Also known as Guru Nanak’s Prakash Utsav and Guru Nanak Jayanti, Sri Guru Nanak Gurupurab marks the birthday of the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak. It’s one of the most sacred festivals in Sikhism. Not only Sikhs, but Hindus and other followers of Guru Nanak’s philosophy also celebrate this festival with equal zeal.
The festivals in the Sikh religion revolve around the anniversaries of all the 10 Gurus, who were responsible for shaping the beliefs of the Sikhs. Known as Gurupurab, their birthdays are occasions for celebration and prayers among the Sikhs.
Guru Nanak was born on 15 April, 1469, in Rai-Bhol-Di Talwandi in the present Shekhupua District of Pakistan, now Nankana Sahib. His birthday is celebrated on Kartik Poornima, the full moon day in the month of Kartik. According to the Gregorian Calendar, the celebration usually falls in the month of November, but its date varies every year.
The way of celebrating every Gurupurab is similar, with only hymns being different. The celebrations usually commence with Prabhat Pheris, which are early morning processions beginning at the Gurudwaras and proceed around the localities singing hymns. Akhand-path (a forty-eight-hour-non-stop reading of the Guru Granth Sahib) is held in the Gurudwaras two days before the birthday.
Prior to the birthday, Nagarkirtan (a procession) is organized. This procession is led by the Panj Pyaras (Five Beloved Ones). They head the procession carrying the Sikh flag, known as the Nishan Sahib and the Palki (Palanquin) of Guru Granth Sahib. A team of singers singing hymns and the devotees singing in chorus follow them. There are also brass bands playing different tunes and ‘Gatka’ teams display their swordsmanship through various martial arts and as mock battles using traditional weapons. The procession is taken into the streets of the town, with a huge crowd watching it. The passage is covered with banners and gates decorated with flags and flowers for this marvellous occasion. The leaders spread the message of Guru Nanak.
On the day of Gurupurab, the celebrations commence from morning 4 or 5 am. Kathas and Kirtans take place in the Gurudwaras in the praise of Guru Nanak.
In some Gurudwaras, night prayer sessions are also held, beginning around sunset when Rehras (evening prayer) is recited, followed by Kirtan late at night. The congregation begins to sing Gurbani at about 1:20 am at night, because it’s the actual time of Guru Nanak’s birth. The celebrations culminate at about 2 am.