RAHIT MARYADA, traditions and rules which govern the distinctive Sikh way of life and determine Sikh belief and practice. Rahit, from the Punjabi verb rahind (to live, to remain), means mode of living while maryada is a Sanskrit word composed of marya (limit, boundary, mark) and add (to give to oneself, to accept, to undertake), meaning bounds or limits of morality and propriety, rule or custom. Guru Nanak, who founded the Sikh faith, and his nine successors who nurtured the community during the first two centuries of its existence, not only set for their followers a strict moral standard, but also a distinctive pattern of personal appearance and social behaviour. The tenets of Sikh faith and rules of conduct are not set in any formal treatise, but are scattered in their Scripture and other religious texts and in their historical records. Attempting systematic statements of rules several rahitndmds or codes of conduct appeared during the eighteenth century after the promulgation by Guru Gobind Singh of Khalsa rahit or discipline. Another similar and more detailed work of the same period is the anonymous Prem Sumdrag. Some general rules regarding Sikh rahit are also contained in various hukamndmds (decrees or rules in the form of letters) of the Gurus. Important features of Sikh rahit maryddd may be summed up under the titles: physical appearance; religious beliefs and observances; moral conduct; and social behaviour.

The first mark of religious investiture of a Sikh personality is kes, i.e. unshorn hair of the head covered with a turban, and an untrimmed beard. Kes is one of the five symbols which every regular, initiated Sikh must adopt, the other four being kanghd (comb in the hair), hard (steel bangle), kachchh (shorts) and kirpdn (sword), collectively known as the five K`s, each beginning with the letter “K”. These were the physical features of the rahit prescribed for Sikhs by Guru Gobind Singh when he administered the rites of initiation to the first Five admitted to the Khalsa brotherhood on the Baisakhi day (March 30) of AD 1699. They were signs of the bond that linked the Sikh community together and gave it its distinctive identity.

They were a decia ration of privilege as also of the intent to be prepared steadfastly to uphold the ideals the Guru had demarcated. Belief in One Infinite Timeless and Formless Creator God is fundamental to a Sikh`s religious creed. His worship is addressed to Him to the exclusion of any incarnations of the divine, the gods and goddesses, idols and images. His devotional practice consists in rising early and reciting his morning prayers after bathing, joining the sangat or holy fellowship in gurudwara, listening to the Guru`s word, and meditating upon God`s Name.

Guru for the Sikh is Guru Nanak and his nine spiritual successors and, then, the Guru Granth Sahib, the Holy Book ordained Guru by Guru Gobind Singh, Nanak X.A Sikh believes in the oneness of the Ten Gurus all of one light, all one in spirit though different in body. He bows in all circumstances to God`s Will {hukam} and has faith in His compassion (daya) and grace (nadar). He treats his birth as a hukam, being a gift from God and a rare opportunity for his moral and spiritual evolution. Active participation in life as a householder is, therefore, preferred to asceticism.

Yet one must live in the world like the lotus which emerges from the mud pure and spotless. Rahitndmds as well as the religious texts adjure one specifically to be truthful, honest and humble and not to steal, gamble, cheat or slander. Special emphasis is laid on virtuous sexual behaviour.A Sikh male is to treat all women other than his spouse as mothers, sisters and daughters.

A Sikh female is similarly required to be chaste and morally blameless. Sikhs do not smoke and are not to consume drugs and intoxicants. A Sikh regards all human beings as equal. The Gurus enjoined him to recognize all mankind as one.

They rejected the caste system. “False,” said Guru Nanak, “is caste, and false the titled fame. One Supreme Lord sustaineth all” (GG,83). The Sikh institutions of sangat (fellowship) and pangat (commensality) invalidate distinctions based on birth or social position. Women among the Sikhs enjoy equal status with men.

The Gurus disapproved of the practice of safi (burning of the widow on the funeral pyre of her husband`s body prevalent among the Hindus). The rahitndmds expressly lay down injunctions against those who practise female infanticide. A practical and positive step towards the realization of univeral brotherhood is the Sikh emphasis on send (disinterested service) which extends from labour of the hands in Guru ka Larigar or community kitchen to hospitality and charity and to readiness to making any sacrifice to help the oppressed and relieve their distress.The essentials of Sikh message can be summed up from three perspectives: loving involvement with God`s revelation through ndm, i.e. remembrance or repetition of His Name, straining for the achievement of basic needs, and holding as common possession the fruits of one`s labour partaking of them only upon having dealt with the needs especially of the indigent.

In Sikh system, these norms are represented by the three principles: ndm japnd, kirat kami and vand chhaknd. Sikh rahit as based on the teachings of the Gurus and rahitndmds became lax during the comparative ease and prosperity of Sikh rule in the Punjab.Leaders of the reformatory movements such as Nirankari, Namdhari and Singh Sabha during the latter half of the nineteenth century sought to restore the purity of belief and living a pattern in consonance with Sikh tenets. New codes and manuals appeared, especially under the auspices of the Singh Sabha.

Fundamentalist in approach was Khalsd Rahit Prakash adopted at an open meeting by Parich Khalsa Diwan at Damdama Sahib on 13 April 1905, and later released by Babu Teja Singh. At the other extreme, making many a concession to Brahmanical practice, was Avtar Singh Vahiria`s Khalsd Dharam Shdstra: Sanskdr Bhdg, issued in 1894, but later enlarged into Khalsa Religious National IMW, and published in 1914.In between lay the Chief Khalsa Diwan`s Gurmat Prakash: Bhdg Sanskdr, first issued in 1915. More widely accepted and authoritative codes were prepared under the aegis of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, originally established on 15 November 1920 to take over management of Sikh shrines and recognized as a statutory body representing the entire Sikh community under the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925.

On 15 March 1927, it appointed a 28member Rahurit (i.e. rahil marydda) subcommittee “to prepre a draft rahurit in the light of rahitndmds and other Sikh texts and in consultation with leading Sikh scholars.”Later, the task was entrusted to Professor Teja Singh, of Khalsa College, Amritsar, who prepared a draft which was published in the April 1931 issue of the Gurdwara Gazette, the official organ of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, for eliciting public opinion. The Rahurit subcommittee considered the draft as well as the comments received from various quarters at its meetings held at Sri Akal Takht on 45 October 1931, 3 January 1932 and 31 January 1932. The final version, after being referred to Sarb Hind (i.e. AllIndia) Sikh Mission Board and further amended by Dharmik Salahkar (i.e. Religious Advisory) Committee received final approval by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee on 3 February 1945.

It was then published under the title Sikh Rahit Marydda. The manual defines a Sikh as “a person who has faith in the One Timeless Being, the Ten Gurus (from Sri Guru Nanak Dev to Sri Guru Gobind Singh), Sri Guru Granth Sahib, their bdni (i.e. sacred hymns) and teachings, and in the amrit of the Tenth Master, and who does not follow any other religion.” The Sikh rahit is divided into shakhsi (individual) and panthic (communal). The former is further dealt with under ndmbdm da abhyds (religious practice), gurmat di rahim (living ac cording lo the Gurus` instructions) and seva (service).

Detailed instructions are given about the nilnem or daily prayers, the form of ardds or supplicatory prayer, and how to act in the sangat and in the gurudwara. Instructions regarding the timebound and openended reading of the Guru Granth Sahib, kardh prasdd (sacred food or sacrament) and kathd, i.e. discourse on the Scripture as well as rules of social and moral conduct and ceremonies such as those concerning birth, marriage and death are also given in this section. The section on panthic rahim includes subsections on Guru Panth (the Sikh community or the Khalsa); initiation ceremony of the Khalsa; procedure for gurmatd or formal resolution adopted in the presence of the Guru; and, finally, authority of the Akal Takht to hear and decide on appeals against the decisions of local sangats.

References :

1. Vahiria, Aviar Singh, Khalsa Dharam Shdstra: Sanskdr Bhdg. Lahore, 1896
2. Chief Khalsa Diwan, Gurmat Prakash: Bhdg Sankdr. 1914
3. Sikh Rahit Marydda. Amritsar, n.d.
4. Randhir Singh, Bhai, ed., Prem Sumdrag Granth. Jalandhar, 1965
5. Padam, Piara Singh, Rahitndme. Paiiala, 1974
6. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990