Here we share an article by Basics of Sikhi parcharak Sukhdeep Singh, looking at today’s royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and how it relates to the Sikh Anand Karaj.
This weekend, the eyes of the world will be on Windsor for the royal wedding. There is no doubt that it will be a spectacle of pomp, pageantry, and glamour. But as a royal wedding, the religious dimension of it carries great importance both to the Royal family and the Church of England.
This is because the Monarch is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. They are the titular head of the Church, which itself was established by a British monarch. That is why religious protocol is strict within the Royal family. The Monarch’s family cannot (be seen to) compromise the Church they are the titular head of. The Sikh wedding ceremony – the Anand Karaj – is held in the darbaar (the court) of the Sikh scriptural Guru, Guru Granth Sahib Ji. The Guru is not just royalty in the way we think of worldly rulers. Instead, the Guru is divine. The very essence of Guru is their divinity – the fact that they are the complete and perfect light of the One.
The Anand Karaj is more than just the marriage between the bride and groom. It is the couple’s collective union with The One via the Guru. It is their embrace of not just the Guru’s teachings but the Guru as SatGur Gur Poora – the perfectly/completely True Guru (fourth line of the first verse of the Laavan – the Sikh marriage hymns).
Hence, the Anand Karaj is only for the marriage of two Sikhs. A Sikh is defined by the Rehat Maryada, which binds all Sikhs and Sikh institutions by a common code of conduct, as somebody who faithfully believes in:
i) One Immortal Being
ii) The ten Gurus, from Guru Nanak to Dev Ji to Guru Gobind Singh Ji
iii) The Guru Granth Sahib
iv) The utterances and teachings of the ten Gurus
v) The baptism bequeathed by Guru Gobind Singh Ji (the Amrit Sanchar ceremony)
And who does not owe allegiance to any other religion.
Even a prima facie reading of the Laavan is enough to understand that somebody cannot accept and partake in it unless they are a Sikh. In any case, the Rehat Maryada states that the Anand Karaj ceremony can only be conducted between two Sikhs.
Despite this obvious and intuitive condition, there has been outrage at people protesting such abuses of the ceremony when they do occur. Gurdwaras breaking Sikh protocol, going against the declaration of the highest Sikh seat of authority – the Akal Takht – by commodifying the ceremony and allowing anyone to take part, led to such protests.
The media treatment of this stance has been harsh to say the least. Those wishing to uphold the sanctity of the Anand Karaj ceremony (simply by requiring that you believe in the ceremony you are partaking in) have been branded fundamentalists and extremists.
Once the royal wedding was announced, Meghan Markle was baptised and confirmed into the Church of England out of respect to both the Church and the Queen. This is no different from what the Anand Karaj demands, a commitment to the Sikh Sovereign: The Guru. For today’s wedding, Markle’s formal acceptance of the Church was considered inevitable and logical. When Sikhs demand a similar commitment for their marriage ceremony they face calls of religious bigotry and accusations of fundamentalism.
How many people know that the current Duchess of Cambridge, having been christened as a child, was then confirmed before she married the future king? Royal history is of full of examples where adherence to the faith, when it comes to marriage, is non-negotiable. As any viewer of The Crown on Netflix knows, The Queen’s own sister was denied the love of her life because at the time the Church did not permit the remarriage of divorcees.
And even when that specific ruling was relaxed, it was still not enough for the heir to the throne to remarry in a church. If anything is astonishing, it is the fact that the future Monarch did not marry in the church that he will one day be the Supreme Governor of.
Instead, in 2005, he and Camilla had a civil wedding followed by a Church of England Service of Prayer and Dedication, which, by the way, included an act of penitence as a nod to the fact that their relationship began as adultery. Edward VIII abdicated altogether to avoid breaking the rules of his Church.
The Anand Karaj has been gifted to Sikhs by the Guru, for those who truly believe in and accept the Guru. The royalty and divinity of the Guru is encapsulated in their description as Sache Patshaah (True Sovereign King). Nothing – including the participants – should undermine that fact during the Anand Karaj in the Guru’s own darbaar. Otherwise it is a
sham ceremony. The defence of this is treated more harshly by both general society and the media than the practices of the Royal family. Nevertheless, the sentiment is the same.
If royal weddings tell us anything, it’s that not even their (worldly) status excuses them from undermining the Church of England. In fact, it is the royal status which confers the responsibility of upholding the teachings of the Church; a subsidiary title of the Monarch is ‘Defender of the Faith’. The divinity of the Guru confers a similar obligation on their Sikhs
and especially when it comes to activities within the Guru’s darbaar including the Anand Karaj. That is how for Sikhs, every wedding is a royal wedding.