Monday, 7 May 2012
Professing Non-Sikh Faith But Married in Gurdwara: Sacred or Sham Marriages?
“Persons professing faiths other than the Sikh faith cannot be joined in wedlock by Anand Karaj ceremony." [The Sikh Reht Maryada Article XVIII item (k)]
(Note: "Sikh view" short articles on this blogspot are in response to briefing queries from organisations and students of Sikh tradition. A holistic view of Sikh Scriptures and mainstream Sikh Reht Maryada is taken. Nevertheless, these articles can only be regarded as one view of Sikh teachings. Discussion about the interpretation of Gurbani and Sikh Reht Maryada through publications and cyber forums is important; more so in view of the lack of research and consistent direction from central Sikh institutions like Akal Takh Sahib and the Shromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee.)
The question is, why insist on a religious wedding when a couple cannot agree on one religio-cultural path in married life. In such unions, religion takes low priority or has no place at all. Why not accept that reality from the outset? Why go through one or even two marriage ceremonies at respective places of worship to please parents and religio-social circles on both sides?
With few exceptions, marriages at religious places involving two religious backgrounds, seem to lack the solemn and sacred commitment which needs to be given jointly at the same time and place. Such an interfaith marriage ceremony remains incomplete, even when two religious ceremonies have taken place at the respective places of worship of the two families involved.
I have no intention of defending the sacred cows of any religion. By all means, let religious do’s, don’ts and dogmas, be dumped when no longer felt relevant to own lives. But why go through the falsehood of such weddings at places of worship when religion hardly seems to matter?
Religion must remain relevant to changes in human society by continually re-interpreting its ideology, while guiding the individual towards the ideal physical and spiritual state of harmony, to be able to achieve the goal of this life. Subject to such re-interpretation, any religious ideal is a guiding constant, which must not be abandoned, due simply to secular or social pressures, trends, fashions and fads. The guidance of Guru Granth Sahib is spiritual as well as temporal. That (miri-piri) guidance has given rise to a religious system and a code of conduct over a period of time.
Sikh religion has own guiding principles in married life (gresti or dam-pati jeevan) which are explained during an Anand Karaj – the Sikh ceremony showing the path to a blissful union of two bodies following one Guiding Light. Gender equality is preached -even if lagging behind in practise! – by stressing “one spiritual light in two human bodies” (ek jyot doay moorti) and respective complementary husband-wife roles in married life. Dharam nibhauna – to do one’s duty towards each other (and other family relationships) is explained. To come to One Guru Granth Sahib, the Word Guru only, and none other, is stressed; and any form of superstition, ritualism and un-Sikh practices, condemned. Service of creation while remaining immersed in Creator awareness (sewa and simran), honest work and sharing with those in need, are shown as the pillars of Sikhi. And so on, life guidance (sikhia) relevant to Anand Karaj ceremony is given.
If only one of the two sitting before Guru Granth Sahib in the presence of the holy congregation (Saadh Sangat), is listening to and accepting this sikhia, then it becomes a form of disrespect to both – Guru Granth Sahib and the Sangat ! It is for that reason that I refuse to attend such sham weddings at gurdwaras. Often, the couple sit before Guru Granth Sahib, giggling and chatting to each other. Depending on pre-wedding briefing and professionalism of the marriage celebrant, non-Sikh parents and party may or may not understand what is going on, or show due respect to the Guru at such weddings. Some sit as indifferent observers at the back of the gurdwara hall, even with legs stretched towards Guru Granth Sahib.
Other religious paths have own guiding principles, which may or may not clash with the Sikh way of life of a householder.
The alternative of a civil marriage is there. If they are so compelled by their residual faith in religion, both sides can visit each other’s places of worship. A prayer can be offered to seek the blessing of the Deity. Also, anyone can organise a langar in a gurdwara for whatever reason.
However, if a religious ceremony is felt to be absolutely necessary, then the couple should have been able to resolve this first matrimonial challenge before the wedding and be able to adopt one religious path for themselves and, in due course, for their children.
There is a vast increase in such “mixed” marriages with parents’ partial or full consent. I am assured that many of such marriages work out very well. On the other hand I am aware that many same-religion marriages are failing. To mix up such arguments with the ceremony of Anand Karaj in Gurdwaras, is to miss the point. The same goes for the argument that Guru Granth Sahib is for all humanity and that the gurdwara is open to all regardless of religion or social background. Anand Karaj is a Khalsa Panth approved religious ceremony for the Sikhs who have total belief in Guru Granth Sahib as the only temporal and spiritual Guide.
If a couple from different religious backgrounds is unable to comply with the Sikh Reht Maryada then the couple and the respective parents should not insist on a Sikh Anand Karaj ceremony. However, the doors of the Gurdwaras are open to all. Anyone can say prayers (Ardaas) and arrange or do langar sewa. Anyone can invite own community to a gurdwara and benefit by listening to the universal egalitarian Message of Guru Granth Sahib, even if their own religion restricts them from complying with that Message fully.
There are many communities like the so called “sehajdhari Sikhs”, the Sindhi Sikh community or just Nanak Naam leva Sikhs like the sikligar/wanjara Sikhs. They do not follow any other religion. Their traditional right to Anand Karaj ceremony can be discussed elsewhere, in that context.
The message of Gurbani is universal and the Sikh institution of the gurdwara is inclusive. However, over the centuries a corporate dimension of Sikh ideology and identity has emerged to defend the faith and the faithful. Great sacrifices have been called for and made. Compromising the corporate aspects of Sikh religion is a slippery slope leading to the loss of ideological independence, and visible identity of the religion.
The family unit is central to the preservation of the ideology and identity of an established world religion like Sikhi(sm).
It is for that reason that the great Gursikh scholars who drafted the Sikh Reht Maryada did not approve marriages before Guru Granth Sahib, when one partner is not fully committed to the Sikh faith.
Sikh Education Welfare & Advancement (SEWA) network
Copy right: Gurmukh Singh UK
This article may be published or quoted from, with acknowledgement.