GURPURB, a compound of two words, i.e. guru, the spiritual preceptor, and purb, parva in Sanskrit, meaning a festival or celebration, signifies in the Sikh tradition the holy day commemorating one or another of the anniversaries related to the lives of the Gurus. Observance of such anniversaries is a conspicuous feature of the Sikh way of life. A line frequently quoted from the Guru Granth Sahib in this context reads “bdbdmd kahdmd put saput kareni it only becomes worthy progeny to remember the deeds of the ciders” (GG, 951).Among the more important gurpurbs on the Sikh calendar are the birth anniversaries of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh, the martyrdom days of Guru Arjan and Guru Tegh Bahadur, and of the installation of the Holy Book in the Harimandar at Amritsar on Bhadon sudi 1, 1661 Bk/16 August 1604. Alongside these may be mentioned Baisakhi, the first day of the Indian month ofBaisakh, which marks the birth, in 1699, of the Khalsa Panth, and the martyrdom days of the young sons of Guru Gobind Singh. There are indications in the old chronicles that the succeeding Gurus themselves celebrated the birthday of Guru Nanak.Such importance was attached to the anniversaries that dates of the deaths of the first four Gurus were recorded on a leaf in the first recension of the Scripture prepared by the Fifth Guru, Guru Arjan. The word gurpurb had come into use in the times of the Gurus.

It occurs in at least five places, in Bhai Gurdas (1551-1636), contemporary with Guru Arjan. To quote, “kurbdm tind gursikhd bhde bhagati gurpurb karande am a sacrifice unto Sikhs who wdth love and devotion observe the gurpurb” {Varan, XI 1.2). What happens on gurpurbs is a mixture of the religious and the festive, the devotional and the spectacular, the personal and the communal. Over the years a standardized pattern has evolved.

Yet no special sanctity attaches to the form, and variations can be and are indeed made depending on the imaginativeness and initiative of local groups. At these celebrations, the Sikh Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, is read through, in private homes and in the gurudwaras, in a single continuous ceremony lasting forty-eight hours. This reading, called akhandpdth, must be without interruption; the relay of reciters who take turns at saying the Scripture ensures that no break occurs. Additionally special assemblies are held in gurudwaras and discourses given on the lives and teachings of the Gurus.

Sikhs march in processions through towns and cities chanting the holy hymns.Special langars, or community meals, are held for the participants who at certain places may be counted by tlie thousand. To partake of a common repast on these occasions is reckoned an act of merit. Programmes include initiating those not already initiated into the order of the Khalsa in the manner in which Guru Gobind Singh had done in 1699.

Sikh journals and newspapers bring out their special numbers to mark the event. There arc public functions held, besides the more literary and academic ones in schools and colleges. On gurpurbs commemorating birth anniversaries, there might be illuminations in gurudwaras as well as in residential houses. Friends and families exchange greetings.

Coming into vogue arc the printed cards such as those used in the West for Christmas and the New Year day. Sikh fervour for gurpurb celebration had an unprecedented outlet at the time of the tercentenary of Guru Gobind Singh`s birth in 1967. There is no evidence on record whether centennials previously liad been similarly observed. References are however traceable to a proposal for especially marking the second centennial in 1899 of the birth of the Khalsa.

The suggestion came from Max Arthur Macauliffc, author of the monumental work, The Sikh Religion, but it did not receive much popular support. The three hundredth birth anniversary in 1967 of Guru Gobind Singh turned out to be a major celebration evoking widespread enthusiasm and initiating long range academic and literary programmes.It also set a new trend and format. With the same ardour have been oil served some other days as well; in 1969, the fifth centennial of Guru Nanak`s birth; in 1973, the first centenary of the birth of the Singh Sabha; in 1975, the third centenary of the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur; in 1977, the fourth centenary of the founding by Guru Ram Das of the city of Amritsar; in 1979, the 500th anniversary of the birth of Guru Amar Das; in 1980, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Maharaja Ranjit Singh; in 1982, the third birth centennial of Baba Dip Singh, the martyr. Hm.S. OUR PUR PRAKASH is a versified history in four parts of the ten Sikh Gurus on the same lines as Bhai Santokh Singh`s Ndnak Prakash and Sri Gur Pratdp Suraj Granth, following as far as possible the same style but much reduced in volume.

The author, Sant Ren Prem Singh who claims direct descent from Guru Arigad through Baba Dasu, the Guru`s elder son, was born in November 1879, the son of Baba Lachhman Singh of the village of Naryab in Harigu lahsil of Kohat district in the North West Frontier Province (now in Pakistan). He received religious instruction at Amritsar under the famous classical scholar, Gianl Amir Singh, and studied Bhai Santokh Singh`s monumental works under different scholars. He found that these works contained several statements which did not conform to the teaching of the Gurus. These, lie considered, were due to the fact that their author died soon after the completion of his magnum opus without having time for a revision.

He undertook fresh researches and travelled extensively to places connected with the lives of the Gurus. His main source, he claims, was a rare manuscript dated 1709 by Baba Binod Singh, a collateral descendant of Guru Arigad and contemporary of Guru Gobind Singh and Banda Singh Bahadur. He set down to compiling in 1914 his own Sri Gur Pur Prakash. The first three editions of the work came out in 1919, 1924 and 1944, respectively. The fourth edition was published in 1965 from Patiala, where the author had settled after the partition of the country (1947).

The work generally follows the traditional sequence of events and anecdotes as found in janam sdkhis, gurbildses and in the Sri Gur Pratdp Suraj Granth.All dates are in the Nanakshahl era with the exception of the initial one of the birth of Guru Nanak, which is given as Kaltak Puranmasi of 1526 Bikrami. The author`s dates are not all reliable. For example, the date according to him of the birth of Guru Ram Das is NS. 55 corresponding to AD 1524 against the generally accepted 1534; the date of his marriage to Bibi Bhani is NS.

68/AD 1537 against the traditional 1553; and the date of Guru Arjan`s birth is NS. 84/AD 1553 against the commonly accepted date AD 1563.Moreover, in his anxiety to make his history strictly to conform to the Sikh view he at times gives a free reign to imagination. For him the marriage of Guru Nanak was performed not according to the traditional ceremony of circumam bulations around the burning fire. According to him, when asked how he would wish the wedding ceremony to be solemnized, the bridegroom wrote out the Mul Mantra on a piece of paper around which the couple circumam bulated four times. This the Guru named as the “anand marriage” ceremony.