A Gurpurab is a celebration or commemoration based on the lives of one of the Sikh Gurus. They tend to be either birthdays or celebrations of Sikh martyrdom. A Sikh festival or special day is called Gurpurb, meaning “Guru’s remembrance day“. The celebration is generally similar for all Gurpurabs; only the hymns and history of a particular occasion is different. The ceremony for Guru Nanak’s birthday is described in detail.
The birthday of Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh religion, usually comes in the month of November, but the date varies from year to year according to the lunar Indian Calendar. The birthday celebrations last three days. Generally two days before the birthday, Akhand Path is performed in the Gurdwaras. One day before the birthday, a procession is organized which is led by the Panj Piaré and the Palki (Palanquin) of Guru Granth Sahib and followed by teams of singers singing hymns, brass bands playing different tunes, ‘Gatka‘ (martial art) teams show their swordsmanship, and processions singing the chorus. The procession passes through the main roads and streets of the town which are covered with buntings and decorated gates and the leaders inform the people of the message of Guru Nanak. On the anniversary day, the programme begins early in the morning at about 4 or 5 am with the singing of Asa-di-Var (morning hymns) and hymns from the Sikh scriptures followed by Katha (exposition of the scripture) and lectures and recitation of poems in praise of the Guru. The celebrations go on until about 2 pm.
After Ardas and distribution of Karah Parsad, the Langar is served. Some Gurdwaras also hold night prayer sessions. This begins around sunset when Rehras (evening prayer) is recited. This is followed by Kirtan till late in the night. Sometimes a Kavi-darbar (poetic symposium) is also held to enable the poets to pay their tributes to the Guru in their own verses. At about 1:20 am, the actual time of the birth, the congregation starts singing Gurbani. The function ends about 2 am.
The Sikhs who cannot join the celebrations for some reason, or in places where there are no Gurdwaras, hold the ceremony in their own homes by performing Kirtan, Path, Ardas, Karah Parsad, and Langar. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru’s birthday generally falls in December or January. The celebrations are similar to those of Guru Nanak’s birthday, namely Akhand Path, procession and Kirtan, Katha, and Langar.
The martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru, falls in May or June, the hottest months in India. He was tortured to death under the orders of Mughal Emperor, Jahangir, at Lahore on 25 May 1606. Celebrations consist of Kirtan, Katha, lectures, Karah Parsad and Langar in the Gurdwara. Because of summer heat, a chilled sweetened drink made from milk, sugar, essence, and water, called chhabeel is freely distributed in Gurdwaras and in neighborhoods to everybody irrespective of their religious beliefs.
Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Guru, was arrested under orders of Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb. As he refused to change his religion and accept Islam, he was beheaded on 11 November 1675 at Chandi Chowk, Delhi. Usually, one-day celebrations of his martyrdom are organized in the Gurdwaras.
Three days before his passing away, Guru Gobind Singh conferred on 3 October 1708, the Guruship of the Sikhs on Guru Granth Sahib. On this day, special one-day celebrations are organized with Kirtan, Katha, lectures, Ardas, Karah Parsad, and Langar. Sikhs rededicate themselves to follow the teachings of the Gurus contained in the scripture.