What an Akhand Path is
An Akhand Path is the continuous, front to back, reading of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib (for more about the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, read below). This reading is an important and extremely meaningful meditative practice for Sikhs. Akhand Paths are read in honor of major life events like marriages, funerals, and births. They are important community events and conducted either by a team of granthis who take turns reading for long periods of time or by community members who take turns reading in hour-long reading slots.
People may also participate in a Sahej Path, which is also recitation of the Guru Granth Sahib, from beginning to end, but it doesn’t have to be continuous. A person or group of persons can read the holy volume according to their schedule and complete the reading of Guru Granth Sahib. If you do not have a Siri Guru Granth Sahib in your home, or do not live near a Gurdwara, where you can participate in an Akhand Path or a Sahej Path, click on this link to listen to a reading of the full Siri Guru Granth Sahib.
“The continuous reading takes the reader and the listener on a beautiful journey that begins with Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s Mool Mantra and ends with the Raag Mala; an important bani that discusses the spiritual aspects of the different raags in classical North Indian music as used in the Guru Granth Sahib. Reading it is a pleasure, a conundrum and lesson all wrapped up together. From beautiful descriptions of the One to biting dialogues on hypocrisy, false attachment, and the mind in general, the Guru is a conversation with your Infinite essence.” Shabd Singh Khalsa
The Siri Guru Granth Sahib
In the Sikh tradition, there were ten Gurus, beginning with Guru Nanak and ending with Guru Gobind Singh. Guru means “teacher” or literally: “Gu = darkness” and “Ru = light” (one who brings you from the darkness to the Light). When Guru Gobind Singh neared the end of his life, he stated that going forward, the Guru for Sikhs would be the “living word” of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib.
In its earthly form, the Siri Guru Granth Sahib is 1430 pages of sacred teachings and songs. There are a total of 36 contributors to the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. In addition to 6 of the Sikh Gurus, there are compositions from 30 saints from different religions, places and times. These songs are set to 31 different musical scales, called Raags. Raags are very particular musical scales. Different Raags are meant to be sung at different times of day or at different seasons. The spiritual technology for awakening yourself to your Inner Divinity in Sikh Dharma is to pronounce and sing the songs from the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. It is especially powerful to sing them in the Raags in which they are given. But singing or chanting them, in Raag or not, will have a profound healing effect on your body, communication and mind.
From the time of Guru Nanak to the time of Guru Gobind Singh, each Sikh Master taught that a person’s own spiritual progress rests within him or herself. A teacher can show us the way. But it is up to each person to walk the path or not. The sacred songs of the Shabad Guru embodied in the Siri Guru Granth Sahib are the key to one’s own self-awakening. When a person, with his or her own lips, tongue and breath, sings the songs of the Enlightened Masters, it begins a chemical chain reaction in the brain. The singing re-patterns the neuro-net so that eventually, in time, the student can perceive directly what the Masters spoke about. Then there is Union between the Sikh and the Guru.
The History of the Akhand Path
It is said that when Guru Gobind Singh had completed compiling the Guru Granth Sahib, he had five members of the congregation (Sadh Sangat) read it to him continuously. He stood and listened to the entire Guru Granth Sahib. People brought him water for his bath and for his meals where he stood. This was the first Akhand Path.
Following this example, the Sikhs started the tradition of dedicating Akhand Paths to various activities. At this particular time in history, there was much religious persecution and Sikhs often fought for their own lives and beliefs, as well as others. Before battles, the Sikhs would arrange and listen to an Akhand Path and then prepare for battle. An Akhand Path was once arranged before the Sikhs set out to rescue 18,000 indigenous women from the Mughals, who had captured them and were taking them as slaves.
In 1742, when Sikhs were in the jungles of Punjab, one Sikh woman warrior named Bibi Sundari, requested just before she passed away due to the wounds inflicted in battle, to have an Akhand Path arranged for her. She lay there next to Guru Granth Sahib and listened to the full recitation it. After kirtan, Ardas and Hukam, she received the gurprashad, uttered “Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh” breathing her last. Thus began the tradition of reading an Akhand Path in 48 hours. (1) Sikiwiki
The Meaning of an Akhand Path
The honor and blessing of reading in an Akhand Path has been so important to Sikhs, that there are stories of times where there were battles waging around them, or they were being sieged by the enemy and readers would not stop until they were shot and killed while reading and another would take their place, so as not to break the sound current before Akhand Path was completed.
In these times, the recitation or Paath (“Path”) is undertaken for various reasons. It can be in honor of a particular occasion; to mark a happy or sad occasion within the family; or simply to increase one’s feeling of connection to the Guru. Some of common occasions which people celebrate with an akhand path include: a birth, a birthday, a wedding, an anniversary, a graduation, preparation for or recovery from a medical operation, a death, a historic occasion, etc.
Some Gurdwaras hold a weekly Akhand Path and this gives the congregation (Sadh Sangat) a beautiful opportunity to establish a close relationship with the Guru and the community and provides the opportunity to perform volunteer work (Sewa). (2) Sikiwiki