Anand Karaj - the Sikh Wedding Ceremony
 

The Anand Karaj, the Sikh marriage ceremony, is often viewed  purely as a social event. However, within the Sikh faith, the essence of the Anand Karaj is predominantly spiritual. The two individuals that participate in the Anand Karaj sit before the Guru, the guide in their spiritual quest, and thus seated, these two individuals reaffirm their commitment to walk on the spiritual path. The Anand Karaj is an important step socially, because it is an affirmation to the community that these two individuals are making a commitment to each other. But, for those who have chosen to find the essence of the Sikh path in their lives, the Anand Karaj is an even more important event spiritually, for it reaffirms a commitment that is far more enduring and far important in the Sikh way of life than the social commitment that is being made.

Commitment

It is said within the Sikh faith that there are four important events in any individual's life, birth, Amrit, marriage, and death. The significance of birth and death in ones life are obvious. However, the role of Amrit and the Anand Karaj in ones spiritual life are often confused.

In the Sikh way of life, the Amrit ceremony is a commitment an individual makes to walk on the spiritual path, when they reach a stage in their lives that they are ready for that commitment. However, Amrit marks the beginning of a journey, not an end. 

Amrit is an individual's commitment to BEGIN walking on that path, and each person who truly wishes to reach their potential through the teachings of the Sikh Guru, must first make a commitment to walk on the Guru's path. Without a commitment, there can never be any progress on that path. Without a commitment, one remains mired in the swamp built by their own mind's weaknesses. Without a commitment to walk on the spiritual path, these weaknesses rule our lives, and no matter how much we struggle to walk on the spiritual path, there is never any progress. This is why, Amrit, as a commitment to the spiritual quest, is so important in the Sikh way of life.


The Anand Karaj ceremony

After Amrit, the Anand Karaj is the most important event in the spiritual life of a Sikh. The Anand Karaj is a reaffirmation of the commitment before the Guru, that where once each individual alone had made a commitment to that path, now two individuals, together in their lives, are committing to that path. In the Anand Karaj ceremony the Bhai Sahib, seated on the dais in front of the Guru Granth Sahib, will read a selection of Shabads (hymns) written by the Fourth Sikh Guru, Guru Ramdas. In these Shabads, which are called the Lava, there are four stanzas. After reading each one, the Raagi Jatha, seated on the stage, will sing that stanza, and while they are singing those stanzas, the bride and groom will walk around the Guru Granth Sahib, the centre of their spiritual lives as Sikhs. In doing so, they will reaffirm their commitment to the spiritual path. This is repeated four times, once for each stanza in the Lava. With the conclusion of the fourth Lav, the reaffirmation of the commitment these two individuals are making is complete, and the essence of the Anand ceremony is also complete. After this, a few more Shabads will be sung, and finally, the entire congregation will rise in prayer.

The Four Lava

Though many become confused by the essence of the Lava, remember that they are purely spiritual in nature, and they are used in the wedding ceremony to serve as a link between the social event that we all perceive with our eyes, and the spiritual event which can only take place in the minds of those that are participating in this event. The fourth Guru, Guru Ramdas Ji, in the Lava, describes the four stages of the spiritual journey toward Vaheguru (God).


 

The First Lav

hir pihlVI lwv privrqI krm idRVwieAw bil rwm Jiau ]

In the first stage of my journey towards Vaheguru, Vaheguru has created in me a deep inclination to walk on the spiritual path (and has made this a part of my daily routine). Oh Vaheguru, I lovingly submit myself before you.

bwxI bRhmw vydu, Drmu idRVhu pwp qjwieAw bil rwm Jiau ]

Through Bani (the teachings of the Guru), one becomes firm in their faith, through this Bani, the mind's frailties have been erased. Oh Vaheguru, I lovingly submit myself before you.

Drmu idRVhu hir nwmu iDAwvhu isimRiq nwmu idRVwieAw ]

My faith has become firm in this path, through focussing on Vaheguru's name, through repitition, that name has become embedded in my heart.

siqGuru Guru pUrw AwrwDhu siB iklivK pwp gvwieAw ]

Always remember the teachings of the true and complete Guru, through these teachings, all of the minds frailties, the disease of ego and lust and anger in my mind, all of these frailties are erased.

shj Andu hoAw vfBwgI min hir hir mITw lwieAw ]

Only the very fortunate ones who develop a thirst for the spiritual quest, only they find contentment in their lives.

jnu khY nwnku lwv pihlI AwrMBu kwju rcwieAw ]1]

The servant Nanak says that in the first stage of the spiritual journey, Vaheguru has started me walking on the spiritual path.


The Second Lav

hir dUjVI lwv siqGuru purKu imlwieAw bil rwm Jiau ]

In the second stage of my journey towards Vaheguru, Vaheguru has led me to the True Guru (my guide in the spiritual path) Oh Vaheguru, I lovingly submit myself before you.

inrBau BY mnu hoie haumY mYlu gvwieAw bil rwm Jiau ]

Through meeting the True Guru, my mind has overcome its fears and become fearless, the filth of ego has been lost. Oh Vaheguru, I lovingly submit myself before you.

inrmlu Bau pwieAw hir gux gwieAw hir vyKY rwmu hdUry ]

Those that have eliminated selfishness and ego in their minds, their minds begin to emanate with love, through love, they see Vaheguru with them at all times,

hir Awqm rwmu pswirAw suAwmI srb rihAw BrpUry ]

They come to see that all of creation is Vaheguru's own expanse and they see Vaheguru in all living beings (and thus treat all living beings with love and respect),

AMqir bwhir hir pRBu eyko imil hir jn mMgl gwey ]

They see within themselves, and all around, that there is only the one Vaheguru, and they gather in the Sangat and sing Vaheguru's praises

jn nwnk dUJi lwv clweI Anhd sbd vjwey ]2]

The servant Nanak says that Vaheguru has started me on the second stage of the spiritual journey, and the unstruck music of the Guru's teachings has begun to resonate in the core of my being.


The Third Lav

hir qIjVI lwv min cwau BieAw bYrwigAw bil rwm JIau ]

In the third stage of my journey towards Vaheguru, my mind has developed a deep desire to find Vaheguru (Bairaag), and feels the intense pain of separation from Vaheguru (who, though he pervades all of creation, still appears to be separate, apart from that creation) Oh Vaheguru, I lovingly submit myself before you.

zsMq jnw hir mylu hir pwieAw vfBwgIAw bil rwm JIau ]

Those who find the Sangat that is focussed on Vaheguru, they are the fortunate ones that find Vaheguru Oh Vaheguru, I lovingly submit myself before you.

inrmlu hir pwieAw hir gux gwieAw muiK bolI hir bwxI ]

Those that find that Sangat, they find Vaheguru and are cleansed of their frailties, they sing Vaheguru's praises, their tongues ever repeat the praises of Vaheguru

sMq jnw vfBwgI pwieAw hir kQIAY AkQ khwxI ]

Only the very fortunate ones meet that Sangat, the Sangat that describes the indescribable,


ihrdY hir hir hir Duin aupJi hir jpIAY msqik Bwgu JIau ]

In the heart, Vaheguru begins to emanate, at the core of the being, they walk on this path, on whose foreheads fortune shines

jnu nwnku boly qIJi lwvY hir aupjY min bYrwgu JIau ]3]

The servant Nanak says that in the third stage of the journey towards Vaheguru, a tremendous desire to reach Vaheguru wells up in my being


The Fourth Lav

hir cauQVI lwv min shju BieAw hir pwieAw bil rwm JIau ]

In the fourth (and final) stage of my journey towards Vaheguru, I have found Vaheguru, my mind has found complete peace and joy. Oh Vaheguru, I lovingly submit myself before you.


gurmuiK imilAw suBwie hir min qin mITw lwieAw bil rwm JIau ]

Through the Guru I became absorbed in a deep desire to reach Vaheguru, and through this desire, I found that essence of Vaheguru within myself, and my mind and body resonate with joy

hir mITw lwieAw myry pRB BwieAw Anidnu hir ilv lweI ]

Those who develop this deep desire to find Vaheguru, Vaheguru reaches out to them, and they remains immersed day and night in Vaheguru

mn icMidAw Plu pwieAw suAwmI hir nwim vJi vwDweI ]

Upon finding Vaheguru, my mind's greatest desire has been fulfilled. Within me, there is everlasting peace.

hir pRiB Twkuir kwju rcwieAw Dn ihrdY nwim ivgwsI ]

They in whom Vaheguru has caused the spiritual journey to begin, they remain in constant peace through Vaheguru's Simran

jnu nwnku boly cauQI lwvY hir pwieAw pRBu Aivnws ]

The servant Nanak says that in the fourth stage of the journey towards Vaheguru, one finds Vaheguru, the eternal, within themselves.


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Each stage of the spiritual journey, as described in the Lava, has a very distinct feature.

In the first stage, the beginning of the journey, one turns one attention in earnest to the spiritual goal, through Vaheguru's grace. As one begins to walk on the path, one develops a faith in that path, and that faith carries one forward.

In the second stage, one meets the True Guru, the guide on the spiritual path, without whom there can be no further progress. Through the Guru's guidance, one sheds their Haumai (ego), and all of the other vices within the mind begin to dissipate also. Through the Guru, one begins to realise the pervasive nature of Vaheguru.

In the third stage, one reaches the state of Bairaag, an intense feeling of yearning to find Vaheguru, as one begins to grasp the pervasive nature of Vaheguru and realizes their own separation from Vaheguru, though he resides everywhere. It is the Sangat that carries one forward through this stage.

In the fourth stage, one reaches the goal, finding Vaheguru within themselves. The mind reaches a state of Sehj (complete harmony and peace) and remains immersed within Vaheguru at every instant from then on.

Every stage in the journey is characterized by two constants.

The first is Kirpa (grace). At each stage, one only proceeds through Vaheguru's grace. 
Through Vaheguru's grace, one develops the inclination to walk on that path in the first stage.
Through Vaheguru's grace, on meets and develops the bond to the Guru in the second stage. 
Through Vaheguru's grace, one meets the Sangat that carries one forward in the third stage. 
And through Vaheguru's grace, one find Vaheguru in the fourth stage.

The second constant is pias (thirst, longing). Throughout all of the four Lava, one can sense that there is so much thirst and longing for walking on that path. This thirst (developed through Vaheguru's grace) carries one forward. One can meet the Guru, but without a thirst for the path that the Guru's have tread upon, one will not walk forward. One can have a constant good Sangat around them, but without the deep desire to also walk on that path, one will gain nothing from that Sangat. In the fourth stage, SatGuru Ji says that Vaheguru reaches out to them who have developed this deep longing to find Vaheguru.