A Discontinuous Journey

TLH_Disc_Journey.jpgA few weeks back, an article called Outsourcing Prayers [scroll to the bottom], by Khushwant Singh caught my attention. It discussed how people pay big money to religious institutions abroad to carry out services and prayers on their behalf. This “outsourcing” of prayer helps out the “well-to-do” Americans and Europeans who do not have time for worship, while also benefiting cash-starved churches and the local economy of these remote areas. Several religions were mentioned in this article and Sikhs were not spared:

I sought explanation from the head granthi. He told me people from India and abroad sent money for akhand paths to be followed by Guru-ka-langar as thanksgiving or wish fulfillment. I could not comprehend how prayers recited by someone else could benefit a devotee who paid for them.?

There has been much debate in our community on whether paying a professional to do an Akhand Paath on one’s behalf is contradictory to Gurmat. I also remember years ago when the SGPC was “selling” Akhand Paaths on-line. Luckily, outrage from Sikhs all over the world stopped that practice. However, this article got me thinking about Akhand Paaths, and the role it currently plays in our community.

I’ve seen various historical references to when and how Akhand Paaths began. Some say it began during Guru Gobind Singh’s time, where he had five of his Sikhs read the entire Guru Granth Sahib to him, then subsequently did so to mark significant occasions. Others say the continuous reading became prevalent while Sikhs were in the jungles and on the move. I’m not sure of the authenticity of either, but the practice itself was acknowledged by the Panth and defined in the Rehat Maryada.

There are many who debate that Akhand Paaths are simply an empty ritual and should be abolished. Most Akhand Paaths are done without anyone listening and have been minimized to a money-making transaction for Gurdwaras and Sikh institutions. While I understand and somewhat agree with this sentiment, I dont know if I’m willing to throw out the idea altogether.

Personally, I have fond memories of Akhand Paaths at my home as a child. It seemed like the right way to mark a special occasion, and shouldn’t we be encouraging “Guru-centered” activities any way(even with our imperfections in the way we do them)? Isnt this better than lavish parties??

Although there weren’t many listeners, I always loved goingto our Guru Sahib da Kamra in the middle of the night to listen to Paath. And although I’ve only read for an Akhand Paath a few times, I enjoyed the opportunity to read Baani for an hour or two without interruption, even though my understanding was limited. It didn’t really matter to me that no one was listening.

At the same time, the Punjabi influence at our home did take over and Akhand Paaths became more about entertaining and feeding guests than the Paath itself. And as we got closer to our 48 hour deadline, my parents would nervously discuss bringing in the “professionals” to finish the Paath for us. I remember once being discouraged to participate in the later stage of the Paath, because we needed someone faster. The whole thing just didnt seem right…

A few years ago,a handfulof us (not really youth anymore) Sikh youths decided to do something different to mark one of our birthdays. Rather than our typical dinner outing, we decided to hold a Paath. Only difference was, it would be a Sehaj Paath (Sadharan Paath), or a complete but non-continuous reading of the Guru Granth Sahib. It was structured similar to an Akhand Paath in that we did follow a schedule with assigned times, but it was over a 3 week period, mostly during nights and weekends to allow for maximum sangat. We even marked on the calendar when we would be reciting certain parts of the Guru Granth Sahib that may invoke larger discussion like Sidh Gosht, Babur Baani, Asa Ki Vaar, etc. We chose one house to do the Paath in, and all took turns making meals to share the work.

It was an amazing experience and we all seemed to take something different from it. Some of the novices used the Paath as a way to improve their reading and fluency and with Sangat around following along with pothis, there was time to correct readers on their pronunciation, and re-read lines. Some of the more experienced readers paused every so often to ask for a translation of a line or a Shabad, which would often lead to discussion, and sometimes debate.

As we all gathered for the conclusion of our Paath, it was unlike any other Paath da Bhog I have attended. It took on a different meaning for me. The happiness I felt had less to do with finishing on time…but more so because I had learned something.

At the end of the day, I dont feel Akhand Paaths should be abolished or anyone should be discouraged from reading Baani, continuously or not – but, I do hope our generation does organize, participate in, and encourage more Sehaj Paaths. I believe this will be more educational and experiential for all involved. And following the “State of the Panth” on this blog for some time…it seems like such individual and community reflection is needed now more than ever.

In Sikhi, we have powerful and beautiful traditions, I hope the inquisitive nature of our generation will force us to bring more meaning back to such traditions, rather than just empty ritual…which is what I believe, Guru Sahib had intended.


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6 Responses to “A Discontinuous Journey”

  1. Paguman Singh says:

    The article was well written and brings forth the dilemma the Panth is in. I appreciate the idea that paath should be done as a sejh paath with understanding (as much as each individual can manage) and then applying this to the journey of life.The approval of Akhand Paath in the Rehyat Maryada is limited to only occasions when the Panth is facing a major problem. It does not state that when an individual faces a problem as we all do daily and have to accept them as challenges in life.

    The main point is that Guru Nanak dev Ji liberated us from ritualism empowered us with the right to sing the praises of the Creator in a language known to the common man. This gift is being compromised with what is happening in Akhand Paaths. Gurfateh.

  2. Paguman Singh says:

    The article was well written and brings forth the dilemma the Panth is in. I appreciate the idea that paath should be done as a sejh paath with understanding (as much as each individual can manage) and then applying this to the journey of life.The approval of Akhand Paath in the Rehyat Maryada is limited to only occasions when the Panth is facing a major problem. It does not state that when an individual faces a problem as we all do daily and have to accept them as challenges in life.
    The main point is that Guru Nanak dev Ji liberated us from ritualism empowered us with the right to sing the praises of the Creator in a language known to the common man. This gift is being compromised with what is happening in Akhand Paaths. Gurfateh.

  3. Dostum says:

    Akhandpath is not more than a ritual. No one in the family wants to listen. Either there is no one available to sit before the Guru even for some time. And if your are fortunate enough to find someone, he would be busy 'doing' things for akhandpath ceremony and would have no time. Granthi is speaking something ( that sounds more like telgu )Nobody understands nothin'… He is in such a hurry. Time and again he keeps looking at the watch. He is furious, for he had to sit there for 5 more minutes than his slot. If possible he would have killed the next pathi then and there for being late.

    This is how the whole practice is done.

    We must encourage Sehaj Paths. It looks possibe to people to sit there for such a short period.

  4. Dostum says:

    Akhandpath is not more than a ritual. No one in the family wants to listen. Either there is no one available to sit before the Guru even for some time. And if your are fortunate enough to find someone, he would be busy ‘doing’ things for akhandpath ceremony and would have no time. Granthi is speaking something ( that sounds more like telgu )Nobody understands nothin’… He is in such a hurry. Time and again he keeps looking at the watch. He is furious, for he had to sit there for 5 more minutes than his slot. If possible he would have killed the next pathi then and there for being late.
    This is how the whole practice is done.
    We must encourage Sehaj Paths. It looks possibe to people to sit there for such a short period.

  5. SinghSARDAR says:

    Akhand Path is a ritual that came about during the period of Maharajah Ranjit Singh.Someone royal was very ill, feelers were sent out for divine cure when all seemed to have not worked.The caretakers of harmander sahib and other mahants suggested the usual reading of mantras from the gita and vedica books, for three days.Some Sikh nihangs standing by offered to do the patth from the Guru Granth sahib within the time stipulated-36 hours.At the end dof that sesion began the rite of Akhand paath.There is no Gurmat based evidence for this activity or sampat paath.ONLY Sehaj paath is the only Gurbani approved paath that shosuld be conducted.

  6. essay writer says:

    Many people perform their religious book all over the e world. They never hesitate to have different environment. The Sikh community is living all over the worlds include England use and Canada etc. they perform their religious activities.

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