ARATI, from Sanskrit aratrik, meaning the light or the vessel containing it which is waved before an idol, generally in the clockwise direction, accompanied by the chanting of mantras. This is also the name given the ceremony which for the Hindus is a mode of ritual worship to propitiate the deity. In the Sikh system, which totally rejects image worship, there is no sanction for this form of worship. An incident in this regard is often summoned from the Janam Sakhis, traditional accounts of Guru Nanak`s life. During his travels across Eastern India, Guru Nanak accompanied by the ministrel, Mardana, stopped near the temple of Jagannath, Lord of the Earth, which is the title of Lord Visnu, second god of the Hindu Triad.
Guru Nanak and Mardana stopped near the. shrine upon which sat centuries of history mute and immobilized. The notes from Mardana`s rebeck touched the devotees` hearts with fresh fervour. Several of them came to hear the Guru`s word. The temple priests felt angry and held the Guru guilty for not making adoration to the deity within the sacred enclosure. The local chief whose name has been described as Krishanlal one day visited the Guru and invited him to join the arati, or the evening service of lights, in the temple. The Guru readily offered to go with him.
As dusk fell, the priests lighted the lamps and the sumptuous ritual for which the devotees had been waiting began. Twinkling lights fed by ghee were placed on a jewelstudded salver, amid flowers and incense, and worship fully swung from side to side by the priests in front of the enshrined image to the accompaniment of the chanting of hymns, blowing of conches and the ringing of bells. The priests had a complaint as they concluded. The Guru had remained seated in his place and not participated in the ceremony. The Guru burst into a song: The sky is the salver And the sun and the moon the lamps.
The luminous stars on the heavens are the pearls. Scented air from the sandalclad hills is the incense, The winds make the fan for Thee, And the vast forests wreaths of flowers. The unstruck music of creation is the trumpet. Thus goes on the arati (adoration) for Thee, 0 Thou dispeller of doubt and fear! Guru Nanak taught the hearers how Nature`s tribute to the Creator was superior to any ritualistic oblation offered before images. In spite of such depreciation of the ritual, arati was performed in some of the Sikh temples under Brahmanical influence. But in the Sikh case the arati was performed in front of the Guru Granth Sahib.
herever the word arati occurred in the Guru Granth Sahib, the hymn was pressed into service. For instance, there was a chain of sabdas culled from the compositions of Ravidas, Sam, Kabir and Dhanna. Ravidas`s hymn begins with the line, “Lord, Thy Name to me is the arati and holy ablutions. All else is false show” (GG, 694). Says Sain, “May I be a sacrifice unto the Lord: that for me is the arati performed with lamps, ghee and incense” (GG, 695). Kabir`s hymn is in the same vein. It says, “Brothers! that is how the Immaculate Lord`s aratfis made…. Let Divine essence be the oil, the Lord`s Name the wick, and enlightened self the lamp.
Lighting this lamp we invoke the Lord” (GG, 1350). Dhanna`s hymn is simply a prayer for the common needs of life (GG, 695). It is clear that these hymns reject the aratf ritual and lay down loving devotion shorn of all formal practices as the path of true worship. The reformists of the Singh Sabha school as well as those of the more strident Akali school discarded the ritual waving of the lighted lamps placed in a tray before the Guru Granth Sahib.
There could, however, be no objection to the singing of the arati hymns occurring in the Guru Granth Sahib. The Sikh Rahit Maryada or religious code of the Sikhs issued under the authority of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, a statutorily elected body representative of the entire Sikh community, lays down that aratf with incense and lighted lamps and ringing of bells is not permissible. Although aratf ritual is prohibited and no longer practised in Sikh places of worship, the continuous singing of the five Scriptural aratf hymns, often supplemented by some verses from the Dasam Granth, by the holy choir or by the entire sangat in unison, is still practised at places as part of the concluding ceremonies for an akhand path, endtoend unbroken reading of the Holy Book, or at the close of the evening service at a gurdwara.
1. Sikh Rahit Maryada. Amritsar, 1975
2. Kohli, Surindar Singh, ed,,Janam Sakhi Bhai Bala. Chandigarh, 1975
3. Shabdarth Sri Guru Grarith Sahib. Amritsar, 1969 M.G.S.