AKHAND PATH (akhand = uninterrupted, without break; path = reading) is nonstop, continuous recital of the Guru Granth Sahib from beginning to end. Such a recital must be completed within 48 hours. The entire Holy Volume, 1430 large pages, is read through in a continuous ceremony. This reading must go on day and night, without a moment\’s intermission. The relay of reciters who take turns at saying Scripture must ensure that no break occurs. As they change places at given intervals, one picks the line from his predecessor\’s lips and continues. When and how the custom of reciting the canon in its entirety in one continuous service began is not known. Conjecture traces it to the turbulent days of the eighteenth century when persecution had scattered the Sikhs to far off places.
In those exilic, uncertain times, the practice of accomplishing a reading of the Holy Book by a continuous recital is believed to have originated. Important days on the Sikh calendar are marked by akhand paths in gurdwaras. Celebrations and ceremonies in Sikh families centre upon akhand paths. The homes are filled with holiness for those two days and nights as the Guru Granth Sahib, installed with ceremony in a room, especially cleaned out for the occasion, is being recited.
part from lending the air sanctity, such readings make available to listeners the entire text.The listeners come as they wish and depart at their will. Thus they keep picking up snatches of the bani from different portions at different times. Without such ceremonial recitals, the Guru Granth Sahib, large in volume, would remain generally inaccessible to the laity except for barns which are recited by the Sikhs as part of their daily devotions.
In bereavement, families derive comfort from these paths. Obsequies in fact conclude with a completed reading of the Guru Granth Sahib. At such paths, the Holy Book is generally recited or intoned, not merely read. This brings out tellingly the poetic quality of the ban and its power to move or grip the listener.
But it must be listened to in silence, sitting on the floor in front of the Holy Book in a reverent posture. The start of the akhand path is preceded by a short service at which holy hymns may be recited, followed by an ardas offered for the successful conclusion of the path and distribution of karahprasad or Sikh sacrament. A similar service marks the conclusion. Ardas and karahprasad are also offered as the reading reaches midway.
1. Harbans Singh, Berkeley Lectures on Sikhism. Delhi, 1983
2. Sikh Rahit Maryada. Amritsar, 1975