An Anand Karaj - a Malaysian Story

Some Anand Karajs are drowned out by ridiculous and meaningless 'traditional' rituals and ceremonies.

(I am writing this 'story' because I have seen some astonishing, sometimes embarrassing, and sometimes comedic Anand Karajs ('karaj' means ceremony. Anand Karaj - Sikh Marriage Ceremony)), mostly with very little spiritual import. {Too often I have seen the husband take off in the wrong direction on the first laav (circumambulation) because the ceremony has not been properly rehearsed or even discussed!}

I have also witnessed some (very few) very touching, moving ceremonies which will remain with the couple all their lives, and bind them for life. Such ceremonies do not need any special Bollywood style edited 'wedding' movies complete with Bollywood songs! 

Some Anand Karajs are drowned out by ridiculous and meaningless 'traditional' rituals and ceremonies. Some convert them to western-style Anand Karajs with flower girls and maids of honour. At one, the Granthi Sahib even went as far as to say - "And now, you may kiss the bride", right in front of the Guru Granth Sahib! 

Let us make Anand Karaj the sacred, meaningful and touching ceremony it is meant to be. A spiritually charged Anand Karaj augurs well for the future of the couple. 

This story is written with the hope that potential Sikh couples intending to go through the Anand Karaj will at least put some thought into the ceremony rather than leaving it to 'others'. There should be less focus on the Receptions or the so-called Sangeet/Mehndhi Night etc. but more attention to the most important part of a Sikh 'wedding' - the 'Anand Karaj'.)

The setting is a rural town in Malaysia, the country of my birth and home to over 100,000 Sikhs. 

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Jagpreet and Roop wanted an Anand Karaj which would help bring them closer to each other, truly enjoin them to each other spiritually, and as a couple to ‘Akal Purakh’. Their parents, like most parents, just wanted them to get married as tongues had started wagging because they were both in their twenties and spending a great deal of time together.

Jagpreet had returned from overseas after doing a university degree in Environmental Science and had started working as an officer in the Forestry Department while Roop was a qualified primary school teacher and had a job in the local primary school. Even when apart, they kept close touch and the friendship blossomed when they reunited.

They both lived in the same suburb called a ‘kampong’ (village), in Malaysia. Their gurdwara was walking distance from their homes and in their suburb lived some of their relatives too. Almost everyone in the kampong knew each other – mainly Sikhs, Chinese, Tamils, Malays and some Anglo-Indians.

They both enjoyed the atmosphere of the gurdwara which was not only for sewa, satsang, path and kirtan, but also a meeting place for youth. There was a ‘padang’ (field) right behind the gurdwara in which most youth used to go and play football occasionally. The old Giani Ji was fun to sit with and talk to and practice their Punjabi. Both often did kirtan at the gurdwara too.

Roop’s Nana Ji (maternal grandfather), who lived with them, was a saintly man with intimate knowledge of gurmatt and Gursikhi. He was fond of Jagpreet too and had seen both Roop and Jagpreet grow up. They often came and sat with him to talk about Sikhi.

They visited him specifically to discuss the Anand Karaj at length. A deep meaningful conversation ensued. They also talked to Giani Ji and discussed the subject with some friends, all professional working young Sikhs who did kirtan and who would conduct their Anand Karaj.

Then the couple informed their parents that they would leave all the traditional, cultural and social aspects of the ‘wedding’ to them but that they will have the Anand Karaj the way they wanted. The parents readily agreed. They just wanted them to get married!

The parents gathered and someone asked when the ‘mengeni’ will take place. Jagpreet asked why? “Do we really need it?” “But the people will expect it”, said Roop’s mother. “Mamma, let’s decide what we shall do and not worry what ‘people’ will expect”, replied Roop. “Nana Ji says that there is some Gurbani related to ‘mengeni’. I bet none of you knew that. You see, we only know of the rituals and ceremonies. We seldom find out why. We are going to study it, but we do not see the need of ceremonies which are unnecessary these days except maybe for some fun and frivolity”, laughed Jagpreet.

Both Jagpreet and Roop agreed that if there were any traditions, rituals or customs the parents felt strongly about, they would comply but in principle they were only concerned with a truly sacred ‘Anand Karaj’. The subject ended there.

They had already discussed with Nana Ji and Giani ji and had decided that various traditional and non-traditional engagement ceremonies like ‘roki’, ‘chuni chedauni’ and especially ‘mengeni’, where only the groom was involved, were rather meaningless and unnecessary in this day and age.

The thinking behind it all was that traditions and customs must evolve but the pillars of Sikhi living should remain steadfast.

Then the couple dropped the bombshell! They wanted the Anand Karaj at 6am, just before the sun came up followed by breakfast. It would also be the coolest part of the day! The alarm bells were ringing. That has never been done before! The couple assured them that it had. That we had all just forgotten the joy of amritvela!

Roop’s mum spoke in alarm, “nobody will turn up at that time”! “You will, mum and dad, won’t you? Nana Ji will, we know. Our friends will. Will our relatives come? That is up to them.”

What about relatives living in close by towns who intend to come in the morning? I am sure if they love us enough, they will make arrangements. Local sangat? No one turns up for Asa Dhi Var at 5am. How is the sangat going to come at 6am?

“5.30am at the latest mamma. The Anand Karaj starts at sharp 6am.”

“What about your hair? You will have to get up at 1am to have your hair done!” “Mamma, I am tying a dastar, no stupid hairdos!”. “What??? That means you are going to wear your bana!” “Yes, mum”. “But I have such an expensive lehnga for you to wear at the wedding!” “Wedding maybe mamma, but not the Anand Karaj.”

I think you the reader can guess how much of consternation this would have caused. It has probably all happened in your household too. The key is always: BUT THAT IS THE WAY IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN DONE!!! Generally the parents seem more interested with the traditions and customs. The sacred Anand Karaj is shunted into the background. The Granthi and ragi jatha can handle that. Nothing to do with us is the attitude.

Thankfully, because they wanted their offsprings to tie the knot quickly, the parents reluctantly agreed and decided to face the consequences. Only Waheguru knows what ‘consequences’ they were thinking about!

The youngsters said that the Anand Karaj was the most important ceremony in their lives. It was for them, their Guru Ji, their parents and those who are meant to be there – the true relatives and friends, the true ‘sadh sangat’ whose blessings they both sought.

It was decided that the Anand Karaj take place on a Saturday morning with a usual ‘Jorh Mela’ with langar on the Sunday morning to ‘celebrate’ the Anand Karaj. That they, the parents could have that Sunday programme at the usual 10am while sangat normally rolls in just before Noon ready for langar! That the parents could work around that for whatever else they wished to do. The ‘segen’, the shoving of ledoos in each others’ mouths, the taking of photographs with each and every relative, and so on.

Once the general plan had been agreed, all arrangements began in earnest. Roop’s mother made arrangements to fly to India with her to buy the necessary paraphernalia for the wedding, which Roop felt was unnecessary but went along with anyway because her mother wanted to and apparently it was, again, the ‘done’ thing. (A great many of our rituals and ceremonies are carried out because that is the way ‘everybody’ does them, without understanding them. That is not Sikhi.) A free trip to India, thought Roop, why not?

The couple also informed their parents that whatever they expected them both to wear will only be worn on the Sunday Jorh Mela because they had decided to wear simple yet elegant banas for the Anand Karaj. Though both sets of parents were uncomfortable with some of the requirements of their offsprings, they went along with whatever they wanted. Nana Ji seemed to enjoy everything that was happening!

The date was set after consultations with some close relatives, especially those overseas, and availability of the gurdwara. There was some opposition from some relatives about the supposedly ridiculous time of the Anand Karaj. But both Jagpreet and Roop had already decided. Those relatives were politely told that they could just attend the Jorh Mela on the Sunday morning.

 The day drew near. Neighbours and friends started helping in making ladoos, pekorian, seker-paray and methiyan (Punjabi home-made savouries and sweets) for the occasion. Roop’s parents’ backyard was converted into a semi-open-air kitchen!  Relatives from overseas started arriving the Sunday before and a celebratory mood descended on both households, and in fact the entire kampong.

As there were other Sikh and non-Sikh friends living in the same suburb the entire neighbourhood volunteered to play host especially to the overseas and interstate guests as required. Some who preferred to stay in hotels were booked into a hotel near the Lake Gardens. Modest but adequate. There the guests paid their own accommodation.

Overseas guests and their hosts were left to their own activities till the Wednesday, though breakfast, lunch and dinner were centralised in Roop’s house when required. There was plenty to do, with a scenic walking track up a hill nearby and a beautiful waterfall to swim in at its foot. A zoo in the town nearby was well stocked with exquisite local and overseas animals, birds and reptiles including an aquarium. As mentioned, there was a beautiful Lake Gardens close by and there was plenty of good food in the town too. Malaysia is a food paradise!

The sea coast too was not far but one could not really go for a swim. Malacca Straits is arguably now one of the least clean sea coasts of the Malaysia due to rubbish and waste flowing into it and also sludge from excessive land reclamation unchecked by the state and national governments.

On Wednesday, it was decided to have a football (soccer) match between the overseas guests and the locals in the kampong’s ‘padang’ (village park). It was a fun-filled evening followed by a barbeque in the grounds. The locals won easily even after some locals played for the overseas visitors. It was so successful that another game was arranged between the couple’s relatives the next day before the planned evening of fun which ended with a ‘jago’ organised by the ladies and more merrymaking. 

(Jago - ladies dress up as men and women and carry a pot with candles on its sides through nearby streets while singing folk songs which normally poke fun at the menfolk. They also extract money from the men.)

Roop’s parents had wanted to carry out a ‘churda’ ceremony – the placing of coloured bangles on Roop’s arms by her Mamas (maternal uncles) and cousins – a mainly old Indian tradition also handed down to the Sikhs because of their Indian ancestory. Roop could not see the point of it as she never intended to wear them a moment longer than was necessary, and certainly not for the Anand Karaj!  No one really knows what the ritual stands for, except that it signifies that a girl is being adorned for marriage and that it is always done. Actually it is all good fun! She agreed to have it on the Saturday afternoon and keep them on for the Jorh Mela on the Sunday when she would also put on her colourful ‘wedding’ clothes her mother had purchased from India specially for the wedding, just like her mother’s mother had done for her.

A debate ensued because someone piped in to say that the ‘churda’ ceremony should be done before the wedding ceremony. As no one could substantiate that, except that that is the way it has always been done, the parents reluctantly agreed to Saturday afternoon after the Anand Karaj.

Roop was also adamant that she will not have any dried coconuts which her mother had brought as part of the wedding items, dangling on her wrists at any time! It made her look like a prisoner with balls and chains tied to her wrists! Certainly no jingly anklets either!

The football game between the relatives the next day became a mixed match because there were less male relatives on Roop’s side who could play. Roop and Jagpreet played too!  It started to drizzle, but that did not dampen anyone’s spirit. It was a most enjoyable evening and no one could remember at the end who had won because so many goals had been scored that there was a dispute on the final score!

The highlight was when Roop’s father tripped Jagpreet’s father and sent him flying into the mud. A wrestling match ensued and all muddied, it was hard to tell who was who. All then trooped up to the garden watering hose and everyone was hosed down before they were allowed inside!

Everyone looked very tired that evening for the ‘Jago’. A quaint Punjabi tradition where a disguised lady carries an earthen pot with candles in it through the village with women dressed like men dancing around it and all singing Punjabi ‘bolian’ and other folk songs. Money was also extracted from those watching and put into the pot. (Normally the money either goes to the gurdwara or for charity.) When they came back further merriment continued in Roop’a parents’ house.  The women showed the men as to who had more stamina by singing more bolian, Punjabi and Hindi songs accompanied to one of them playing the dholki and another hitting a spoon on top of it to keep rhythm. Inevitably it was an early night.

Friday was a fairly laid-back day with some going to the gurdwara for cleaning and langar sewa from both ‘sides’. It was decided that from the outset there will be no fuss made about groom’s side (Janj) and bride’s side. The sooner all relatives bonded, on equal terms, the better. All the ‘wedding’ costs too were decided to be split in half though Roop’s parents initially protested that the wedding was their prerogative. The two football matches and the ‘Jago’ Night certainly brought both families and relatives together. Two families were becoming one. That included the relatives and friends.

The couple made their arrangements for an early morning wake-up call and readied themselves for the important moment. Their important day’s clothing had already been planned way before.

 

They arrived together by 5am. They were surprised to see how many sangat had turned up besides relatives at that early hour from both sides! Sangat members were already helping themselves to the customary cup of 'cha' with Punjabi sweets and savouries - all home-made!

The couple were ushered into a private room in the gurdwara premises to have some moments to themselves before the ceremony and compose themselves. Sangat was requested to proceed to the Darbar Sahib at 5.30am.

The local ‘ragi jatha’ made up of two lawyers, their wives and children with an IT specialist on the tabla sang a couple of shabads and then started naam simran.

Jagpreet and Roop waited for precisely 5.45am. They both stood together and mouthed an Ardaas for Guru Ji’s blessings and then proceeded to the Darbar Sahib. They paused briefly at the threshold looking in on the Guru Ji and the sangat.

They were pleasantly surprised to the number of sangat members who had come in simple kudta pajamas and ladies in Punjabi ‘suits’ including close relatives and friends, not starchy western suits with ties or colourful and gaudy sarees. It was, as a sangat should be, well-dressed but simple, come to pray together and give their blessings. Even their non-Sikh friends were there beaming. There was already a relaxed, spiritually charged joyous atmosphere in the Darbar Sahib.

Roop was dressed in a sky blue shiny bana, with a matching pearl necklace and a blue dastaar with a matching ‘dupatta’ draped over it. Jagpreet was in a light brown bana with a brown dastaar and looked resplendent with his well-groomed jet-black beard. He had a brownish long scarf draped around his shoulders which would also be used as the pela between them for the ‘lavan’. Both carried Sri Sahibs (Sikh swords) matching their clothing. Besides the pearl necklace around Roop’s graceful neck, they did not seem to wear any other jewellery except both wearing their shiny steel ‘karas’. The beautiful princess and her handsome lion (singh) presenting themselves to their Guru Ji!

Jagpreet and Roop entered side by side. They approached Guru Ji and reverently metha tek’d. Both placed their Sri Sahibs before Guru Ji. Both also had a tray each of the best of Malaysia’s barfi from the town of Rawang for Guru Ji. It would be served with the parshadh after the ceremony.

The couple had decided that Guru Ji did not really need another rumalla or anything else from them. Their parents had of course brought brand new rumallas from India. They had already placed them before Guru Ji as they had entered with the sangat.

The couple sat down, together, towards one side, waiting to be called forward for the ceremony. They looked radiant!

The jatha sang their final shabad – “Keeta Lodiyai Kam so Har pai akhiyay.” {A hymn requesting permission and blessings from Guru Ji, to conduct the ceremony.}

A rope was stretched out halfway up the approach runway carpet to Guru Ji at 6am sharp to stop those who were late, from disrupting the ceremony by wanting to come forward to metha-tek as the ceremony was in progress. The jatha requested the couple to come forward for the ceremony. It was 6am.

The kirtan jatha leader politely asked if both Jagpreet and Roop had presented themselves to be enjoined in holy matrimony voluntarily and that they consented to spending the rest of their lives with each other and close to Guru Ji? To indicate their consent by bowing deeply to Guru Ji as they sat.

They bowed deeply from their seated position.

The jatha then proceeded to do simple Simran and for a moment, it was truly mesmerising as the sangat and the couple joined in with soulful ‘Waheguru’ and the Mool Mantr. The jatha leader requested the sadh-sangat to shower the couple with their blessings through ‘naam’.

Bhai Sahib, the resident Granthi Sahib, came forward and prepared to perform a small ardaas requesting the couple and their parents to stand.

Just before the small ardaas commenced Jagpreet turned around and requested Roop’s Nana Ji, also to stand with them. Nana Ji was taken aback and when all those he turned to also smiled and nodded, he stood up. He was very moved by the gesture. There were tears in his eyes. He was the only one left of their collective grandparents. Roop was touched by Jagpreet’s gesture and smiled at him.

Ardaas over, the Hukm Nama was read. The jatha first sang the Hukm Nama and one of the jatha members then gave a quick synopsis of it urging them to print out their Hukm Nama as their lifelong mandate and guide. Another jatha member gave an explanation of the four ‘lavan’ in a few words.

Roop’s father was requested, helped by Roop’s mummy to hand Jagpreet’s ‘pela’ to Roop while the shabad ‘Pelay thainday…’ was sung. It signified that Roop’s father was passing on the responsibility of looking after and caring for her to the new man in her life. Chivalry must go on.

The couple was requested to keep standing throughout the ‘lavan’ after the ‘metha tek’ after every circumambulation. (Someone asked Jagpreet later why both of them did not carry the Sri Sahib for the lavan. His answer was that when in the presence of the Guru, he felt that the Sri Sahib should be kept aside. It was not needed in hand in the Guru Ji’s presence. He reminded the one asking the question with a smile, that they both still had their kirpans!)

The four lavan were carried out in pin drop silence from the sangat. It appeared that all were doing their own Simran, blessing the couple. The photographers were conspicuous by their absence. Well dressed, they had been stationed at vantage points to video and photograph the sacred ceremony from stationary points. Sangat was requested not to use their mobile phones to photograph or video the ceremony and also put their phones on ‘silent’. The atmosphere was spiritually charged. There was bliss in the sangat. There was joy and a nearness to Guru Ji.

A sangat member later commented that the four ‘lavan’ appeared surreal, magical, heavenly. The jatha leader requested first the parents of the couple followed by Roop’s Nana Ji and then the other brothers and sisters to come and sit around the couple while kirtan was done for another half an hour pertaining to Anand Karaj with the jatha leader pointing out some salient points about a Sikh marriage.

He also gave the photographers permission at that point to take some good pictures of the couple, the two families and sangat sitting together. He jokingly called it the ‘kodak moment’! It was, what such a ceremony should be – a sacred, spiritually charged ceremony. One to remember for a lifetime and one to set the couple off on their spiritual and temporal journey as a couple.

Sangat was informed that the couple would like to be excused as they wished for time together and would meet everyone at the Reception arranged for that same evening.

After the Ardaas and Hukm Nama, the couple was served degh first and they took their leave. The sangat proceeded to the langar hall for breakfast as they received their degh. There was no unnecessary talking and photographs in the Darbar Hall but the langar hall was where the merry making took place with congratulations, hugs, back slapping, photograph taking and a good breakfast and ‘cha’ of course!

The couple reappeared at Roop’s home at 2pm. Roop had returned for Mehndhi and the Churda ceremony and to be decked for the evening in their finest clothings as wished for especially by her mum. Jagpreet returned home to change into his best three-piece suit which was blue in colour with a red dastaar.

The Reception was an occasion to celebrate and enjoy. It began at 7pm. Sharp. The couple made it a point to go to every table and spoke to everyone. There were no stage shows or loud music to disrupt a good banquet and social chatter. There were some amusing speeches by the couple’s close friends, cousins and brothers and sisters in between the sumptuous three course meal. Bhangra and dancing started at 10pm for about an hour. The couple left after the first dance as it had been a very tiring day.

The next day’s Jorh Mela was a more laid-back affair as everyone rolled in from about 10.30am. The couple arrived punctually at 10.30am. There was kirtan by the jatha and then Roop and Jagmeet joined them on stage to sing a couple of shabads. Somehow the segen ceremony and the taking of formal photographs did not eventuate. No one seemed to notice!

Again, the photographers were forewarned that in the gurdwara Darbar Sahib, they could only take discreet photographs and video. They were well dressed and discreet especially around the Guru Sahib and the front of the darbar.

There was an amusing moment at the gurdwara, after the Jorh Mela when someone exclaimed in alarm – “But, we did not carry out the Milni Ceremony!!!”  There was a pregnant pause and then there was laughter. Jagpreet’s father said, “I think we have “milnied” very well from the first day we came together. And my ‘kudm’ tripped me before he scored the goal in the inter-relatives football match, but I beat him at the wrestling match which took place after that! Do we really need a formal ceremony to say, yes, we have met!” There was loud laughter.

The couple left the gurdwara together by their own car, as five jekaray rang out from the sangat. Roop took off her bangles and threw them all into the sangat as mementos, as they drove off.

The guests and friends dispersed from the gurdwara. Some came back home to Roop’s for a cup of cha and other sweets and savouries in the afternoon which dragged on into the evening.

Someone asked, “so when is the doli leaving?”

The parents laughed. “What doli? The kids are already half-way to Penang where they are spending a few days!”

“O, but are you not supposed to do the ‘meklava’ “? The person asked.

“And what is that”?

“The couple must sit in the wedding car and then do one circle and come back and leave a second time,” the person said.

“And why do we do that?”

“Don’t know”! Everyone laughed.

Nana Ji spoke. “The ‘meklava’ used to take place in Punjab in olden days. Girls were married off at a very young age, even sometimes 13 years old. They then stayed with their parents for a few years and when older, were taken by their husbands. That period of stay with her parents and the final departure was called ‘meklava’. I guess there are those who remember that and these days a circling around the house and then leaving fulfils that tradition.” Everybody laughed.

The couple had already left for a few days in Penang by the afternoon. There was no ‘send-off’ of the bride and no other formalities or ceremonies or rituals.

Celebrations petered out as Sunday came to a very happy close. Roop’s mum shed a few tears. Her baby was now married!

 

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