Ardas means a formal prayer, supplication or humble request. It is derived from the Persian word 'Arzdaasht' meaning a petition. It is human nature to pray when one needs help say for wealth, children, personal affairs, health for peace and so on. How nice would it be if things get done on their own and one does not have to pray for getting something?
That is the way Gurbani teaches:
ਕਬੀਰ ਕਾਮ ਪਰੇ ਹਰਿ ਸਿਮਰੀਐ ਐਸਾ ਸਿਮਰਹੁ ਨਿਤ ॥ ਅਮਰਾ ਪੁਰ ਬਾਸਾ ਕਰਹੁ ਹਰਿ ਗਇਆ ਬਹੋਰੈ ਬਿਤ ॥੧੬੩॥
The way we remember God when we are in need, we should remember Him always; this way we can get to be immortal (not be subject to cycles of death and rebirth) and the lost wealth will return (SGGS p 1373).
ਜੀਉ ਪਿੰਡੁ ਸਭੁ ਤਿਸ ਕਾ ਸਭੁ ਕਿਛੁ ਤਿਸ ਕੈ ਪਾਸਿ ॥ ਵਿਣੁ ਬੋਲਿਆ ਸਭੁ ਕਿਛੁ ਜਾਣਦਾ ਕਿਸੁ ਆਗੈ ਕੀਚੈ ਅਰਦਾਸਿ ॥
The soul, the body and every thing belongs to the Creator and all resources are with Him; witthout our saying He knows what is needed, so whom do we pray to? (SGGS p 1420).
ਆਪੇ ਜਾਣੈ ਆਪੇ ਦੇਇ ॥ ਆਖਹਿ ਸਿ ਭਿ ਕੇਈ ਕੇਇ ॥
The Creator knows what is needeed and deserved, and gives; but there are rare ones who acknowledge this (SGGS p 5).
Those who think this way become ecstatic and know not what to ask:
ਚਿਤਿ ਚਿਤਵਉ ਅਰਦਾਸਿ ਕਹਉ ਪਰੁ ਕਹਿ ਭਿ ਨ ਸਕਉ ॥ ਸਰਬ ਚਿੰਤ ਤੁਝੁ ਪਾਸਿ ਸਾਧਸੰਗਤਿ ਹਉ ਤਕਉ ॥
I think of praying, but can say nothing; You take care of all the worries, I am motivated to look to the Sadh Sangat , the holy congregation (SGGS, p 1395).
ਜੀਅ ਕੀ ਬਿਰਥਾ ਹੋਇ ਸੁ ਗੁਰ ਪਹਿ ਅਰਦਾਸਿ ਕਰਿ ॥ ਛੋਡਿ ਸਿਆਣਪ ਸਗਲ ਮਨੁ ਤਨੁ ਅਰਪਿ ਧਰਿ ॥
When the soul is in pain, seek the Guru's guidance, do not depend on your wisdom, dedicate your mind and body to do his bidding (SGGS, p 519).
You will then realize that we have to conduct ourselves such that the Master listens to our supplications:
ਬਿਨਤਿ ਕਰਉ ਅਰਦਾਸਿ ਸੁਨਹੁ ਜੇ ਠਾਕੁਰ ਭਾਵੈ ॥ ਦੇਹੁ ਦਰਸੁ ਮਨਿ ਚਾਉ ਭਗਤਿ ਇਹੁ ਮਨੁ ਠਹਰਾਵੈ ॥
I make a request, a supplication; in the hope it pleases You to listen O Master; I long for Your vision and devotion, which will put my mind to peace (SGGS, p 1386-87).
Ardas is to be offered humbly standing with folded hands for the aim to be accomplished:
ਦੁਇ ਕਰ ਜੋੜਿ ਕਰਉ ਅਰਦਾਸਿ ॥ ਤੁਧੁ ਭਾਵੈ ਤਾ ਆਣਹਿ ਰਾਸਿ ॥
I offer Ardas with folded hands; accomplishment is at Your pleasure (SGGS, p 737).
ਆਪੇ ਜਾਣੈ ਕਰੇ ਆਪਿ ਆਪੇ ਆਣੈ ਰਾਸਿ ॥ ਤਿਸੈ ਅਗੈ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਖਲਿਇ ਕੀਚੈ ਅਰਦਾਸਿ ॥੧॥
The Creator knows what is required and accomplishes it; it is to Him that we stand and offer Ardas (SGGS, p 1093).
What should we ask? Let us take guidance from the Guru. Guru Nanak shows it is for seeking Divine grace through praising the Almighty:
ਯਕ ਅਰਜ ਗੁਫਤਮ ਪੇਸਿ ਤੋ ਦਰ ਗੋਸ ਕੁਨ ਕਰਤਾਰ ॥ ਹਕਾ ਕਬੀਰ ਕਰੀਮ ਤੂ ਬੇਐਬ ਪਰਵਦਗਾਰ ॥੧॥
I make one humble request to You, please give me Your ear, O Creator, ; You are the Truth, the greatest, gracious and unblemished (SGGS p 721).
In the same vein the fifth Guru prays:
ਵਿਣੁ ਤੁਧੁ ਹੋਰੁ ਜਿ ਮੰਗਣਾ ਸਿਰਿ ਦੁਖਾ ਕੈ ਦੁਖ ॥
ਦੇਹਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਸੰਤੋਖੀਆ ਉਤਰੈ ਮਨ ਕੀ ਭੁਖ ॥
ਗੁਰਿ ਵਣੁ ਤਿਣੁ ਹਰਿਆ ਕੀਤਿਆ ਨਾਨਕ ਕਿਆ ਮਨੁਖ ॥੨॥
Let us now come to the Ardas offered by a Sikh. A model Ardas has been included in the Sikh Reht Maryada (Code of Conduct) and follows a laid down structure. What is stated hereunder about the wording of the Ardas is in accordance with that. It may be divided into seven parts. At the end of each part we praise the Almighty saying Vaheguru, Wonderful Master You are great.
The Ardas is for seeking Divine grace, not just for oneself but for all. It is also for thanking God for the heritage that makes the Sikh proud and yet humble. Each word in the Ardas has been carefully chosen for its significance in Sikh history and prayer for well-being of all, not only the Sikhs.
In Part I we recite the Pauri (stanza) of Chandi Di Vaar wherein blessings of the Almighty and the first nine Gurus are invoked. The Pauri having nine lines ends here and is followed up with seeking the blessings of the Tenth Master and the benediction of being able to study Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
The blessings of the Gurus are sought in the spirit of "guru prmysru eyko jwxu ] 5 864 (Know the Guru and God as one - SGGS p 864). That is because the approach to God is through the Guru. It is significant that we ask to be able to 'study' and not just 'see' the scripture, thus:
ਸ੍ਰੀ ਗੁਰੁ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ ਸਾਹਿਬ ਜੀ ਦੇ ਪਾਠ ਦੀਦਾਰ ਦਾ ਧਿਆਨ ਧਰ ਕੇ ਬੋਲੋ ਜੀ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ
(Contemplating on the reading of SGGS, say Vaheguru). That is because seeing the pages has no meaning, the essence lies in reading and understanding. Some of us when offering Ardas say " ਪਾਠ ਦਰਸ਼ਨ ਦੀਦਾਰ"; we are to say "ਪਾਠ ਦੀਦਾਰ". This is in keeping with the Gurbani teaching:
ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਨੋ ਸਭੁ ਕੋ ਵੇਖਦਾ ਜੇਤਾ ਜਗਤੁ ਸੰਸਾਰੁ ॥ ਡਿਠੈ ਮੁਕਤਿ ਨ ਹੋਵਈ ਜਿਚਰੁ ਸਬਦਿ ਨ ਕਰੇ ਵੀਚਾਰੁ ॥
Every one sees the Satguru; but salvation is not possible until one contemplates on the Word, the Shabad - SGGS p 594).
Another point to note is that Parts I to IV are in third person. Hence the Tenth Guru is referred to as "ਦਸਵਾਂ (Dasvaan)" and not as "ਦਸਵੇਂ (Dasv-en) Paatshaah". Similarly while referring to the eighth Guru we are to say "ਜਿਸ ਡਿਠੇ ਸਭ ਦੁਖ ਜਾਇ (Jis dithay sabh dukh jaae); saying ਡਿਠੈ ( dithai) in place of ਡਿਠੇ (dithay) is not right, because that means the eighth guru is seeing.
Another interesting aspect is that we seek the support of the first six and the Tenth Guru by remembering them saying 'dhiaa-e, simrau or hoay sahaa-e'. However specific deeds of the Eighth and Ninth Guru are given. For the eighth Guru we say ਜਿਸ ਡਿਠੇ ਸਭ ਦੁਖ ਜਾਇ (by whose presence all suffering goes) - because of the service he did for the sick resulting in his own passing away. For the Ninth Master we say ਘਰਿ ਨਉਨਿਧਿ ਆਵੈ ਧਾਇ (the nine treasures come running). This is to acknowledge his unmatched humility on the one hand and personally going and offering the supreme sacrifice for the sake of the Kashmiri Brahmins, not of his own faith, of another. This is unparalleled in the history of the world.' Nine treasures' cover everything one can ask for. When we do not run after transitory wealth and pleasures they come running. Parts II and III describe the manifestation of how the tenth Guru inspired the Khalsa.
The confidence of having the sanctuary of such holy masters makes the Sikh at peace.
Part II recounts our heritage. The five beloved ones who offered their heads and took Amrit on the Baisakhi of 1699 CE, the four sons of the tenth Guru-the first two falling in battle and the younger two bricked alive because they reused to give up their faith; the forty liberated ones who although once deserted the tenth Guru, later made the supreme sacrifice, those steadfast in faith; those absorbed in meditation of the Naam, those who shared what they had with others, fought, served the Langar (community kitchen), and overlooked faults. We praise the Lord for our belonging to such a heritage and Khalsa Ji says Vaheguru.
In Part III we remember the male and female members of the Khalsa who were martyred for Dharma, their bodies were cut into pieces at every joint, their heads were scalped, were tortured on the wheel, were sawed alive, sacrificed themselves serving and preserving the Gurdwaras (this refers is to the episodes at Nankana Sahib, Panja Saib, Gangsar, Jaito, Guru Ka Bagh), did not give up their faith and maintained Sikhi with Kes (hair) till the last breath. The Khalsa praises the Lord for making us partners in this heritage and says Vaheguru.
It is significant that Parts II and III which refer to the Khalsa heritage, and only they end with "Khalsa Ji say Vaheguru". Every where else it is "say Vaheguru".
In Part IV, we think of the five seats of Sikh temporal authority (Takhats) and all Gurdwaras and say Vaheguru. This is in acknowledgement of the authority of Panth Khalsa.
After this the Ardas is in the form of prayer and is in second person.
InPart V we first pray on behalf of all Khalsa that may Khalsa keep Vaheguru, Vaheguru, Vaheguru for ever in mind, and may this lead to the welfare of all humanity, may Divine protection and grace and be provided wherever Khalsa be, may the Khalsa ever succeed in battle and in service, may the Panth ever be victorious, may Divine grace ever be maintained, Khalsa may ever be victorious with the grace of the Almighty. We then pray for success, protection and glory for the Khalsa in different ways and say Vaheguru.
All this is possible by Divine grace for which we pray in Part VI asking for the benediction of disciplined and righteous living based Sikhi, untrimmed hair, leading life as per Reht (code of conduct), sense of discrimination, as well as trust and confidence in the Almighty. Above all we seek the benediction of Naam. We are also reminded of our history when the invaders used to fill up or otherwise deny the Sikhs bath in the tank around the Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) at Amritsar and pray that we may ever be able to this. The words used for this last prayer are "ਸ੍ਰੀ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤਸਰ ਜੀ ਦੇ ਇਸ਼ਨਾਨ" (bath in the nectar- tank). Some of us say "Sri Amritsar ji day darshan ishnaan) i.e. add 'darshan' (seeing). To the Sikh, seeing the buildings has no spiritual significance, hence we do not ask to see the building but visit the place to reinforce our link to the heritage. Guru Nanak warns us of this, thus:
ਮੰਦਰ ਮਿਟੀ ਸੰਦੜੇ ਪਥਰ ਕੀਤੇ ਰਾਸਿ ਜੀਉ ॥
ਹਉ ਏਨੀ ਟੋਲੀ ਭੁਲੀਅਸੁ ਤਿਸੁ ਕੰਤ ਨ ਬੈਠੀ ਪਾਸਿ ਜੀਉ ॥
The buildings are made of mud and stone; I have been misled by these and seek not the company of the Beloved Master (SGGS, p 762).
The word 'darshan' has accordingly not been included here. As noted above, the word has not been included in respect of SGGS also. It is included in respect of historical Gurdwaras in Pakistan from where we have been separated, as below.
Lest the Sikh shows vanity, in Part VII we seek humility and high thinking and pray for its preservation. We also pray for being enabled to visit and look after the historical Gurdwaras from where we have been separated. We acknowledge that Vaheguru is the honor of the downtrodden, strength of the weak and sanctuary for the destitute. With this confidence we make the supplication.
As individual routine Ardas is offered after the morning and evening Nitnem (recitation of laid down Baanis). It is also offered at the end of every congregation. On both these occasions we seek forgiveness for any errors in reciting or listening Gurbani. Once again we pray for welfare of all. We seek the company of those in whose company we remember the Creator. Ardas may also be offered for particular requests like like personal affairs, health or peace for a departed soul.
At the end we recite ਨਾਨਕ ਨਾਮ ਚੜ੍ਹਦੀ ਕਲਾ; ਤੇਰੇ ਭਾਣੇ ਸਰਬਤ ਦਾ ਭਲਾ (Nanak says "reciting Your Naam, we remain in high spirits and may You bestow well being on all". The high spirit is further emphasizes with "Vahegru Ji Ka, Khalsa, Vaheguru Ji Ki Fateh"(Khalsa belongs to the Almighty and so does victory).
The wording of the first nine lines at the beginning and these two lines cannot be changed. The rest of the Ardas is given as a model.