What does this mean in practice?

Contribution of the gurdwara to family

The gurdwara can contribute and support family life in the following ways:

  • running day centres for the elderly
  • running classes for children and young people
  • offering support for families
  • being a place where families can celebrate

Birth ceremonies

Sikhs follow the instructions set out in the Rahit Maryada for all ceremonies.

Sikh birth ceremonies include:

  • Soon after birth, in very devout families, honey or amrit (ritually prepared sweetened water) is put in the baby's mouth. While the amrit is prepared, the first five verses of the Guru Granth Sahib are read.
  • Many families visit the gurdwara within 40 days of the child's birth.
  • Inside the gurdwara, the Guru Granth Sahib is randomly opened by the granthi and a passage is read out aloud.
  • The family chooses a name that begins with the first letter of the hymn on the page opened.
  • To celebrate, Karah parshad is distributed amongst the congregation.

Responsibility ceremonies

The Amrit Sanskar ceremony is one of the most important ceremonies in the life of a Sikh.

A Sikh can go through the ceremony as soon as they are old enough to understand the full commitment that they are making; this can be as young as 12 for boys and girls. However, even in an observant family, it is unusual for a school-age child to 'take amrit'. This is because families realise that most students in school would find it impracticable to observe the full discipline required.

Sikhs who have been through the Amrit Sanskar become Khalsa, Sikhs, take new names (if they don't already have a Sikh name) and wear the Five Ks.

Marriage ceremony and its significance

In Sikhism, marriage not only connects the couple, it also connects two families. Family, friends and relatives can assist with finding a suitable partner. However, it is the couple themselves who decide whether or not to marry. This is described increasingly as 'assisted marriage'.

The Sikh wedding ceremony is always held in front of the Guru Granth Sahib. The service often takes place in the gurdwara and can be conducted by any Sikh.

The Punjabi word for the marriage ceremony is Anand Karaj meaning 'blissful union'. For Sikhs, married status is considered the norm and the ideal. Marriage is felt to provide opportunities for serving God's purpose and the wellbeing of humanity, and is the best means for achieving fulfilment and bliss.

Care for elderly family members

The extended family often cares of the elderly, but it is usually the sons who take most responsibility. Sikhs generally assume that it is natural for children and grandchildren to take care of their parents or grandparents.

Death and mourning

After death a Sikh's body is cremated. A memorial is not usually created, instead, the ashes of the deceased are immersed in a river either in India or in another country where they were living. Sikhism teaches that the soul has moved on and if God wills it, people will be reunited in God's love.

Many Sikhs believe that death is just a short sleep before rebirth and that everyone must remember Waheguru in the hope of escaping rebirth and reaching liberation from reincarnation.

In India the funeral often occurs on the day of death or on the following day. In western countries there is a longer period before cremation. Before taking the body to the crematorium, it is ritually bathed and clothed. Verses of scripture are sung and the Ardas is said. In the crematorium tributes are paid to the deceased and the Kirtan Sohila (late evening prayer) and Ardas are recited. The deceased's family and friends often go to the gurdwara from the crematorium. Here relevant passages of the Guru Granth Sahib are read, followed by langar. During the ten days after someone's death the complete Guru Granth Sahib is read at the family's house or in a gurdwara. The reading ends with a langar.

Deliberate mourning is forbidden and the bereaved are encouraged to accept God's will.

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