BHOG (which by literal etymology, from Sanskrit, signifies "pleasure, " "delight") is the name used in the Sikh tradition for the group of observances which accompany the reading of the concluding parts of Scripture, the Gurū Granth Sāhib. This conclusion may be reached as part of the normal and routine reading in the day-to-day lectionary of a major centre of worship with a staff of readers. But in the mind of the community the word is very deeply associated with a complete, end-to-end, reading of the Holy Book without interruption which is called akhaṇḍ pāṭh This usually takes two twenty-four-hour days of non-stop reading by a relay of readers. This type of pāṭh, and hence the bhog which comes at its end, can be performed in conjunction with weddings, obsequies, anniversaries and other occasions when a family or a worshipping community may consider such a reading appropriate.
Similarly, a bhog takes place at the end of the slower reading (sahaj pāṭh) when, for instance, a family decides to read the entire book as continuously as circumstances permit. For such a reading no time limit applies. Of course, the bhog comes at its end, and it must be recited entire in a single service, without a break.
Another variation on pāth is the saptāhik pāṭh in which case the reading of the Gurū Granth Sāhib is completed within one week (saptah). The recital of the text is taken in parts and completed within the seven day span. The sahaj or slow reading pāṭh may continue for a longer time, even for months.
The verb form bhog pauṇā simply means to end or conclude. In Punjabi idiom it may mean to end or conclude an argument or discussion. Bhog especially stands for funeral service. In a derivative use of the term, sacramental kaṛāhprasād distributed at the end of any congregational service is also sometimes called bhog. Any occasion whether of joy or sorrow, wish fulfilment, or trial would usually prompt a Sikh householder to have a pāṭh of the holy book said, preferably by himself and/or jointly by members of the family. If however this is not possible, pāṭhīs or Scripture readers will be invited or hired for the purpose. Date and time of bhog are notified in advance by word of mouth, through an announcement in saṅgat during routine service in the local gurdwārā (almost every Sikh hamlet has a gurdwārā), or through written letters to friends and relations. Coming into vogue is the custom of placing notices in newspaper. In the case of sādhāran and saptāhik pāṭhs, the reader would have already completed the reading of the Holy Book except for the last five pages. While the saṅgat is gathering at the appointed time, the officiant will be preparing kaṛāhprasād in a steel cauldron over burning logs, coal or in an electric oven. When ready, it is respectfully lifted and carried overhead to the site of the congregation and placed on the right side of where the Holy Book rests. If a choir is on hand, some scriptural hymns appropriate to the occasion will be sung. The granthī (officiant) will then read from the Holy Book what may be called the inaugural Hymn. Thereafter he will turn over reverently the pages of the holy Volume to arrive at the unread portion. He will start reading slowly and in a singing tone the ślokas of Gurū Tegh Bahādur (couplets, 57 in number, popularly called bhog de ślokas), Mundāvaṇī and a ślokā by Gurū Arjan. Then follows the last composition, Rāgamālā.
The bhog must in all cases include the reading of the end of the Holy Book. That is, the recitation of the last five pages, pages 1426 onwards. This begins with the reading of 57 ślokas by Gurū Tegh Bahādur and continues to the end of the Book. The music, cadences and imagery of these verses have a unique and exquisite beauty of their own.
After these ślokas, Mundāvaṇī by Gurū Arjan, is recited. This is a kind of seal to the Scripture. It reiterates the essentials of the teaching of the Book--sat (truth), santokh (contentment; rejoicing in one's lot), vīchār (wisdom) and the remembrance of the Holy Name (nām). It is essentially a word to all humankind .
After the Granth reading has been completed, ardās is recited by the entire congregation. In it a special blessing is called for the purpose for which the pāṭh was held. Ardās has its own powerful associations which are now brought into bhog. These include the recalling to mind of past Sikh heroism, devotion and martyrdom and the marking present of the Khālsā in all its venerable might.
After ardās, the Hukam or command for the day is obtained by reading out the hymn offered by the text which is naturally interpreted in the context of the intention of the pāṭh, that is, as the word of the Gurū to those receiving it at that point with their purposes particularly in mind, be it a family event, a funeral, a wedding, or invocation for blessing on a new venture.
Noel Q. King