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Rites of Passage in Hinduism & Sikhism. A consideration of the importance of rites of passage within faith communities identifying key themes.

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Rites of Passage in Hinduism & Sikhism


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    1. Rites of Passage in Hinduism & Sikhism A consideration of the importance of rites of passage within faith communities identifying key themes. The purpose of this presentation is to explain what happens in the rites of initiation and marriage, the spiritual meaning of the rites, and the involvement of the faith community.

    2. Rites of Passage an Introduction • What is a rite of passage? • Marks a stage in religious, social and personal development. A rite of passage can be seen to celebrate certain stages of development in the life of an individual.1 • How many rites do Hinduism and Sikhism have? • Hinduism has sixteenα and Sikhismβ has four main sacraments*. • Do they share the same rites of passage? • Hinduism and Sikhism share four similar rites of passage.γ

    3. Initiation in Hinduism Upanayana is possibly the most important of the samskaras in Hinduism. It represents a boy coming of age and has religious as well as social implications. Upanayana is otherwise known as the Ceremony of the Sacred Thread Historically the ceremony marked a passing from childhood to studenthood when formal scriptural education would begin. The rite ended with the young man leaving home to live with his guru (spiritual teacher). This rite is still observed for Hindu boys when they reach puberty, or between the ages of 8-13.2 Upanayana is also a ceremony which initiates a boy formally into his caste (varna)δ

    4. The Upanayana Ceremony The Upanayana is performed by the boy’s father or another male relative. It is important that the details of the ceremony are correctly observed. The inductee has his head shaved and has a bath to remove all impurities. He is dressed in simple white clothes, invested with a deer skin and presented to the household Gods. The boy and father make an offering to the gods and the Guruji (priest) lights a fire (in a container). The boy is given the sacred thread which is placed over his left shoulder and under his right arm. The father and son say the Gayatri Mantra. The guests sing blessings and shower the father and son with rice grains. The Guruji then provides some advice for how the boy should now live. The inductee now only pretends to leave the family home and instead receives presents and takes his place at a ceremonial lunch.

    5. The Spiritual Meaning of Upanayana The three varnas who observe the Upanayana cermony are known as dvijas. This means they are ‘twice born’. By this second birth they become member of Hindu society and take on full social responsibilities. The boy is taught during the ceremony the secret of life through brahmopadesam (teaching the nature of Brahman, the Ultimate reality). The sacred thread is called janeu. It is one thread folded three times and tied together. The three threads represent: Goddess Gayatri (Goddess of Mind) Goddess Saraswati (Goddess of Word) Goddess Savitri (Goddess of Deed) The knot which ties the thread together is called the Brahma granthi or sacred knot. It represents the formless Brahman, the pure form of energy which pervades all.

    6. The Spiritual Meaning of Upanayana The sacred thread reminds the brahmachari (inductee) to lead a regulated life with purity in thought, word and deed. The threads also represent the debt owed to the guru, parents and society, and God. The Sacred Thread is never removed, though it is renewed each year, usually on the full moon day of the Hindu month of shravana. From now on the brahmachari must: • pray three times a day • perform the religious ceremonies • study the sacred scriptures

    7. Initiation in Sikhism Sikhs enter the community of initiated Sikhs known as the Khalsa through Amrit Sanskarε Khalsa means ‘pure’ and becoming a Khalsa refers to joining the family or brotherhood of initiated Sikhs. Joining the Khalsa demonstrates a commitment to the Guru and is an act of discipleship. The Khalsa uphold the highest Sikh virtues of commitment, dedication and a social conscious. Being a member of the Khalsa means Sikhs must follow the Sikh Code of Conduct and Convention. This states that they must follow the Sikh way of life and avoid the four taboos: • Never remove hair • No drugs, tobacco or alcohol • Not to eat Halal meat • Not commit adultery Khalsa Sikhs should not discriminate against others on the grounds of caste, race, gender or colour. The Gurus teach that ‘we are all made from one clay’.

    8. The 5K’s Sikhs are also expected to wear the prescribed physical articles of the faith. These are often called the 5 ks and are an outward expression of their inner belief. The 5 Ks or five symbols of the Khalsa are: • Kesh – uncut hair. This symbolises spirituality. It is a mark of dedication and an acceptance of God’s will. • Kara - steel bracelet. This symbol reminds the wearer of restraint in their actions and remembrance of God at all times. • Kirpan - ceremonial sword or dagger. A symbol of dignity and the Sikh struggle against injustice. (It is worn purely as a religious symbol and not as a weapon). • Kachera – breeches or shorts with a tie at the top. A symbol signifying self control and chastity. • Kanga - comb. A symbol of hygiene and discipline as opposed to the matted unkept hair of ascetics. A Khalsa is expected to regularly wash and comb their hair as a matter of self discipline.

    9. The Amrit Ceremony The Amrit Ceremony can be held anywhere as long as it is in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib. The ceremony is not open to Sikh observers who are not Khalsa members unless they are among the initiates. A guard dressed in white uniform stands at the door. In the centre of the room 5 Khalsa Sikhs kneel around a bowl containing water and sugar crystals (amrit). With their right legs raised and left legs on the ground they recite passages from the scriptures as they stir the amrit with a khanda. The sweetened water represents quality of compassion to balance the strength and resilience represent by the sword. Another Khalsa sits behind the Guru Granth Sahib. Hymns are recited which all Khalsa Sikhs should recite and meditate upon daily.ζ The initiates kneel one by one in front of the Khalsas conducting the ceremony and have amrit put into their cupped hands to drink, and sprinkled on their eyes and hair. Each sprinkling happens five times. Each time everyone in the room says: ‘Waheguruji ka Khalsa, Waheguruji ki fateh.’ The Khalsa belongs to Waheguru (God), victory be to Waheguru. The ceremony ends with the eating of the ceremonial karah parshad (sacred pudding – a sweet tasking food which has been blessed.)

    10. The Social Meaning of the Amrit Ceremony Indian family names disclose the varna into which a person was born. When a Sikh becomes a Khasla he or she must leave behind their previous identity and take the surname Singh (meaning ‘lion’), if male, or Kaur (meaning ‘princess’), if female. The Khalsa becomes their new family.η Unlike most initiations Amrit may be repeated. If a Sikh breaks one of the major pledges s/he may be excluded from Khalsa though never the wider Sikh community. If a person is repentant they will be readmitted by taking Amrit again. There is no compulsion to take Amrit at any given age; individuals decide to make their commitment when inwardly prepared to do so. Not all Sikhs become Khalsa but membership is and ideal to which many aspire.

    11. Key Themes of Initiation Ceremonies By looking at Upanayana in Hinduism and Amrit Sanskar in Sikhism we notice that there are a number of similiarities or key themes. • Although the ceremonies do not take place when an individual is of a certain age in both religions, initiation is supposed to take place when an individual has the ability to accept his societal responsibilities. • Both ceremonies demand individual accepts a way of life defined by their faith. • Both ceremonies demand that an individual remains pure in thought, deed and word. • Both ceremonies are witnessed within their faith community and the ceremonies serves as a formal induction into that society. • Both ceremonies are a stage of development within their faith community and serve as an outward expression of inner beliefs and pledges to specific ways of life.

    12. Marriage in Hinduism & Sikhism We will now turn to marriage as a rite of passage within Hinduism and Sikhism. After initiation ceremonies, marriage is often considered the next important rite of passage. Both Hindu and Sikh marriages are often elaborate affairs and take place over a number of days. Hindu and Sikh weddings are integral family affairs. Hinduism sees marriage as a sacred duty that entails both religious and social obligations. Anand Karaj is the prescribed form of Sikh marriage, literally translating as 'Blissful Union". Sikh men and women get married when they are fully able to take on the responsibilities of married life.

    13. Hindu Weddings There is much regional and denominational variation, but certain features are common. These include: • Welcoming the bridegroom • Exchanging flower garlands • The daughter being given in marriage • Sacred fire ceremony • Holding of hands • Circumambulation of the sacred fire • Marking the bride's hair-parting with kum-kum • Taking seven steps together • Tying the knot (the garments of bride and groom) • Viewing the Pole Star • Receiving the elders' blessings • Exchanging presents These stages are explained in more detail in the following slides:

    14. Hindu Wedding Ceremony • Jayamaala • The bride's parents welcome the bridegroom and his family at the boundary of the house where the wedding is taking place. A red tilakaθ is applied to their forehead. Members from both families are formally introduced, marking the start of relationship between two families. Welcoming the bridegroom Jayamaala (2) The bride and the bridegroom then exchange garlands (jayamaala) and declare: "Let all the learned persons present here know, we are accepting each other willingly, voluntarily and pleasantly. Our hearts are concordant and united like waters."

    15. Hindu Wedding Ceremony Kanya Daan (3) Kanya Daan, which means the giving away of one's daughter, has been derived from the Sanskrit words Kanya (girl) and Daan (donation). Kanya Daan is a significant ritual performed by the father of the bride in presence of a large gathering invited to witness the wedding. The father pours out libation of sacred water symbolizing the giving away of his daughter to the bride groom. The groom recites Vedici hymns to Kama, the god of love, for pure love and blessings. As a condition for offering his daughter for marriage, the father of the bride requests a promise from the groom for assisting the bride in realizing the three ends: dharma (righteous duty) artha (wealth) kama (sexual, physical or emotional pleasure) The groom makes the promise by repeating three times that he will not fail the bride in realizing dharma, artha and kama.

    16. Hindu Wedding Ceremony Vivaha-homa (4) A sacred fire is lit and the Purohit (Priest) recites the sacred mantras in Sanskrit. Oblations are offered to the fire whilst saying the prayers. The words "Id na mama" meaning "it is not for me" are repeated after the offerings. This teaches the virtue of selflessness required to run a family. Paanigrahan - the ceremony of vows. The husband, holding his wife's hand, says "I hold your hand in the spirit of Dharma, we are both husband and wife".

    17. Hindu Wedding Ceremony Shilarohan and Laaja Homa (5 &6) Shilarohan involves the bride climbing over a stone/rock which symbolises her willingness and strength to overcome difficulties in pursuit of her duties. Both gently walk around the sacred fire four times. The bride leads three times and the fourth time the groom leads. He is reminded of his responsibilities. The couple join their hands into which the bride's brothers pour some barley, which is offered to the fire, symbolising that they all will jointly work for the welfare of the society. (7) The husband marks the parting in his wife's hair with red kumkum powder for the first time. This is called 'sindoor' and is a distinctive mark of a married Hindu woman.

    18. Hindu Wedding Ceremony Sapta-Padi • This is the main and the legal part of the ceremony. The couple walk seven steps reciting a prayer at each step. These are the seven vows which are exchanged. The first for food, the second for strength, the third for prosperity, the fourth for wisdom, the fifth for progeny, the sixth for health and the seventh for friendship. In some regions, in stead of walking the seven steps, the bride touches seven stones or nuts with her right toe. Only when the seven steps are taken is the Hindu wedding binding. (9) A symbolic matrimonial knot is tied after this ceremony. Often the groom’s scarf is tied to the bride’s saree signifying sacred wedlock. Surya Darshan and Dhruva Darshan (10) The couple look at the Sun in order to be blessed with creative life. They look in the direction of the Dhruva (Polar star) and resolve to remain unshaken and steadfast like the Polar star. Ashirvada (Blessings) (11)The couple are blessed by the elders and the priest for a long and prosperous married life. Vidaai - A bride bids her family farewell at the end of the wedding ceremony. (12) This is considered to be the most emotional ritual, when the bride leaves her parents' home and makes her way to her husband's. Family and friends, who also shower her with blessings and gifts, give her a tearful farewell. The male members of the bride's family bid farewell to the groom by applying the traditional 'tilak' (vermilion) on his forehead and shower him with gifts.

    19. Sikh Wedding Ceremony Sikh marriages are usually arranged with families acting as little more than introduction services. The ultimate choice is always left to the man and woman. In some cases the bride and groom choose each other first and then seek their parents consent and blessing. The actual wedding day is one day, but Sikh weddings can last for many days, usually around 3-5 days. (These include one day being the mendhiι, another day being the Sangeetκ, and another being the Mayianλ ceremony.) The wedding usually begins in the morning with the two sides meeting in a ceremony called "Milni“ (meaning meeting), and typically involves an exchange of gifts by the father and maternal uncle of the bride and the groom. During the Milni, the family and friends of the bride and groom will assemble in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib. An "Ardas" (prayer) called Asa di Var is read. When the Milni is complete, the parties retire for tea and other refreshments. One by one designated family members exchange garlands and a hug The groom distributes Karah Prashad (ceremonial sacremental pudding) to his family. Everyone enjoys tea and snacks in a large tent beside the Gurdwara

    20. Anand Karaj The marriage ceremony takes place at a congregational gathering in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib3. Shabads (Sikh hymns) are sung. The bride joins the groom sitting to his left, both facing the Guru Granth Sahib. The couple and their parents stand up and an Ardas seeking the Blessing of Waheguru (the Wondrous Giver of Knowledge) for the commencement of the Anand marriage is offered. Any Amritdhari Sikhμ can perform a marriage ceremony. This officiating person apprises the couple of the duties of married life according to the Guru's teachings. He explains their mutual obligations as husband and wife. Sikh marital love is modelled on the love between human soul and the Supreme Soul as described in the four Lavans (hymns composed by the Fourth Guru in the Suhi raag section of Guru Granth Sahib).ν The bridegroom and the bride vow fidelity to each other in the presence of the Guru (Granth Sahib) and the holy congregation. They accept their obligations by bowing before Guru Granth Sahib. The Anand marriage is a sacrament and no document is necessary.

    21. The Four Lavans The main ceremony is very simple. The end of the sash, which the bridegroom wears over his shoulder is placed (by the bride's father, guardian or any other responsible person) in the hands of the bride. The officiating person reads the four lavans (stanzas) from Guru Granth Sahib. After the reading of the first stanza, the couple rises and to the accompaniment of music, while the same hymn is sung by the ragis (religious singers), walk slowly round Guru Granth Sahib, the bridegroom leading the bride. After returning to their position in front of Guru Granth Sahib after each of the four hymns (lavans), they should remain standing while the next stanza is read before commencing the next circumambulation while the same stanza is sung by the ragis. Each time the couple circle the Guru Granth Sahib they are making a commitment to God with the Guru as spiritual witness and support. After the four lavans, the hymn of Anand Sahib is read by the ragis. Then there is an Ardas to complete the ceremony. Holy Vaak (a reading of a (non-specific) hymn from Guru Granth Sahib) is read out and the holy sweet pudding Karah Pasad is distributed to all present.

    22. The Four Lavans Completing a circle holding the sash in hand Reading of the Lavan hymn begins Bowing down when standing or sitting down out of respect. Standing up during the Ardas for the family. One of four circular walks around Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The bride’s family members help her

    23. Key Themes of Hindu and Sikh Wedding Ceremonies • Marriage is an important rite of passage in both religions. • Both weddings consist of many ceremonies. • Both Hindu and Sikh brides wear red to symbolise fertility and white to symbolise purity. • Weddings are arranged by families who play an important role in the proceedings and are witness to the union. • The bride and groom are introduced to each others’ families. The families are introduced to each other. • Both ceremonies consist of a practical element (the 7 Steps and the 4 Lavans) to symbolise the various parts of the union. • The bride and groom are symbolically joined together – through holding hands and holding or tying together their garments – in both weddings.

    24. Conclusions • The sacraments of initiation and marriage are important rites of passage in both religions. • They mark a stage of spiritual and social development for an individual and have important personal and community connotations; that is, they demonstrate an acceptance and development of personal faith, religious practice and social responsibility which unites inductees with their faith community. • As such, families play a prominent role within the ceremonies and act as witnesses. • Rites of passage act as a force of social cohesion within communities reaffirming faith and demonstrating shared belief amongst the group.