NITNEM ( nit: daily; nem; practice, rule or regimen) is the name given to the set prayers which every Sikh is commanded to say daily, alone or in company. These prayers or texts are five in number — for early morning Gurū Nānak's Japu and Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's Jāpu and Savaīyye, for the evening at sunset Sodaru Rahrāsi and for night before retiring Kīrtan Sohilā. The ideal Gurū Nānak, founder of the faith, put forth before his followers was to "rise early in the morning, remember the True Name and meditate upon His greatness" (GG, 2). According to Gurū Rām Dās, Nānak IV, "He who wishes to be called a Sikh of the True Gurū must rise early in the morning and repeat God's Name. He should bathe in the pool and dwell upon the Lord through the Gurū's word" (GG, 305). Recitation by Sikhs of three of the bāṇīs in the morning, evening and late evening must have become established practice before the time of Gurū Arjan who when compiling the (Gurū) Granth Sāhib in 1604 placed them in that order at the beginning of the Holy Writ. Bhāī Gurdās (d. 1636) records in his Vārāṅ that, at Kartārpur where Gurū Nānak had settled after his travels, it was a daily practice to recite Japu early in the morning and Rahrāsi and Ārati (Sohilā) in the evening (I.38). The compositions of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, last of the Gurūs, were added to the regimen later.
The directions regarding nitnem set down in Sikh Rahit Maryādā published by the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee, statutorily elected representative body of the Sikhs, say: "A Sikh should rise early, bathe and meditate on the Timeless One repeating the name ‘Vāhigurū.' He should recite the nitnem which includes the following bāṇīs: Japu, Jāpu and the ten (prescribed) Savaīyye in the morning, Sodaru Rahrāsi in the evening and Sohilā at bedtime." It further stipulates that ardās or supplicatory prayer should necessarily follow the recitation of the bāṇīs at three times during the day.
The Japu goes back to the very origin of Sikhism. According to Miharbān Janam Sākhī, its pauṛīs or stanzas composed by Gurū Nānak on different occasions were arranged in a single order by Gurū Aṅgad under the former's instructions. The Japu is preceded by Mūl Mantra and concludes with a śloka. The Mūl Mantra is the root doctrinal statement of Sikh faith comparable to Nicene Creed in Christianity, Kalimā-i-Shahādat in Islam, the Shema in Judaism or Gāyatrī Mantra in Hinduism. It is to be noted, however, that the term Japu, even where it includes the section specifically termed mantra, as such has no magical connotation as in the case of the Sanskrit mantram. It may have the same effect in evoking the power of the utterance of basic or primordial sound, but it does not in itself signify any magical effect. The Mūl Mantra in full or in an abbreviated form is repeated at the beginning of all major bānīs or sections of the Gurū Granth Sāhib. Similarly, the concluding ślokā of the Japu is usually recited to signal the end of a ritual service.
Most Sikhs know the Japujī Sāhib, as Japu is reverently called, by heart and recite it as a set morning prayer. The second item in the morning prayer is the Jāpu or Jāpu Sāhib, a composition of the Tenth Master, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh (1666-1708). Different from the Jāpu in rhythm and vocabularly, it renders a magnificent paean of adoration to the Divine. The third morning text is Das (Ten) Savaīyye, culled from a longer composition by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, Akāl Ustati (lit. Praise to the Timeless). Besides these three morning prayers, there can be additions according to the usage of the place, the occasion and the desire of the individual or the saṅgat. For example, the whole of Anandu (Sāhib) or the first five and the final stanza of it may be added; some Sikhs would also recite Shabad Hazāre, while others would recite the Sukhmanī Sāhib; Nihaṅgs would include Vār Srī Bhagauti Jī Kī, popularly called Chaṇḍī dī Vār in the morning order. Asā kī Vār is usually sung by musicians at gurdwārās in the morning. Some read it at their homes in addition to the daily regimen.
Sodaru Rahrāsi, the evening prayer comparable to Vespers or Evensong, is recited soon after sunset. The title Sodaru is taken from the first word of the first hymn of the text. Rahrāsi variously means prayer, supplication, usage and greetings. It is also interpreted as an adaptation of the Persian term rāh-i-rāst (the right path ). The order begins with nine śabdas which also stand together in the Gurū Granth Sāhib, immediately after the Japu. They are followed by three compositions by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh — Benatī Chaupaī taken from the final tale (404) of Charitropākhyān, and a savaiyyā and a ślokā from Rāma Avtār and by the first five and the last stanzas of the Aandu (Sāhib), and Mundāvaṇī.
Sohilā, or Kīrtan Sohilā as it is generally called, is the late-evening prayer recited before going to bed. It takes its name from the word Sohilā in the second line of its first hymn, viz. titu gharī gāvahu sohilā sivarihu sirjaṇhāro (In that state sing His praises and meditate upon Him). Sohilā is literally a paean or song of praise and kīrtan means devotional singing. Kīrtan Sohilā occurs at the beginning of the Gurū Granth Sāhib, immediately following Sodaru Rahrāsi, and includes five hymns — three by Gurū Nānak and one each by Gurū Rām Dās and Gurū Arjan. The middle hymn is connected with Gurū Nānak's visit to the Jagannāth temple at Purī, in Orissa. In the evening, the priests there were performing āratī, the ritual worship by swinging in front of the idol a salver studded with lighted lamps. Gurū Nānak through this hymn explained to them the futility of the ritual, as already the spheres, the sun, the moon and the stars are revolving in God's worship, with fire serving as incense and wind as a whisk, and so on. The final verse of Kīrtan Sohilā beginning with karau benantī suṇahu mere mītā sant ṭahal kī belā — Listen my friend, I beg you, this life is the occasion to serve the holy ones — is a call to one to devote oneself to good deeds of service and devotion. The last line, of this hymn is a supplication to God for fulfilling the only wish of the devotee which is to be "the dust of the (feet of the) holy ones." On this note and on the assurance that if one devotes one's life to God and service with humility one will suffer transmigration no more, ends the Kīrtan Sohilā.
Each service is concluded with ardās, a prayer or petition invariably used by Sikhs to conclude any devotional meeting or ceremony.
When Nitnem is performed in the presence of Gurū Granth Sāhib, ardās is followed by hukam or vāk (lit. order or utterance), that is, reading of a hymn from the Holy Book opened at random, and, if it is in saṅgat, prashād or consecrated food is distributed.
Noel Q. King