Rites of Passage in Hinduism & Sikhism
A consideration of the importance of rites of passage
within faith communities identifying key themes.
The purpose of this presentation is to explain what happens
in the rites of initiation and marriage, the spiritual meaning of
the rites, and the involvement of the faith community.
Rites of Passage an Introduction
• What is a rite of passage?
– Marks a stage in religious, social and personal development. A rite of
passage can be seen to celebrate certain stages of development in the
life of an individual.1
• How many rites do Hinduism and Sikhism have?
– Hinduism has sixteenα and Sikhismβ has four main sacraments*.
• Do they share the same rites of passage?
– Hinduism and Sikhism share four similar rites of passage.γ
Rite Hindu Name Sikh Name
Naming Ceremony Namakaranam Naam Karan
Baptism or Initiation Upanayanam Amrit Sanskar
Marriage Vivaha Anand Karaj
Funeral Anthyeshti Antam Sanskar 2
Initiation in Hinduism
Upanayana is possibly the most important of the samskaras in Hinduism. It
represents a boy coming of age and has religious as well as social implications.
Upanayana is otherwise known as the Ceremony of the Sacred Thread
Historically the ceremony marked a passing from childhood to studenthood
when formal scriptural education would begin. The rite ended with the young
man leaving home to live with his guru (spiritual teacher). This rite is still
observed for Hindu boys when they reach puberty, or between the ages of 8-
Upanayana is also a ceremony which initiates a boy formally into his caste
The Upanayana Ceremony
The Upanayana is performed by the boy’s father or another male
relative. It is important that the details of the ceremony are correctly
The inductee has his head shaved and has a bath to remove all impurities. He
is dressed in simple white clothes, invested with a deer skin and presented
to the household Gods. The boy and father make an offering to the gods and
the Guruji (priest) lights a fire (in a container).
The boy is given the sacred thread which is placed over his left shoulder
and under his right arm. The father and son say the Gayatri Mantra. The
guests sing blessings and shower the father and son with rice grains. The
Guruji then provides some advice for how the boy should now live.
The inductee now only pretends to leave the family home and instead receives
presents and takes his place at a ceremonial lunch.
The Spiritual Meaning of Upanayana
The three varnas who observe the Upanayana cermony are known as dvijas.
This means they are ‘twice born’. By this second birth they become member of
Hindu society and take on full social responsibilities.
The boy is taught during the ceremony the secret of life through
brahmopadesam (teaching the nature of Brahman, the Ultimate reality).
The sacred thread is called janeu. It is one thread folded three times and tied
together. The three threads represent:
Goddess Gayatri (Goddess of Mind)
Goddess Saraswati (Goddess of Word)
Goddess Savitri (Goddess of Deed)
The knot which ties the thread together is called the Brahma granthi or sacred
knot. It represents the formless Brahman, the pure form of energy which
The Spiritual Meaning of Upanayana
The sacred thread reminds the brahmachari (inductee) to lead a
regulated life with purity in thought, word and deed. The threads also
represent the debt owed to the guru, parents and society, and God.
The Sacred Thread is never removed, though it is renewed each year,
usually on the full moon day of the Hindu month of shravana.
From now on the brahmachari must:
• pray three times a day
• perform the religious ceremonies
• study the sacred scriptures
Initiation in Sikhism
Sikhs enter the community of initiated Sikhs known as the Khalsa through
Khalsa means ‘pure’ and becoming a Khalsa refers to joining the family or
brotherhood of initiated Sikhs. Joining the Khalsa demonstrates a commitment
to the Guru and is an act of discipleship.
The Khalsa uphold the highest Sikh virtues of commitment, dedication and a
social conscious. Being a member of the Khalsa means Sikhs must follow the
Sikh Code of Conduct and Convention. This states that they must follow the
Sikh way of life and avoid the four taboos:
– Never remove hair
– No drugs, tobacco or alcohol
– Not to eat Halal meat
– Not commit adultery
Khalsa Sikhs should not discriminate against others on the grounds of caste,
race, gender or colour. The Gurus teach that ‘we are all made from one clay’.
Sikhs are also expected to wear the prescribed physical articles of the
faith. These are often called the 5 ks and are an outward expression of
their inner belief. The 5 Ks or five symbols of the Khalsa are:
» Kesh – uncut hair. This symbolises spirituality. It is a mark
of dedication and an acceptance of God’s will.
» Kara - steel bracelet. This symbol reminds the wearer of
restraint in their actions and remembrance of God at all
» Kirpan - ceremonial sword or dagger. A symbol of dignity
and the Sikh struggle against injustice. (It is worn purely as
a religious symbol and not as a weapon).
» Kachera – breeches or shorts with a tie at the top. A
symbol signifying self control and chastity.
» Kanga - comb. A symbol of hygiene and discipline as
opposed to the matted unkept hair of ascetics. A Khalsa is
expected to regularly wash and comb their hair as a matter
of self discipline.
The Amrit Ceremony
The Amrit Ceremony can be held anywhere as long as it is in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib.
The ceremony is not open to Sikh observers who are not Khalsa members unless they are among the
A guard dressed in white uniform stands at the door. In the centre of the room 5 Khalsa Sikhs kneel
around a bowl containing water and sugar crystals (amrit). With their right legs raised and left legs on
the ground they recite passages from the scriptures as they stir the amrit with a khanda.
The sweetened water represents quality of compassion to balance the strength and resilience
represent by the sword. Another Khalsa sits behind the Guru Granth Sahib. Hymns are recited which
all Khalsa Sikhs should recite and meditate upon daily.ζ
The initiates kneel one by one in front of the Khalsas conducting the ceremony and have amrit put into
their cupped hands to drink, and sprinkled on their eyes and hair. Each sprinkling happens five times.
Each time everyone in the room says:
‘Waheguruji ka Khalsa, Waheguruji ki fateh.’
The Khalsa belongs to Waheguru (God), victory be to Waheguru.
The ceremony ends with the eating of the ceremonial karah parshad (sacred pudding – a sweet
tasking food which has been blessed.)
The Social Meaning of the Amrit Ceremony
Indian family names disclose the varna into which a person
was born. When a Sikh becomes a Khasla he or she must
leave behind their previous identity and take the surname
Singh (meaning ‘lion’), if male, or Kaur (meaning ‘princess’),
if female. The Khalsa becomes their new family.η
Unlike most initiations Amrit may be repeated. If a Sikh breaks one of
the major pledges s/he may be excluded from Khalsa though never the
wider Sikh community. If a person is repentant they will be readmitted
by taking Amrit again.
There is no compulsion to take Amrit at any given age; individuals
decide to make their commitment when inwardly prepared to do so.
Not all Sikhs become Khalsa but membership is and ideal to which
Key Themes of Initiation Ceremonies
By looking at Upanayana in Hinduism and Amrit Sanskar in Sikhism we
notice that there are a number of similiarities or key themes.
– Although the ceremonies do not take place when an individual is of a
certain age in both religions, initiation is supposed to take place when
an individual has the ability to accept his societal responsibilities.
– Both ceremonies demand individual accepts a way of life defined by
– Both ceremonies demand that an individual remains pure in thought,
deed and word.
– Both ceremonies are witnessed within their faith community and the
ceremonies serves as a formal induction into that society.
– Both ceremonies are a stage of development within their faith
community and serve as an outward expression of inner beliefs and
pledges to specific ways of life.
Marriage in Hinduism & Sikhism
We will now turn to marriage as a rite of passage within Hinduism and
After initiation ceremonies, marriage is often considered the next
important rite of passage. Both Hindu and Sikh marriages are often
elaborate affairs and take place over a number of days. Hindu and
Sikh weddings are integral family affairs.
Hinduism sees marriage as a sacred duty that entails both religious and
Anand Karaj is the prescribed form of Sikh marriage, literally translating
as 'Blissful Union". Sikh men and women get married when they are
fully able to take on the responsibilities of married life.
There is much regional and denominational variation, but certain
features are common. These include:
1. Welcoming the bridegroom
2. Exchanging flower garlands
3. The daughter being given in marriage
4. Sacred fire ceremony
5. Holding of hands
6. Circumambulation of the sacred fire
7. Marking the bride's hair-parting with kum-kum
8. Taking seven steps together
9. Tying the knot (the garments of bride and groom)
10. Viewing the Pole Star
11. Receiving the elders' blessings
12. Exchanging presents
These stages are explained in more detail in the following slides:
Hindu Wedding Ceremony
(1) The bride's parents welcome the bridegroom and his family at the boundary of the
house where the wedding is taking place. A red tilakaθ is applied to their forehead.
Members from both families are formally introduced, marking the start of relationship
between two families.
Welcoming the bridegroom
(2) The bride and the bridegroom then exchange garlands (jayamaala) and declare: "Let
all the learned persons present here know, we are accepting each other willingly,
voluntarily and pleasantly. Our hearts are concordant and united like waters."
Hindu Wedding Ceremony
(3) Kanya Daan, which means the giving away of one's daughter, has been
derived from the Sanskrit words Kanya (girl) and Daan (donation). Kanya Daan
is a significant ritual performed by the father of the bride in presence of a large
gathering invited to witness the wedding. The father pours out libation of sacred
water symbolizing the giving away of his daughter to the bride groom. The
groom recites Vedici hymns to Kama, the god of love, for pure love and
As a condition for offering his daughter for marriage, the father of the bride
requests a promise from the groom for assisting the bride in realizing the three
dharma (righteous duty)
kama (sexual, physical or emotional pleasure)
The groom makes the promise by repeating three times that he will not fail the
bride in realizing dharma, artha and kama.
Hindu Wedding Ceremony
(4) A sacred fire is lit and the Purohit (Priest) recites the sacred mantras in
Sanskrit. Oblations are offered to the fire whilst saying the prayers. The words "Id
na mama" meaning "it is not for me" are repeated after the offerings. This
teaches the virtue of selflessness required to run a family.
Paanigrahan - the ceremony of vows.
The husband, holding his wife's hand, says "I hold
your hand in the spirit of Dharma, we are both
husband and wife".
Hindu Wedding Ceremony
Shilarohan and Laaja Homa
(5 &6) Shilarohan involves the bride climbing over a stone/rock which
symbolises her willingness and strength to overcome difficulties in
pursuit of her duties. Both gently walk around the sacred fire four times.
The bride leads three times and the fourth time the groom leads. He is
reminded of his responsibilities. The couple join their hands into which
the bride's brothers pour some barley, which is offered to the fire,
symbolising that they all will jointly work for the welfare of the society.
(7) The husband marks the parting in his wife's hair with red kumkum
powder for the first time. This is called 'sindoor' and is a distinctive
mark of a married Hindu woman. 17
Hindu Wedding Ceremony
(8)This is the main and the legal part of the ceremony. The couple
walk seven steps reciting a prayer at each step. These are the
seven vows which are exchanged.
The first for food, the second for strength, the third for prosperity,
the fourth for wisdom, the fifth for progeny, the sixth for health and
the seventh for friendship.
In some regions, in stead of walking the seven steps, the bride
touches seven stones or nuts with her right toe. Only when the
seven steps are taken is the Hindu wedding binding.
(9) A symbolic matrimonial knot is tied after this ceremony. Often
the groom’s scarf is tied to the bride’s saree signifying sacred
Surya Darshan and Dhruva Darshan
(10) The couple look at the Sun in order to be blessed with creative life. They look in the direction of
the Dhruva (Polar star) and resolve to remain unshaken and steadfast like the Polar star.
(11)The couple are blessed by the elders and the priest for a long and prosperous married life.
Vidaai - A bride bids her family farewell at the end of the wedding ceremony.
(12) This is considered to be the most emotional ritual, when the bride leaves her parents' home and
makes her way to her husband's. Family and friends, who also shower her with blessings and gifts,
give her a tearful farewell. The male members of the bride's family bid farewell to the groom by
applying the traditional 'tilak' (vermilion) on his forehead and shower him with gifts. 18
Sikh Wedding Ceremony
Sikh marriages are usually arranged with families acting as little more than
introduction services. The ultimate choice is always left to the man and woman.
In some cases the bride and groom choose each other first and then seek their
parents consent and blessing.
The actual wedding day is one day, but Sikh weddings can last for many days,
usually around 3-5 days. (These include one day being the mendhiι, another
day being the Sangeetκ, and another being the Mayianλ ceremony.)
The wedding usually begins in the morning with the two sides meeting in a
ceremony called "Milni“ (meaning meeting), and typically involves an exchange
of gifts by the father and maternal uncle of the bride and the groom. During the
Milni, the family and friends of the bride and groom will assemble in the
presence of the Guru Granth Sahib. An "Ardas" (prayer) called Asa di Var is
When the Milni is complete, the parties retire for tea and other refreshments.
One by one designated family members The groom distributes Karah Prashad (ceremonial a large
Everyone enjoys tea and snacks in19
exchange garlands and a hug sacremental pudding) to his family. tent beside the Gurdwara
The marriage ceremony takes place at a congregational gathering in the
presence of the Guru Granth Sahib3. Shabads (Sikh hymns) are sung. The
bride joins the groom sitting to his left, both facing the Guru Granth Sahib. The
couple and their parents stand up and an Ardas seeking the Blessing of
Waheguru (the Wondrous Giver of Knowledge) for the commencement of the
Anand marriage is offered.
Any Amritdhari Sikhμ can perform a marriage ceremony. This officiating person
apprises the couple of the duties of married life according to the Guru's
teachings. He explains their mutual obligations as husband and wife.
Sikh marital love is modelled on the love between human soul and the
Supreme Soul as described in the four Lavans (hymns composed by the Fourth
Guru in the Suhi raag section of Guru Granth Sahib).ν The bridegroom and the
bride vow fidelity to each other in the presence of the Guru (Granth Sahib) and
the holy congregation. They accept their obligations by bowing before Guru
Granth Sahib. The Anand marriage is a sacrament and no document is
The Four Lavans
The main ceremony is very simple. The end of the sash, which the bridegroom
wears over his shoulder is placed (by the bride's father, guardian or any other
responsible person) in the hands of the bride. The officiating person reads the
four lavans (stanzas) from Guru Granth Sahib.
After the reading of the first stanza, the couple rises and to the accompaniment
of music, while the same hymn is sung by the ragis (religious singers), walk
slowly round Guru Granth Sahib, the bridegroom leading the bride.
After returning to their position in front of Guru Granth Sahib after each of the
four hymns (lavans), they should remain standing while the next stanza is read
before commencing the next circumambulation while the same stanza is sung
by the ragis. Each time the couple circle the Guru Granth Sahib they are
making a commitment to God with the Guru as spiritual witness and support.
After the four lavans, the hymn of Anand Sahib is read by the ragis. Then there
is an Ardas to complete the ceremony. Holy Vaak (a reading of a (non-specific)
hymn from Guru Granth Sahib) is read out and the holy sweet pudding Karah
Pasad is distributed to all present.
The Four Lavans
Completing a circle
holding the sash in hand
Bowing down when
standing or sitting down
out of respect.
One of four circular walks
around Sri Guru Granth
The bride’s family
members help her
Key Themes of Hindu and Sikh Wedding
• Marriage is an important rite of passage in both religions.
• Both weddings consist of many ceremonies.
• Both Hindu and Sikh brides wear red to symbolise fertility and white
to symbolise purity.
• Weddings are arranged by families who play an important role in the
proceedings and are witness to the union.
• The bride and groom are introduced to each others’ families. The
families are introduced to each other.
• Both ceremonies consist of a practical element (the 7 Steps and the
4 Lavans) to symbolise the various parts of the union.
• The bride and groom are symbolically joined together – through
holding hands and holding or tying together their garments – in both
• The sacraments of initiation and marriage are important rites of
passage in both religions.
• They mark a stage of spiritual and social development for an
individual and have important personal and community connotations;
that is, they demonstrate an acceptance and development of
personal faith, religious practice and social responsibility which
unites inductees with their faith community.
• As such, families play a prominent role within the ceremonies and act
• Rites of passage act as a force of social cohesion within
communities reaffirming faith and demonstrating shared belief
amongst the group.