Guru Nanak Gurpurab, also known as Guru Nanak's Prakash Utsav and Guru Nanak Jayanti, is one of the most sacred festivals in the Sikh religion. Majority of the festivals in Sikhism revolve around the birth anniversaries of the ten Sikh Gurus: Guru Nanak, Guru Angad, Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjan, Guru Har Gobind, Guru Har Rai, Guru Har Krishan, Guru Tegh Bahadur, and Guru Gobind Singh. Guru Granth Sahib, the central religious scripture of Sikhism, is regarded as the final and eternal living Guru following the lineage of the ten human Gurus of the Sikh religion. Guru Nanak Jayanti celebrates the birth of the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak, who was the founder of Sikhism. While Guru Nanak was born on April 15, 1469, the date of Guru Nanak Gurpurab varies from year to year. The festival is celebrated on Kartik Poornima, the full moon day in the month of Kartik. In the Gregorian calendar, the day usually falls in the month of November and is a Gazetted holiday in India.
Rituals and Ceremonies
The rituals and ceremonies related to the celebration of Guru Nanak Gurpurab begin a few days prior. A couple of days before the Gurpurab, Akhand Path-a 48 hour non-stop reading of the Guru Granth Sahib-is held in the Gurdwaras. A day prior to the big day, Nagarkirtan-a procession led by the Panj Pyaras (Five Beloved Ones)-is organized. The procession carries the Sikh flag, known as the Nishan Sahib and the Palki (Palanquin) of Guru Granth Sahib. Groups of singers singing devotional hymns follow the procession. The Nagarkirtan is a vibrant ritual which also includes the playing of bass drums and the display of 'Gatka'-a Sikh martial arts in which teams show off their swordsmanship in mock battles using traditional weapons. The procession travels through the streets, with the leaders of the Nagarkirtan spreading the message of Guru Nanak to the public at large.
On the day of the Gurpurab, the devotees begin the celebrations early in the morning, at about 4-5 am-a time which is referred to as Amrit Vela. The singing of Asa-di-Var or the morning hymns marks the beginning of the day. Following this, Katha (exposition of the scripture) and Kirtan (hymns from the Sikh scriptures) are recited in the praise of Guru Nanak. In Sikhism, community meals or Langars are of great significance. These meals, often comprising simple lentil soup, vegetable dishes, and rotis, are regularly offered at Gurdwaras to devotees irrespective of religion, caste, class or creed. On the day of Guru Nanak Jayanti, Gurdwaras organize special Langars for the devotees, complete with rich delicacies and sweet dishes.
The chanting of hymns in Gurdwaras continues throughout the day. Some Gurdwaras also hold night time prayer sessions on this occasion which begin around sunset. The evening prayer, also known as Rehrasi, is recited following which a session of Kirtan is held. The Kirtan goes on until late in the night. At around 1:20 am-the actual time of birth of Guru Nanak-the congregation starts singing Gurbani. The celebrations eventually come to an end at around 2 am.
Guru Nanak Jayanti is celebrated by the Sikh communities across India and the world in a manner similar to that of all Gurpurabs. Since Guru Nanak was the founder of Sikhism, the celebration of this particular Gurpurab is somewhat more elaborate. Different hymns are sung at different Gurpurabs to honor the particular Guru in whose memory it is being celebrated. In India, Guru Nanak Jayanti is celebrated with special fervor in the regions of Punjab, Haryana, and Chandigarh. While primarily a major festival of the Sikhs, it is also celebrated by some Sindhi communities.
The city of Nankana Sahib where Guru Nanak was born over 500 years ago is now in Pakistan. The city, unsurprisingly, is of high historic and religious value for Sikhs and is visited by Sikh devotees from all over the world. Every year, a major celebration of Guru Nanak Jayanti is organized at the place which is attended by hordes of Sikhs who travel for the occasion from India and other countries. Since the Sikh diaspora is scattered throughout the world, the festival is celebrated with great fervor not only in India and Nankana Sahib in Pakistan, but also in other countries with substantial Sikh population. The rituals and ceremonies followed in other countries are very similar to the ones followed in India, with maybe slight regional variations. Today, there are big Gurdwaras in several countries across the world and the festival is celebrated with great pomp and show within the premises of these religious places. It is a major festival in Australia which has a significant population of Sikhs. There are several Gurdwaras in the Australian subcontinent, especially in the rural regions, where devotees throng to celebrate the occasion. Guru Nanak Jayanti is also celebrated with much fervor in the United States and Canada in the Gurdwaras. In fact, the festival has gained so much relevance over the past few years that the White House hosted the first celebration of the birth of Guru Nanak during the presidency of Barack Obama.