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


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?

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