ANAND KĀRAJ, lit. joyful ceremonial occasion or proceedings is the name given the Sikh marriage ceremony. For Sikhs married state is the norm and the ideal; through it, according to their belief, come the best opportunities for serving God's purpose and the well-being of humanity, and it affords the best means of fulfilment of individuality and attainment of bliss. Sikhism repudiates mockery, vows of celibacy, renunciation or the sannyāsin state. Unlike in the West, most marriages among Sikhs, as also in India as a whole, are arranged. It is regarded as a duty for the parents to arrange for and actively contribute towards the marriage of their offspring. Prem Sumārag, an eighteenth century work on Sikh social code, lays down :

        When a girl attains maturity, it is incumbent upon her parents to look for a suitable match for her. It is neither desirable nor proper to marry a girl at tender age. The daughter of a Sikh should be given in marriage to a Sikh. If a man is a believer in Sikhism, is humble by nature, and earns his bread by honest means, with him matrimony may be contracted without a question and without consideration for wealth and riches. If he be a God-fearing man, the parents should marry their daughter to him upon God's faith. God willing, their daughter will have all happiness and her parents will reap great satisfaction. . . whatever arrangements the parents make for a marriage these should be well within their means. They should not imitate ostentatious people. This is incumbent upon both sides. One who conducts the ceremony of marriage should not accept any gratification for it.


        Similarly, Sikh Rahit Māryādā, manual of Sikh conduct and custom issued by the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee, statutorily elected representative society of the Sikhs, prescribes marriage of a Sikh girl only to a Sikh male without consideration of caste or sub-caste. It prohibits child marriage, permits widow remarriage, and enjoins that a Sikh marriage must be performed under Anand marriage rites. The Anand Marriage Act, 1909, (q. v.) gives legal recognition and validates marriages solemnized following this ceremony. Section 2, the operative part of the Act, reads :

        All marriages which may be or may have been duly solemnised according to the Sikh Marriage ceremony called Anand shall be and shall be deemed to have been with effect from the date of the solemnisation of each respectively good and valid in law.


        The history of Anand marriage ceremony is traced back to the time of Gurū Amar Dās (1479-1574), who composed the long 40-stanza hymn Anandu, in the Rāmkalī measure, suitable to be sung or recited on all occasions of religious import. His successor, Gurū Rām Dās, composed a four stanza hymn, Lāvāṅ which is recited and sung to solemnize nuptials. During the time of Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh and his successors, however, this ceremony fell into partial disuse under renewed Brāhmaṇical influence at court as well as in society. The Niraṅkārī reform movement of the mid-19th century made the practice of Anand ceremony a vital plank in its programme as did the later, more widely influential Siṅgh Sabhā. But there was opposition from the Ārya Samājīs and Brāhmaṇ priestly classes, the former anxious to prove that the Sikhs were but a sect of the Hindus and hence subject to Hindu Law, and the latter apprehensive of a reduction in their clientele and income. The Sikh form of wedding ceremonial eventually received legal sanction through the Anand Marriage Act which was adopted in 1909. The ceremony is now universally observed by the Sikhs.

        According to Sikh Rahit Maryādā, a formal engagement or betrothal prior to marriage is not absolutely necessary, but if the parties so desire, the betrothal ceremony takes place usually at the boy's residence where a few near relations of the girl go with some gifts, sweets and fruit. The gifts may include a ring or kaṛā and kirpān for the prospective groom. They are handed over to him in the presence of relations, collaterals and friends assembled usually in saṅgat in the presence of Gurū Granth Sāhib. The eatables include a chhuhārā (dried date) of which the boy takes a bite signifying acceptance of the match as well as of the gifts. This ceremony concludes with sirvārnā (money waved around the head of the boy in offering, given away thereafter in charity) and ardās (liturgical supplicatory prayer).

        Actual wedding takes place at the girl's residence. The date of the wedding is set by mutual consultation to suit both parties. Astrological or horoscopic considerations are discountenanced in Sikh calculations. Matters such as the strength of the barāt (the bridegroom's party), timing of arrival and departure, duration of stay, are also decided mutually so that the bride's parents may make suitable arrangements. Before setting out, the bridegroom may go to a gurdwārā to make obeisance and offer ardās before the Gurū Granth Sāhib. On arrival at the house of the girl's parents, the party is received by the girl's parents, relations and friends outside the house with the chanting of hymns of welcome and ardās followed by milnī or for meeting of the two families, customarily restricted to the fathers (or guardians) and maternal uncles of the boy and the girl. Barāt is then escorted inside for refreshments after which anand kāraj takes place either in a gurdwārā or under a marquee in the presence of the Gurū Granth Sāhib. This purely religious part of the proceedings commences with kīrtan, singing of hymns, as the guests and hosts assemble in saṅgat. The couple to be wed sit facing the Gurū Granth Sāhib, the bride on the left of the bridegroom. Any Sikh chosen to conduct the ceremony will officiate. He will say a short opening ardās seeking felicity for the bridegroom and the bride, their respective parents or guardians only standing for this ardās with the rest of the saṅgat remaining seated. The choir will then sing a short hymn from the Gurū Granth Sāhib. Translated, the hymn would read :

         Call upon God for task thou wouldst have accomplished,

         He will bring the tasks to rights, so witnesseth the Gurū.

         In the company of the holy thou shalt rejoice and taste only nectar,

         Thou art the demolisher of fear, thou art compassionate, O' Lord,

         Nānak singeth the praises of the Incomputable Lord.

                                                                                    (GG, 91)


        The officiant may then give a sermon addressed especially to the couple to be explaining the significance of Sikh marriage and the duties and obligations of husband and wife towards each other and towards their families, community and society in general. Marriage in Sikhism, he tells the couple-to-be, is not merely a civil or social contract but a union of the souls and rests upon mutual love and loyalty, mutual understanding and adjustment. A verse from Gurū Amar Dās, Nānak III, is often quoted : "They are not husband and wife who but sit side by side with each other; only they are truly wedded who personify one single soul in two bodies" (GG, 788).

        After the sermon the girl's father places one end of a scarf, usually saffron or pink in colour, in the groom's hand, passing it over his shoulder and placing the other end in the bride's hand, signifying that he had entrusted her to his protection. The musicians then sing another short hymn:

         Praise and slander have I all ceased to relish, O Nānak,

         False, I count all other relationships,

         To the fold of Thy fabric am I now affianced.

                                                                 (GG, 963)


        The Gurū Granth Sāhib is then opened at page 773 and the first stanza of the Lāvāṅ quartet is read from it. The same stanza is then sung by the choir while the couple slowly and reverentially circumambulate the Holy Book, Gurū Granth Sāhib, clockwise, the bridegroom leading and the bride following, both continuing to hold their ends of the scarf throughout. They bow together before the Gurū Granth Sāhib before rising up for the circumambulation and again before resuming their seats on completing it. This process is repeated for each of the remaining three stanzas. The ceremony is concluded with the customary singing of the first five and the concluding hymn of Anandu followed by ardās, in which the whole congregation joins; vāk or hukam (reading a verse from Gurū Granth Sāhib opened at random) is then received and Kaṛāhprasād, the Sikh sacrament, distributed.

        Translated into English the Lāvāṅ quartet or the Sikh epithalamium would read:

        1. By the first nuptial circuiting

        The Lord showeth ye His

        Ordinance for the daily duties of

        wedded life:

        The Scriptures are the Word of the


        Learn righteousness, through them,

        And the Lord will free yefrom sin.

        Hold fast to righteousness,

        Contemplate the Name of the Lord,

        Fixing it in your memory as the

        scriptures have prescribed.

        Devote yourselves to the Perfect and

        True Gurū.

        And all your sins shall depart.

        Fortunate are those whose minds

        Are imbued with the sweetness of

        His Name,

        To them happiness comes with-

        out effort;

        The slave Nānak proclaimeth

        That in the first circling

        The marriage rite hath begun.

        2. By the second nuptial


        Ye are to understand that the


        Hath caused ye to meet the True


        The fear in your hearts has


        The filth of selfness in your minds

        is washed away,

        By having the fear of God and by

        singing His praises

        I stand before Him with reverence,

        The Lord God is the soul of the


        There is naught that He doth not


        Within us and without, there is

        One God only;

        In the company of saints

        Then are heard the songs of


        The slave Nānak proclaimeth

        That in the second circling

        Divine Music is heard.

        3. In the third roundabout

        There is a longing for the Lord

        And detachment from the world.

        In the company of the saints,

        By our great good fortune,

        We encounter the Lord.

        The Lord is found in His purity

        Through His exaltation,

        Through the singing of His


        By great good fortune we have


        In the company of the saints

        Wherein is told the story

        Of the Ineffable Lord.

        The Holy Name echoes in the

        heart :

        Echoes and absorbs us.

        We repeat the Name of the Lord,

        Being blessed by a fortunate destiny

        Written from of old on our


        The slave Nānak proclaimeth

        That in the third circling

        The love of God has been awakened in

        the heart.

        4. In the fourth walk-around

        The mind reaches to knowledge

        of the Divine

        And God is innerly grasped:

        Through the Grace of the Gurū

        We have attained with ease to the


        The sweetness of the Beloved

        Pervades us, body and soul.

        Dear and pleasing is the Lord to


        Night and day our minds are fixed on Him.

        By exalting the Lord

        We have attained the Lord:

        The fruit our hearts desired;

        The Beloved has finished His


        The soul, the spouse, delighteth in the Beloved's Name.

        Felicitations fill our minds;

        The Name rings in our hearts:

        The Lord God is united with His

        Holy Bride.

        The heart of the Bride flowers

        with His Name.

        The stave Nānak proclaimeth

        That in the fourth circling

        We have found the Eternal Lord.

                                        (GG, 773-74)


        This is the religious part of the ceremony. Behind it and ahead lies a whole labyrinth of spectacular custom and rite. The dual sources of significance of Sikh marriage as an institution are : first, the doctrinal rules of the Sikh religious community, which are a few in number but universal in scope and intent; and second, the traditional usages or customs of the Punjabi ethno-linguistic community which are very many but confined to a particular social structure and associated with a particular territory or locality. The prescribed marriage ritual, the anand kāraj, is an expression of the basic principles of the faith. It was first given statutory recognition and thus officially and legally distinguished from the observances sanctioned under Hindu Customary Law, by the Anand Marriage Act of 1909. According to Sikh rules, religious endogamy is essential, but not endogamy within the caste or sub-caste group. Though customary rules of exogamy are held to prohibit the marriage of near consanguines, the precise position in this matter is difficult to determine and no ruling on this question is included in the Sikh code of conduct. Broadly speaking, the marriage of a person within his or her own gotra (sub-caste) is not permissible. There is a customarily sanctioned prejudice against a woman marrying her husband's younger brother. But all such prohibitions are of social rather than of religious nature.

        Such practices as the tying of head-bands, rituals depicting ancestor-worship, pretended sulking or sadness, singing by professional dancing-girls, the drinking of alcohol, burning of so-called sacred fires and similar superstitions derived from old religious practices are completely contrary to Sikh belief.

        In some parts ṭhākā is followed by another ceremony generally called chunnī chaṛhauṇā (the offering of the head scarf). In this ceremony the boy's parents send for the girl garments and gifts including a red thread (lāl parāndī) for plaiting the hair, a suite of clothes, some ornaments and cash. Before the marriage, a final engagement ceremony, known as shagan, kuṛmāī or maṅgaṇī takes place at the home of the boy's parents, when gifts are given by the girl's parents to the boy and to his close cognates. A chhuhārā (dried date) is offered to the boy by his would-be father-in-law or his representatives to eat for which reason the ceremony is called in some parts chhuhārā lauṇā. The maṅgaṇī can precede anand kāraj by months, even years, especially when the boy and the girl get engaged at a very young age.

        A series of rites takes place separately in the home of the parents of the boy and the girl heralding nuptials. Māīeṅ paiṇā is the period of seclusion from kindred and outsiders observed by the boy and the girl for one to three days before the marriage. The bride and the groom refrain from bathing or changing their clothes. During this period of ritual seclusion, the girl is not to use ornaments or cosmetics; manual work or going out alone is also not permitted. Singing of songs by womenfolk starts a day, or sometimes several days, before the wedding ceremony at the homes of the girl's as well as of the boy's parents. Songs mostly from Punjabi folklore are sung to the accompaniment of a ḍholak or drum. The songs for the groom are called ghoṛīāṅ and those for the bride suhāg.

        On the eve of the day of marriage, the bride and the groom take the ritual bath which is called khāre chaṛhnā, ascending the (bathing) basket. This is essentially a rite of purification following the state of seclusion. After the bath, both the boy and the girl put on new clothes specially prepared for the occasion. Generally these clothes are given by the respective nānake, that is, their maternal kin group. The nānake give gifts to the girl called nānakī chhakk. These may consist of ivory bangles, a nose ring, a suite of clothes, or a set of ornaments and some household utensils and articles. The gifts may include clothes for the bride's parents and siblings. Gifts from the maternal kin group are also given to the boy. These include clothes for the groom himself, for his parents and siblings and for his mother's brother.

        Several ceremonies take place before the groom sets off for the bride's home with the wedding party. After the ardās is recited, the boy's sister ties around his head a circlet with a plume and gilded strings hanging in front of his face. This is the groom's crown or sihrā. Sirvārnā (offering of money over the head of the groom) is performed, and the money distributed among the poor. A sister of the groom, to the accompaniment of songs, braids the mare's reins with red thread (maulī); a brother's wife puts black antimony powder (surmā) in his eyes. Then, when all is ready, and the mare has been fed with barley and gram, the boy's sister seizes the reins of the mare and demands gift from her brother before allowing him to proceed. The groom gives some money to all his sisters; this is called vāg phaṛāī (holding of the reins). As the procession starts a younger brother or nephew of the groom, acting as best man (sarvāhlā) is seated behind him on the mare.

        Before the groom departs with the bride, first the groom's party and then the bride's take lunch; the bride eats food provided by her parents-in-law and this is known as sauhariāṅ dī roṭī. As the bride is about to leave her home, her mother, female relatives and close friends came out to see her off. The band breaks into farewell songs. The bride and the groom leave together for the home of the latter's parents. The bride is usually accompanied by a younger brother, or traditionally, by the village barber's wife. This ceremony of the departure of the bride from her parents' home is known as ḍolī, a word denoting the litter which was formerly used as transport for the couple; nowadays a decorated car is usually provided for this purpose. As the car or carriage starts off, the father of the groom showers small coins over it, thus expressing his happiness over the successful conclusion of the ceremony. A basket of sweets (bhājī) , to be distributed to the groom's kin and friends, is sent along with the bride.

        The couple is ceremonially received at the entrance of the groom's family house. Then follows the ritual of uncovering the bride's face (mūṅh vikhāī) in the presence of the female kin, friends and neighbours of the groom. The bride is fed with cooked dāl and rice (khichaṛī) signifying that she has become a member of her husband's household. She removes her veil and offers obeisance to the senior women kin who give her gifts of money after sirvārnā (revolving money around the head).

        The custom of giving a reception by the groom's parents is becoming popular in urban society. The reception is held after the marriage ceremony. Close kin and friends of both families are invited. A day or two later the bride usually returns to her parental home. Only after the groom fetches her from there for the second time, may the marriage be consummated. This second trip is called muklāvā. On this occasion and on her subsequent visits to her parents' home, her parents give her gifts of clothes and ornaments. The word dāj denotes the gifts given at the time of the marriage to their daughter and to the groom's parents by the bride's parents. The gifts given to the bride by the groom's parents are called varī. Besides, giving the dowry, consisting of all the things that the bride will need to set up a household - clothes, ornaments, utensils, furniture and beddings - the bride's parents undertake expenses on the marriage ceremony, feasting, illuminations, etc. All this is not to be taken as constituting the Sikh marriage, but is the general practice in Punjabi society. Sikh reformers since the emergence of the Siṅgh Sabhā have been urging simple and inexpensive marriages strictly in accord with the spirit of the anand ceremony.


  1. Sikh Rahit Maryādā. Amritsar, 1975
  2. Randhīr Siṅgh, ed. , Prem Sumārag Granth. Jalandhar, 1965
  3. Jogendra Siṅgh, Sikh Ceremonies. Chandigarh, 1968
  4. Teja Siṅgh, Sikhism : Its Ideals and Institutions. Bombay, 1938
  5. Cole, W. Owen, and Piara Singh Sambhi, The Sikhs : Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. Delhi, 1978

J. P. S. Uberoi
Teenā Hazoorīā
Noel Q. King