru offers real hope of protection in a crooked world. For Sikhs, the moral depravity of the age necessitates moral uprightness and adherence to good, namely Sikh, virtues. Thus, the "dark age" is not so much a cursed period of time as an opportunity to attain liberation by living in accordance with Kartar's command.

Study Questions:
1.     According Sikh scripture, what are the blessed moments?
2.     Why do Sikhs get up early in the morning?
3.     What is Kaliyuga?