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Religion Library: Sikhism

Worship and Devotion in Daily Life

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Congregational worship happens at the Gurdwara, with the Guru Granth Sahib taking the literal and metaphorical center place in worship. Along with the transformative aspect of visual and aural presence of the divine word in the congregation, Sikhs also consider the congregation's presence as transformative. The goal of worship is not just to hear, see, and read scripture but to enact its message. Music provides Sikh worshipers with an aesthetic aid so that they can better understand their scripture, and so they can enact the scriptural message in their daily lives.

Akhand path is the term for an "unbroken reading" of the entire scripture at several kinds of events. Some Sikhs prefer to do sahaj path ("slow reading") over a period longer than the forty-eight hours it takes to complete an akhand path, with long breaks between the readings so the readers, listeners, and their families can better understand and reflect on the holy verses. This form fits better with the message of the Guru's teachings, who said that to reflect and understand the ideas are the step to enacting them, from which liberation can be gained.

Music has been central to Sikh spiritual life since the founding of the community. In his own compositions, Guru Nanak (1469-1539) reports himself to be a minstrel singing the divine message, and encourages his Sikhs to sing the divine praises. Not only does the accompaniment of instruments to the singing of Sikh hymns heighten the aesthetic experience, but the Guru Granth Sahib is itself structured to the musical meters in which the Gurus composed their hymns.

Daily prayers have, for centuries, been a central part of the Sikh routine. The Guru's compositions play a primary role in Sikh devotion from morning to night. Ideally before sunrise, Sikhs are supposed to wake up and recite Guru Nanak's hymn entitled Jap ("Recite"), also called Jap Ji. Around sunset, they recite Sodar ("That House," also known as Rahiras, or "Sustenance") and perform Sohila ("Paean") before sleeping. These three main prayers form the liturgy section at the very beginning of the Guru Granth Sahib.

Guru Nanak's "Ballad in the Meter Asa" (Asa Di Var) is also a popular composition performed in the morning time. Guru Amar Das's hymn Anand ("Bliss") and Guru Arjan's Sukhmani ("Pearl of Peace") are also performed daily or intermittently, especially in times of celebration or mourning. Guru Ramdas's Lavan ("Circumambulations") provides the scriptural basis for the Sikh wedding ceremony. Compositions attributed to Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708), like Jaap ("recitation") and Sawaye ("quatrains"), are also recited by many Sikhs, though they do not come from the Guru Granth Sahib.