Marriage – usually cohabitation of a life-long nature – is blessed as a religious event in most societies. In Sikhism, the Gurus were married and had children. Sikh marriage is intended to replicate the living Guru Granth Sahib and set the example of husband and wife as “one soul in two bodies”.
In modern live Marriage is a civil contract between two people. The couple to be married may choose whether to have the ceremony in a register office or other place licensed to conduct marriages, or whether to have it as part of a religious ceremony in a place of worship licensed to conduct it. Sikh couples get married in the Gurdwara (the Sikh place of worship).
Many people see marriage as having two key purposes. This can be the uniting of two people together in a life-long bond and/or providing a secure environment for the birth and upbringing of children.
In some religious traditions marriages are ‘arranged’ by the young person’s family. Parents regard it as a serious responsibility to find a suitable partner for their son or daughter. The final choice is usually made by the young person, who is free to reject as many of the potential marriage partners as they wish until they meet someone who they are happy to marry.
Some families may come from a tradition of arranged marriages but now adopt a more Western way of finding a suitable partner, eg approaching a matchmaking or dating agency. This often has the full support of parents. An arranged marriage is not the same as a forced marriage.
An increasing number of marriages now break down and end in divorce. Most religious traditions recognise that divorce is sometimes unavoidable. Attitudes to remarriage after divorce vary within and between religious traditions.
Sikhism and Marriage
Marriage is an important aspect of life and its purpose is to:
- form an equal partnership in the presence of God
- help each other unite their souls with God
Marriage is mentioned in the Guru Granth Sahib many times. As Sikhs regard the Guru Granth Sahib as an important source of authority, they believe in its guidance concerning marriage.
“They are not said to be husband and wife, who merely sit together. Rather they alone are called husband and wife, who have one soul in two bodies.” (Guru Granth Sahib)
Therefore, many Sikhs are against cohabitation because the Gurus did not approve of it. Sikhs believe in the important of living a life which follows the example of the Gurus.
What does this mean in practice?
A Sikh marriage is known as Anand Karaj which means a ‘Ceremony of Bliss’. Features of the wedding ceremony include:
- The couple and their guests then enter the prayer room of the gurdwara and the marital ceremony is performed by the granthi. This takes place in front of a copy of the Guru Granth Sahib.
- The Lavan (four stanzas by Guru Ram Das) are read and then sung from the Guru Granth Sahib.
- The groom leads the bride around the holy book four times, once after each verse.
Sikhs generally accept the idea of having an assisted or arranged marriage. This is different to a forced marriage because the son or daughter has a choice as to whether they want to get married to the partner chosen for them or not.
Sikhs allow arranged marriages because:
- the family can have a say in the choice of who their son or daughter will marry
- the two families will get to know each other well beforehand and feel comfortable with the union
- since the chosen partner will also be a Sikh any children will be brought up in a Sikh environment
Most Sikhs take it for granted that a couple should only live together once they are married, not before. Sex before marriage is disapproved of. Cohabitation would bring shame on the woman’s family.
Recently in the UK, some Sikhs have become more tolerant of the idea of cohabitation and accept it if they think the couple will eventually marry.
Sikhism and Divorce
There are different Sikh attitudes towards divorce:
- The Gurus did not divorce and Sikhs follow their example. In previous generations divorce was usually not an option as a wife would have no means of supporting herself.
- Many Sikhs today accept that a couple may divorce when a marriage has broken down.
Anand Karaj – Lavaan
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