AKHAṆḌ PĀṬH (akhaṇḍ = uninterrupted, without break; pāṭh = reading) is non-stop, continuous recital of the Gurū Granth Sāhib from beginning to end. Such a recital must be completed within 48 hours. The entire Holy Volume, 1430 large pages, is read through in a continuous ceremony. This reading must go on day and night, without a moment's intermission. The relay of reciters who take turns at saying Scripture must ensure that no break occurs. As they change places at given intervals, one picks the line from his predecessor's lips and continues. When and how the custom of reciting the canon in its entirety in one continuous service began is not known. Conjecture traces it to the turbulent days of the eighteenth century when persecution had scattered the Sikhs to far-off places. In those exilic, uncertain times, the practice of accomplishing a reading of the Holy Book by a continuous recital is believed to have originated.
Important days on the Sikh calendar are marked by akhaṇḍ pāṭhs in gurdwārās. Celebrations and ceremonies in Sikh families centre upon akhaṇḍ pāṭhs. The homes are filled with holiness for those two days and nights as the Gurū Granth Sāhib, installed with ceremony in a room, especially cleaned out for the occasion, is being recited. Apart from lending the air sanctity, such readings make available to listeners the entire text. The listeners come as they wish and depart at their will. Thus they keep picking up snatches of the baṇī from different portions at different times. Without such ceremonial recitals, the Gurū Granth Sāhib, large in volume, would remain generally inaccessible to the laity except for bāṇīs which are recited by the Sikhs as part of their daily devotions. In bereavement, families derive comfort from these pāṭhs. Obsequies in fact conclude with a completed reading of the Gurū Granth Sāhib. At such pāṭhs, the Holy Book is generally recited or intoned, not merely read. This brings out tellingly the poetic quality of the bāṇī and its power to move or grip the listener. But it must be listened to in silence, sitting on the floor in front of the Holy Book in a reverent posture. The start of the akhaṇḍ pāth is preceded by a short service at which holy hymns may be recited, followed by an ardāsoffered for the successful conclusion of thepāṭhand distribution of kaṛāhprasādor Sikh sacarment. A similar service marks the conclusion. Ardās and kaṛāhprasād are also offered as the reading reaches midway.