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39. Modern Youth have Modern Questions -
Religious Aspects

  1. Wedding Ceremony-How and Why

Very interesting and unusual inquiries regarding religious rituals and rites are made by youth at the Gurmat training camps.  Most of the questions do not have any one definite answer.  Such questions need to be addressed by the Sikh theologians.  The explanation given by them should be in the modern terminology and free from the religious jargon.

In one Sikh Youth Leadership camp held annually in Michigan, USA, the girls asked, “Why should a boy always lead the walk around Guru Granth Sahib for the wedding ceremony?”  They suggested that out of four rounds, the girl should walk two times ahead of the boy.  The reason they gave me was that Sikhism demands equality of gender.  Therefore, there should be no gender discrimination in marriage, both should equally share the leading roles.  I know a marriage where such reasoning was even put into practice.

Equality was practiced in another way during a marriage held in New Jersey, USA.  The girl was made to walk on the left side of the boy instead of behind him.  The same method was followed in Vancouver, Canada, where the boy and the girl walked together.  Not only the youth who got married, but also their parents, claimed with great pride that they adopted the “correct” Sikh ritual.  They argued that the girl was not given inferior status, but her rights were equated with the rights of the boy.

After listening to such reasoning, I suggested that they should also look at it from other angles as well.  By asking the girl to walk along with the boy, we place her farther away from the center, the Guru Granth Sahib, our isht (the authority in which we believe).  Further, she has to cover a longer distance, and hence walk faster than the boy.  Is it not a bigger discrimination?

I drew the diagram on the board and explained it by drawing the circles.  The youth understood my point of view very well and they appeared to accept my argument.  All students started thinking discussing it among themselves.  Putting them on the defensive, I continued, “If I had the option, I will gladly follow the girl.  This way, I will have her reigns(palla) in my hands to make her walk the way I want.  However, according to Gurmat ritual, the boy willingly agrees to let his bride hold his palla.  He, thus agrees to be ‘driven’ by her from behind.  Is it not good for the girls?”

The girls enjoyed this comment, which was made in a light mood.  To be sure that my message goes into their thinking, I narrated my personal experience, “As you see, I am tall and my wife is relatively short.  I walked faster than she did.  She had to move slowly and also cautiously because of her veil.  Twice my palla got pulled and I had to stop for her.  The sangat smiled.  Later, when both families were informally talking, her cousin remarked, “Good, hold his reigns tight and always keep him under your control.” All of us had a hearty laugh. 

Listening to this, the classroom discipline was gone.  All started to give their comments.  The girls saying, “We will walk behind to pull the reigns.”

When the discipline was restored, I continued, “Have you seen a king inspecting a guard of honor.  In his honor, there is always a soldier ahead of him walking in style with a sword in his hand.  We respect woman as the mother of a king.  so ikau mMd[ E[KIEY ijiq jMmy r[j[n.  Maybe for this reason, the boy is made to walk ahead of the girl to show respect to her.

Though the logic may not be correct but was effective in convincing the group that the prevalent custom, the girl following the boy as mentioned in the Sikh code of conduct (Reht Maryada bulletin), is the most appropriate ritual for a wedding.

  1. Two Wedding Ceremonies

A turbaned Sikh youth informed me about the “great” plan of his marriage.  He stated, “The parents of my fiancée are Hindus.  To give her equal respect in the performance of marriage, I plan to have a combined ceremony.  In the hall, Guru Granth Sahib will be installed for the Sikh ceremony and the Hindu priest will light the sacred fire for their ceremony.  We will first go around Guru Granth Sahib for lawan and then move to the purohit for the Hindu rite.  The people will not have to move and will continue to sit at their places during the two ceremonies.”

After telling me everything in detail, the boy asked, “Is it all okay?  Do you have any suggestions?”  From the way he told me, it was obvious that he thought his plan was a great idea.  He was sure that both Hindus and Sikhs would appreciate it. Therefore, his parents and his in-laws would also be pleased with it.

While the boy was describing his elaborate plan of the two ceremonies, I had decided my response.  When he finished talking, I asked, “As a witness in court, how many times do you have to take oath before the judge?’  The boy answered, “Only once.” I continued, “Marriage rite is an oath taken before the isht (God) who is the judge of our lives.  Why take the marriage oath twice before Him. If you want to please your fiancée, you may follow the rites of her faith. Dear, choose any one ceremony.  To have two religious ceremonies for the same couple are a mockery to God.”

The boy was convinced that only one ceremony was appropriate.  He went back happy without feeling sorry for the rejection of his great plan.  He talked about this to the girl and suggested, “Now you may choose any one ceremony.  Hindu ceremony is okay with me.  The girl replied, “Yes.  I agree with you that we should have only one ceremony.  As I am joining your family and have started keeping long hair as a Sikh should do, we will follow the Sikh ceremony.”

This idea of two ceremonies had come into their mind because in most of the interfaith marriages, two ceremonies are usually performed.  When a Sikh marries a Christian, the function is held first in the gurdwara, and later the same day, a Christian wedding is conducted in the church.  Every youth knows of one or more such weddings.  They consider it to be okay because it shows respect to both religions.

My opinion regarding interracial and interfaith marriage is different from it.  What, I tell the youth at the camps is briefly mentioned below.

There should be no racial bias according to Sikh faith, hence, there is no racial bar against a marriage. Regarding interfaith marriages, it should be well understood that they may be performed by two or more ceremonies but such marriages will not be happy ones.  Religion is not just a collection of beliefs to be understood but a path of life one decides to follow. Two spouses cannot simultaneously walk on two different paths, i.e. practice two faiths and still remain together as a couple.  Otherwise, it is literally a marriage of convenience and not a marriage of minds and hearts.  It is not a true marriage where both partners cannot jointly practice their faith, the mission of their life.  Without practicing faith, we are no better than animals.

In case the two belong to different faiths, before they marry they must decide which faith they are going to follow.  It may be remembered that conversion for marriage does not mean a change of belief, but it is for a worldly advantage.  Such a wedding may soon create problems.  Here are two case histories from a dozen interfaith marriages that I know.  Each has its own lesson for us to learn.

  1. I was invited by the New Jersey sangat for a weeklong seminar there.  My host was a white lady married to a Sikh.  During informal conversation at her house, she narrated her experience of their marriage.  It is rare to find such honest and sincere people.  What she shared with me is retold below in her words. 

“My husband is a great human being.  While working for him as his secretary, I liked him.  We got married, even though my British parents did not agree with it.  Later, when they found my husband to be a nice and noble man and also financially well off, they reconciled with our marriage.  They now visit us regularly.  Before our relations became normal with them, we started facing other problems. 

The problem of naming our children was easy to overcome.  We agreed to give them both Punjabi and Christian names. The other problems, however, continue.  When we go to the church, none of us really benefit from it.  He does not believe in Christianity and he just sits there to be with me.  My mind remains constantly occupied with the idea that I am forcing one gentleman to sit there for nothing.  The same thing is experienced at the gurdwara where our roles are switched.  I do not understand Sikh sermons recited in Punjabi. He knows that I am there waiting for the function to be over. 

The third problem is regarding the faith of our children.  Should we raise them as Christians or as Sikhs?  It bothers me most and it also seems to have no solution. He says, “I can raise them as Christians.  However, as a true Christian, I feel it is sin to raise the children of a Sikh as Christians. If we do not teach them any faith that also is a sin. I am really under great stress.”

We discussed the topic of interfaith marriages quite often during the days I stayed with them. When, I asked her what I should tell the youth about it, she summarized her experience in two sentences. “If you love a person of a different faith, be a sincere friend but do not marry that person.  By marriage, you will ruin the true meaning of life for both.”

  1. There is a different experience of interfaith marriage as well. 

A European lady is married to a Sikh who cuts his hair.  She studied Sikh faith and had observed the Sikh culture before her marriage to him.  She not only accepted the Sikh philosophy and culture, but also practiced it sincerely.  She even taught Sikh heritage to the youth at the camps, of course, with some Christian element.  One day, when I visited them for a Sikh youth camp, she gave a pleasant surprise to me by asking, “I want to become an Amritdhari Sikh.  I wish my husband joins me.  Please convince him to stop cutting his hair and also take Amrit.”

The conclusion I draw from these two case histories is that one must marry within one’s faith.  In case of an interfaith marriage, they must, before their wedding, join one faith and sincerely live that faith to have peace and achieve the mission of human life.



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