Guru Nanak Jayanti is the most sacred festivals of Sikhs, as it celebrates the birthday of Guru Nanak, who was the founder of Sikhism. He was the first of the ten Sikh Gurus. The birthdays of all the Gurus are celebrated by the Sikhs and are called ‘Gurpurab’. Guru Nanak Jayanti is thus called Guru Nanak Gurpurab. It is also called Guru Nanak’s Prakash Utsav.
Although Guru Nanak was born on 15 April 1469, his birthday is celebrated according to the Full Moon Day in the month of ‘Kartik’, as per the Hindu Calendar. In the year 2019, it falls on November 12.
Gurudwaras, especially in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh, come alive in a three-day-long festivity. Sikh pilgrims specially throng Nankana Sahib, (the birthplace of Guru Nanak) and the Golden Temple in Amritsar, in large numbers.
The festival is celebrated not only in India but also in other countries like UK, Canada and the US, with much fervour and gaiety.
Since Guru Nanak Dev; who was a great seer, saint and mystic; enlightened the world with his profound teachings of spirituality, morality, humanity, devotion and truth, the day is also known as “Prakash Utsav”.
Traditions and Customs
Guru Nanak Jayanti is spread over three days and is celebrated on a massive scale in North India.
First day-Akhand Path
Gurudwaras are decorated with flowers and lights and a 48-hour, uninterrupted reading of the Holy Guru Granth Sahib starts, not only at the Gurudwaras but also at homes. The ‘Path’ ends early on the morning of the birthday.
Second day-Prabhat Pheris
A religious procession singing praises of the Guru, in the form of ‘shabads’ and ‘kirtans’, is taken out early in the morning and it passes through the neighbourhoods, to culminate in a nearby Gurudwara.
During the day, a huge procession called ‘Nagar Kirtan’ is taken out on the main roads and streets of the town/city, which are decorated with colourful banners and flowers. The procession is led by five armed guards called the ‘Panj Pyaares”. Devotees carry Sikh flags called ‘Nishan Sahib’ and walk along a decorated palanquin which carries the Holy Guru Granth Sahib while chanting the sacred hymns. A few Sikhs, attired in traditional clothes, display mock battles with traditional Sikh weapons.
Third day-Guru Nanak Jayanti
The actual day of Guru Nanak Jayanti begins before dawn, with the recital of poems, hymns and quotes(Asa-di-Var) that uphold Guru Nanak’s exemplary life. This is followed by ‘Katha’ from the Guru Granth Sahib, along with lectures and kirtans. ‘Karha prasad’ is distributed to all.
‘Langar’ is then served and people partake the simple meal while sitting on the floor. Devotees help in cooking, serving and in cleaning the plates. This is called ‘sewa’.
Post sunset, prayers(Rehras) are recited, which go on until late night. At 1.20 am, devotees sing the ‘Gurbani’, to welcome the birth of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Firecrackers are lighted as a form of celebration.