Rituals and Worship

Sacred Time

Written by: Rahuldeep Singh Gill

According to Sikh scripture, the most blessed moments consist of opportunities to "see" the divine, or rather to experience divine love. Put another way, every breath spent remembering the divine Lover is sacred. With every breath the human individual gets closer to death, but he or she also has the opportunity to remember Kartar with every breath and thereby get closer to Him. This remembrance and this seeing can happen both in individual prayer, and congregational assembly. Both are required in Sikh piety.

In considering the course of the day, the Gurus recognized the period just before dawn as the time to rise, bathe, and immerse oneself in contemplation before commencing the workday. This period during the last part of the night and before the dawn is known in Sikh tradition as the Amrit Vela ("ambrosial hour"). Guru Nanak (1469-1539) placed contemplation at this hour at the heart of the spiritual quest:

What could I offer that I would see His court?
What could I say that He would love me?
The answer:
Chant the Name in the ambrosial hour, contemplating His Greatness.
(GG 2)

By putting Kartar first in the morning, Sikhs believe they can enact truth throughout the workday, until it is time again to gather for evening prayers and retire in the night. Because of such emphasis on daily devotion, there has never been a "holy day" of the week for Sikhs, like the Jewish and Christian Sabbath (Saturday or Sunday), or the Muslim Jumma (Friday).

There are, however, certain days of the year when the community is invited to gather. Guru Nanak himself composed verses for the barah mah ("twelve months"), and Sikhs celebrate the beginning of each lunar month (according to the Bikrami Lunar Calendar) by reading from these compositions. This first day of the month is called sangrand and the special reading of verses from the Guru's compositions is followed by distribution of karah parshad, the sweet sacramental pudding that Sikhs distribute at all congregational gatherings. In the rural Punjab, with its close ties to agriculture and cycles of nature, it is not uncommon to see a spike in visitation to Gurdwaras on the day of the no-moon-night (called masia) and on full moon nights (puran mah) as well.

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.

Holiday Time of year Significance
Vaisakhi April Spring harvest, and elevation of community to Khalsa under Guru Gobind Singh
Shahidi Divas June Guru Arjan's martyrdom in 1606
Divali October or November Fall Harvest, and Guru Hargobind’s release from Mughal custody
Hola Mahala March End of winter, and celebration of Sikh martial tradition
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