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The Anand Marriage Ceremony

The third Guru, Amar Das, proclaimed: "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" (AG, p. 788). This proclamation has become the basis of the Sikh engagement and marriage process, which traditionally emphasizes a spiritual commitment between two partners over any material or physical advantages of the union. At every step, tradition surrounding Sikh marriages seeks to insure the spiritual compatibility of the couple to be married.

To this end, Sikh marriages are arranged by the family of the prospective couples. Although the involvement of the couple themselves has increased over time, the involvement and input of the family has remained vital. This emphasis on family, reflected in every aspect of Sikh life, from the communal eating halls of the gurdwaras to the common practice of identifying oneself through one's parentage, is among the most important precepts of Sikhism. At every stage in the Sikh process of engagement and marriage, the opinion of each partner's family is respected, considered, and valued.

A Sikh wedding, according to the Anand (Bliss) rite, takes place in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib, and the performance of the actual marriage requires the couple to circumambulate the sacred scripture four times to take four vows. Before the bridegroom and the bride make each round, they listen to a verse of the wedding hymn (AG, pp. 773–74) by the fourth Guru, Ram Das (1534–1581), being read by a scriptural reader. Then they bow before the Guru Granth Sahib and get up to make the round while professional musicians sing the same verse in the congregation. During the process of their clockwise movement around the scripture four times, they take the following four vows: (1) To lead an action-oriented life based on righteousness and to never shun obligations of family and society; (2) to maintain a bond of reverence and dignity between them; (3) to keep enthusiasm for life alive in the face of adverse circumstances and remain detached from worldly attachments; and (4) to cultivate a "balanced approach" in life, avoiding all extremes. The pattern of circumambulation in the Anand marriage ceremony is in fact the re-actualization of the primordial movement of life in which there is no beginning and no end. The continuous remembrance of the four marital vows makes the life of the couple blissful.

The standard manual of Sikh Code of Conduct, Sikh Rahit Maryada, explicitly states: "No account should be taken of caste; a Sikh woman should be married only to a Sikh man; and Sikhs should not be married as children." This is an ideal arrangement. In actual practice, however, a large majority of Sikh marriages take careful account of the prospective partner's caste. In initial inquiries, the choosing of a partner requires that the marriage should be arranged with a member of the same zat, but that it must exclude got of the father, the mother, the father's mother, and the mother's mother. In addition, rural Sikhs maintain the custom of village exogamy, such that marriages should not be arranged between two families of the same village. It further ensures that a married daughter does not live in her father's village, strengthening the rule that inheritance in Punjabi village families is always through the male lineage. The custom of village exogamy still operates even when the families move to towns or overseas locations. Most rural Sikhs living in the diaspora know the identity of their "ancestral village," and hence they normally observe this custom (McLeod 1997).

The situation with urban Sikhs is entirely different. By tradition, the Khatris are large-scale traders, and they live in the big cities to conduct their business. The small-scale traders among the Sikhs are mostly Aroras. Both of these groups are not too rigid about caste requirements in choosing a marriage partner. The Khatri and Arora families frequently intermarry, and there is no custom of city exogamy among them. Marriages between cousins (i.e., marrying mother's sister's son or daughter, or marrying father's sister's son or daughter) are also possible. This is due to the influence of Muslim culture on these groups, who moved to India from Pakistan at the time of partition in 1947. Further, marriages between Hindus and Sikhs are common in the case of Khatri and Arora families.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsSikhism - The Origins And Development Of Sikhism, Family In Sikh Thought And Practice, The Anand Marriage Ceremony