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There are indications in the old chronicles that the gurus who succeeded Guru Nanak celebrated his birthday. 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 term gurpurab first appeared in the time of the gurus. It is a compound of the word purab (or parva in Sanskrit), meaning a festival or celebration, with the word guru. It occurs in at least five places in the writings of Bhai Gurdas (1551–1636), written in the time of Guru Arjan Dev Ji (5th Guru of the Sikhs).
Among the more important gurpurbs in the Nanakshahi 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 Guru Granth Sahib in the Harimandar at Amritsar. Other important gurpurbs include Baisakhi, which commemorates the creation of the Khalsa Panth, and the martyrdom days of the young sons of Guru Gobind Singh.
A Gurpurab 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, but this pattern has no special sanctity, and local groups may invent their own variations. During these celebrations, the Guru Granth Sahib is read through, in private homes and in the gurdwaras, in a single continuous ceremony lasting 48 hours. This reading, called Akhand Path, must be without interruption; the relay of reciters who take turns at saying the Scripture ensures that no break occurs.
Special assemblies are held in gurdwaras 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. Partaking of a common meal 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.[clarification needed] Public functions are held, besides the more literary and academic ones in schools and colleges. Gurpurbs commemorating birth anniversaries may include illuminations in gurdwaras and in residential houses. Friends and families exchange greetings. Printed cards like those used to commemorate holidays in the West are also coming into vogue.
Sikh fervour for gurpurab celebration reached new heights during the tercentenary of Guru Gobind Singh’s birth in 1967. This event evoked widespread enthusiasm and initiated long-range academic and literary programmes.[clarification needed] It also set a new trend and format. Many subsequent gurpurbs were celebrated with similar fervor, including the fifth centennial of Guru Nanak’s birth in 1969 and the first centenary of the birth of the Singh Sabha in 1973. There is no firm evidence that centennials before the 1967 gurpurb were similarly observed. Max Arthur Macauliffe, a prominent 19th-century Sikh scholar, proposed a special celebration in 1899 for the second centennial of the Khalsa's creation, but it did not receive much popular support.
Gurpurab of Guru Nanak
The birthday of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, comes in the month of November, but the date varies from year to year according to the lunar Indian calendar. The birthday celebrations last three days. Generally two days before the birthday, Akhand Path is performed in the Gurdwaras. One day before the birthday, a procession is organised which is led by the Panj Piare and the Palki (Palanquin) of Guru Granth Sahib and followed by teams of singers singing hymns, brass bands playing different tunes, 'Gatka' (martial art) teams show their swordsmanship, and processionists singing the chorus. The procession passes through the main roads and streets of the town which are covered with buntings and decorated gates and the leaders inform the people of the message of Guru Nanak. On the anniversary day, the programme begins early in the morning at about 4 or 5 am with the singing of Asa-di-Var (morning hymns) and hymns from the Sikh scriptures followed by Katha (exposition of the scripture) and lectures and recitation of poems in praise of the Guru. The celebrations go on till about 2 pm.
After Ardas and distribution of Karah Parsad, the Langar is served. Some Gurdwaras also hold night prayer sessions. This begins around sunset when Rehras (evening prayer) is recited. This is followed by Kirtan till late in the night. Sometimes a Kavi-darbar (poetic symposium) is also held to enable the poets to pay their tributes to the Guru in their own verses. At about 1:20 am, the actual time of the birth, the congregation starts singing Gurbani. The function ends about 2 am.
The Sikhs who cannot join the celebrations for some reason, or in places where there are no Gurdwaras, hold the ceremony in their own homes by performing Kirtan, Path, Ardas, Karah Parsad and Langar.
Gurpurabs for other Gurus
Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru's b.day generally falls in December or January. The celebrations are similar to those of Guru Nanak's birthday, namely Akhand Path, procession and Kirtan, Katha, and Langar.
The martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru, falls in May or June, the hottest months in India. He was tortured to death under the orders of Mughal Emperor, Jahangir, at Lahore on 25 May 1606. Celebrations consist of Kirtan, Katha, lectures, Karah Parsad and Langar in the Gurdwara. Because of summer heat, chilled sweetened drink made from milk, sugar, essence and water, called chhabeel is freely distributed in Gurdwaras and in neighbourhoods to everybody irrespective of their religious beliefs.
Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Guru, was arrested under orders of Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb. As he refused to change his religion and accept Islam, he was beheaded on 11 November 1675 at Chandi Chowk, Delhi. Usually one-day celebrations of his martyrdom are organised in the Gurdwaras.
Three days before his passing away, Guru Gobind Singh conferred on 3 October 1708, the guruship of the Sikhs on Guru Granth Sahib. On this day, a special one-day celebrations are organised with Kirtan, Katha, lectures, Ardas, Karah Parsad and Langar. Sikhs rededicate themselves to follow the teachings of the Gurus contained in the scripture. In 2008, the tercentenary of this Gurpurab, popularized as 300 Saal Guru de Naal was celebrated by the Sikhs worldwide with the main celebrations held at Hazur Sahib, Nanded.