By Rupinder K. Chatha (Age: 20 yrs.)
a special prayer at the beginning and end of each service in the Gurdwara. It is recited by the officiating granthi (usually referred to as Bhai Sahib) on behalf of the entire Congregation. It can also be recited ‘by an individual after completing a reading of the Japji or Rehras (the Sikh morning and’ evening prayers respectively) and/or other Banis of the Nitnam. In addition, the Ardas may also be recited on special occasions such as the starting or finishing of an individual, family, or community project, a name giving ceremony, a funeral, and so on. Recited by the officiating granthi or a family member (of either sex), the Ardas is viewed as a united prayer of the entire group; and the significance of the Sikh Ardas stretches far beyond the matter at hand. Transcending the immediate, the Sikh Ardas addresses itself to the spiritual, intellectual, and social aspects of the being in a manner that remains relevant to all occasions. To explain this transcendence is to explain the significance of the Ardas and one must begin with a brief review of its content.
The Sikh Ardas begins with a statement about the Victory of God and the protection, solace, and guidance provided by the Almighty, the ten gurus, and Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. It moves on to the remembrance of the illustrious examples of the great Khalsas ranging from the five beloveds, four princes, forty saved ones and the countless others who engaged in Nam Simran, sharing their blessings, and bringing victory to deg and teg through tenacious pursuit of the higher goals of helping the needy and fighting the tyrants with total commitment. Those who submitted themselves to the most inhuman tortures but held on to their faith and sacrificed their lives to uphold the sanctity of the gurdwaras are also given a grateful remembrance. The closing note of the thanksgiving part of the Ardas recognizes the blessings of the Five Takhts (five seats of religious authority) and all the gurdwaras in general. Then the Ardas takes on a note of humble supplication, requesting Waheguru to bless each khalsa so that he may remember His Holy Name and thus enjoy the all-encompassing comfort and protection. Divine grace for the followers is invoked; so is the ability to live according to the Sikh way of distinct identity, trust in God, and saturation in in the Name which brings supreme wisdom. At this point, the specific purpose of the Ardas is stated and corresponding blessings are sough it. Then it is requested that God may allow meetings with such persons as will aid in remembering His Name, and that it may so please God that the welfare of each member of the human race be achieved. Although the entire text is recited by ‘one person, the recitation is punctuated with utterances of Waheguru (Glory to God) spoken in unison by the entire sangat (the group that has gathered for prayer).
A thoughtful view of the Sikh Ardas and of the manner in which it is recited impresses one with the fact that the significance of the Ardas transcends the immediate purpose in a way that can be explained from the spiritual, intellectual, and social perspectives. Spiritually, the Ardas promotes superior conduct through inspiring thanksgiving, humility, service, and consciousness of the oneness of the entire mankind; intellectually, it offers glimpses of the Sikh history that enables one to understand the ethnic needs and aspirations; and socially, the Ardas inspires unity not only among the participating sangat but also among the entire humanity.
The spiritual significance of the Ardas is most easy to recognize. Acknowledging the existence of One Supreme and Victorious God, the opening statement is a statement of the spiritual solace with its dual assurance of the strength and protection of God. God is referred to as Bhaugate: The literal translation of Bhaguati is sword; in the Ardas it is a symbolic reference to the steel like strength of God the strength that makes Him the Supreme Protector. In other parts of the Ardas, God is referred to as the giver, sustainer and the Lord Protector. While these adjectives remind one of the loves of god, some parts of the Ardas suggest the means of earning that love. Urged to contemplate on each segment of the Ardas and reminded that Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is the living embodiment of the ten gurus the sangat is given a feeling that following the way shown in the Guru Granth Sahib is the means of earning the Grace. Consequently, it is reasonable to assume that contemplations of the Ardas provide spiritual elevation by motivating one to read the gurbani and eventually conquer the five evil passions and make sincere efforts to attain truth, contentment, and higher wisdom.
Another spiritual advantage of the Ardas is its promotion of the feeling of oneness in the group. While Bhai Sahib recites the Ardas, each member of the congregation stands silently facing the Guru Granth Sahib Ji with bowed heads and folded hands; whenever asked to utter Waheguru, each speaks with the group. The silence and the humble posture enable one to acknowledge the presence of God to whom the Ardas is being addressed. Since only one person speaks for all and all say Waheguru together as one voice, each member of the sangat feels united with the present group, and, by extension, with the Khalsa Panth, the human race, and Waheguru the Creator. By thus encouraging the sangat to rise above all differences and by referring to service special blessing, Sikhs are encouraged to engage in community service and remain progress oriented in non-selfish ways.
Just as the Sikh Ardas provides spiritual elevation, it also offers intellectual stimulation and confidence. By asking for (blessing of the supreme wisdom), the Sikh Ardas reinforce the idea that knowledge is a continuum and hence each Sikh must shun intellectual snobbery and continue to be a tireless seeker. By making references to the many martyrs of Sikh history, it sharpens one’s curiosity about the causes of these events. And as one engages in finding the causes and contexts of the sacrifices, one acquires the historical hindsight which in turn serves as a catalyst for forming an informed judgment of the present and a realistic vision of the future. Ultimately, the knowledge about the selfless sacrifices made by their ancestors aids the Sikhs to view themselves as a hardworking and PEACE—LOVING community whose greatest mission is to uplift the downtrodden (Sikh and non-Sikh alike) and fight the oppressor, i.e. bring about the victory of deg and teg. Reverberating with the echoes of (Bless me so O God that I may never shun from doing well), the Sikh mind acquires adequate courage and confidence through Ardas. It is this confidence that has enabled many Sikhs to formulate and then carry out resolutions of all kinds.
Complementary to the spiritual and intellectual significance is the social significance of the Sikh Ardas, by emphasizing the importance of Sewa of the gurdwaras and of the sangat, the Ardas helps the Sikhs to become extremely useful members of a society. They enthusiastically engage in charitable and humanitarian projects. Through phrases such (humility and high thinking), it motivates the Sikhs to shun snobbery and exclusiveness of all kinds and thus to relate to all cultures as they take up humanitarian tasks,
With its message of hope for the hopeless, of acceptance of God’s will for the depressed, of humility for the egotist and the self-righteous, of Sewa for the exploiter, of yielding to God’s power for the tyrant, of historical flashes for the intellectually energetic the Sikh Ardas serves the needs of the entire Sangat. By enhancing ethnic pride without encouraging any exclusiveness that leads to fanaticism, the Ardas urges Sikhs to live in peace and harmony within a community regardless of its religious makeup. By providing the spiritual, intellectual and social energy, it motivates a gursikh to commit himself not only to do things in the right way but also to do only those things that is right.