OPINION: The issue of the “inter-faith anand karaj” has been contentious and debated for decades. The most recent iteration occurred on September 11, 2016 at a gurdwara in the town of Leamington Spa, UK. Here, over 50 people were arrested after their eight-hour protest against an “inter-faith anand karaj”, stating that the anand karaj is reserved for Sikhs only.
In opposition to the protestors were those who claimed that the “inter-faith anand karaj” is actually consistent with Sikhi. They state that Sikhi believes in the equality of all people and thus, banning the “inter-faith anand karaj” would be discriminatory and anti-Sikh.
Before we get into judging other people and condemning their practices to be anti-Sikh, I think it is imperative that we look at the purpose of the anand karaj.
Purpose of Marriage in Sikhi
Sikh marriages have evolved significantly and looked different across eras. (Click here to read “The History of the Anand Karaj“.) However, over time there has been a consistent theme, that being: marriage in Sikhi is a sacred bond of mutual support in attaining the heights of worldly life and spiritual bliss. It is a unity of mind and soul between two Sikhs, and is a means to attain spirituality and not an end in itself. As illustrated by the shabad below, the real goal of marriage in Sikhi is the union of both souls with each other and with Waheguru, (Abstracts of Sikh Studies, 1995).
“In undergoing anand karaj, a couple accepts Guru Granth Sahib as their guiding principle and vows to continue the journey toward the Divine. Furthermore, the couple vows to work together in helping each other probe spiritual depths toward a more sublime and profound union,” (Sikh Research Institute, 2008). In this way, the highest form of love, the love for the Divine, can be experienced, (Singh, M., 2005).
The Inter-faith Question
According to the Sikh Rehat Maryada, the anand karaj is to be between Sikhs because they are accepting the Guru as the center of their life, hence the circling around Guru Granth Sahib. Together, as symbolized by the anand karaj, they are embracing the Guru’s path of naam japna, kirt karni, and vand chakna. They also accept the duty of social justice and the goal of falling in love with Waheguru’s creation. Making this commitment in the presence of sadh sangat in gurdwara, illustrates that the community will hold the couple accountable to their pledge.
“The Sikh marriage ceremony is a life-long commitment, one that is not to be taken lightly,”says Kaur Life writer, Gurmit Kaur. “It marks dramatic changes to one’s life.” If both people are not committed to this lifestyle and goal, then engaging in the anand karaj is a false and hollow ritual, she continued.
When considering if anand karaj is the right choice for a couple, in my opinion, it is not about whether the couple “looks Sikh” or has a Punjabi background or were born into Sikh families or are “Sikh enough”. It’s not about other people dictating the couple’s relationship with the Guru. Rather it’s about the couple making a choice that is in line with their personal values. The couple should ask themselves if in their hearts, they truly feel the anand karaj reflects their marriage goals; it’s about the couple accepting a vow they actually believe in.
While inter-faith marriages may not be frowned upon through the Sikh lens, the inter-faith anand karaj is a self-contradictory term and concept. If a Sikh and non-Sikh wish to get married, the Sikh Rehat Maryada does not forbid it and neither does Guru Granth Sahib. So, perhaps such couples can consider pursuing other ceremonies to sanctify their union and honor their commitment. A marriage does not have to be religious in nature; it can still be beautiful, meaningful, and celebratory without being an anand karaj.
- Abstracts of Sikh Studies, April, 1995.
- Sikh Research Institute, (2008). Anand Karaj.
- Singh, M. (2005.) Ceremonies of the Sikh Wedding. Rupa and Co: New Delhi.
By Lakhpreet Kaur