What Is Akhand Paatth?
Sikhing Answers - XXIV
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TODAY'S QUESTION - # 24
What is akhand paatth?
How do you do it properly? What should you not be doing if doing akhand paatth?
What is its purpose, its benefits?
When should it be done?
By whom? Where?
What are the origins of the practice?
Posted on May 9, 2012
Closing Date: May 16, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Tanweer Khalsa (Islamabad, Pakistan), May 09, 2012, 2:04 PM.
'Akhand' means 'without break'. It is a continuous meditation on Waheguru through a reading of the Guru Granth Sahib. The sangat should listen to the paatth and try and understand it, because it is through the bani that one experiences the Guru - "gurbani kahey sewak jan manney parthak guru neatarey". An akhand paatth is usually done on special occasions such as a gurpurab, bereavement, thanksgiving celebrations, etc. It should be done by those men or women, Sikh or non-Sikh, who can read bani well. The practice originates from the time of the Gurus.
2: Kanwarjeet Singh (Franklin Park, New Jersey, U.S.A.), May 09, 2012, 4:05 PM.
Akhand Paatth, as I have come to know it in my experience, is the continuous recitation of the Guru Granth. I could not find any evidence that this practice was recommended by any of our Gurus, so this must have started much later in Sikh history, but I am open to correction on this. Personally, I am not a fan of doing akhand paatth as I feel that it has become a ritual - in fact I have known granthis and sangat to simply skip pages to meet the bhog time. I also fail to comprehend how a human can possibly sit through the paatth for more than a few hours as it is beyond human capacity to absorb it all in one go. Isn't the purpose of baani to educate and improve? I hope people do not see this as criticism but as a thought-provoking question. I always wonder - did our Gurus not prohibit us from ritualistic practices?
3: R. Singh (Canada), May 09, 2012, 8:13 PM.
I agree with Kanwarjeet Singh. Whatever the reason for it in the past, now it is a gurdwara thing, where no one listens or participates, only turns up for the bhog and langar or, worse, money is sent in for a performed paatth, i.e., buying an akhand paatth. Equally bad is the practice of doing eleven, one hundred and one, and so on, auspicious number of paatths to match havan-like logic of purification or appeasement of deities. It makes no sense to me. In such practices, no gurshabad is touched upon, nor any vichaar shared.
4: EDITOR, sikhchic.com (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), May 09, 2012, 8:54 PM.
We seem to be sort of getting off-topic. Is there ANY benefit of doing an akhand paatth, if it is done the right way? How does one do it the right away? So, let's move away for the time being from the corrupt practices of today, and let's try addressing what, if any, benefit there is in doing akhand paatths.
5: Jasdeep Singh (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), May 09, 2012, 10:25 PM.
This is an interesting topic. Although I understand the sentiment brought up by several of the contributors I do believe that there is definitely a benefit in doing an akhand paatth. I think there is benefit in any amount of time spent in a positive aura ... so if someone is to spend approx. 48 hours or any part of that time in the Guru's hazoori listening to divine poetry that sprung out of the heart of the beloved, I'm sure that it can be a life altering experience. While we all make an effort to absorb and understand gurbani, there is definitely a soothing, uplifting affect of just listening and enjoying it. I know that in my life, anytime I'm really angry, mad, jealous ... if by a stroke of chance, I happen to hear gurbani, it changes the moment ... makes it lighter ... brings hope. In terms of how to do an akhand paatth the right way, I would say the right way is to do it with complete sharda, and in awe of the amazing! The outward portrayal of such a deep feeling is different for different people. On a side note, I heard this funny story of a gursikh who was once asked by a family in a pind to come to their house to do an akhand paatth. He asked the family to sit and listen to the paatth during the cours of the akhand reading. He also brought some other sevadars with him. They did parkash in the courtyard of the family compound. As usual, the family got very busy in attending to guests and did not sit for the akhand paatth. People came in, paid their respects and left. Across the street there was a donkey standing in another courtyard. From the donkey's vantage point, he could see witness the entire scene. The sevadars noted that the donkey didn't move the whole time the paatth was being done. When it came to do the bhog ardas and all the family and their friends had gathered, they were shocked to hear the gursikh asking Guru sahib to give all blessings to the khota that had stood and listened to all the paatth. Needless to say, that gursikh wasn't invited to do another akhand paatth at that house again.
6: Paramjeet Singh (Punjab), May 09, 2012, 11:53 PM.
The non-stop reading of the Guru Granth Sahib is carried on at times of adversity, and on occasions of elation or joy. It takes approximately forty-eight hours. The non-stop reading implies continuous, uninterrupted reading. The reading must be clear and correct. Reading too fast, so that the person reading or listening to it cannot follow the contents, amounts to irreverence to the scripture. Due care must be taken in pronouncing each consonant and vowel, even though that takes a little longer to complete. Whichever family or congregation undertakes the reading should carry it out itself through its members, relatives, friends, etc., all together. The number of reciters is not prescribed, nor does it matter. If a person, himself, cannot read, he should listen to the reading by some competent reader. However, it should never be allowed to happen that the reader carries on the reading all by himself/herself and no member of the family is in sangat. The reader should be served with food and necessary shelter to the best of the host's means. Placing dishes containing food or drink, ceremonial ghee-fed lamp, coconut, etc. around, during the course of the paatth or any other reading of Guru Granth Sahib, or reading of other scriptural texts, side by side with or in the course of such reading, is contrary to gurmat.
7: Prabhjot Singh (Indiana, U.S.A.), May 10, 2012, 6:59 AM.
I agree with Kanwarjit and R.P. Singh, this is one way of hinduization of Sikhism. Rituals were debunked by Guru Nanak all his life. Continuous recitation by paid people, multiple paatths at the same time, families preoccupied with party preparations and having no time for the paatth they have initiated, all of these scenarios have become a little too common-place. These are nothing but empty gestures. The only good reason to read Guru Granth Sahib is to learn from it. I found out that an akhand paatth may have been first performed when Guru Gobind Singh sent Banda Singh to Punjab.
8: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), May 10, 2012, 10:41 AM.
God is within every human being, so we are always in hazoori. Gurbani says there is no need to go anywhere specific to find the One [GGS:1195]. Akhand paathh is a corrupt practice. A clear, proper and meaningful reading of the Guru Granth cannot be completed in 48 hours. It is merely being promoted as a source for revenue for gurdwara. Gurbani requires devotion and dedication, with concentration and consciousness of mind. People get involved in ritualistic akhand paatth mostly out of ignorance or misguided belief. By hiring people for reading gurbani, naam daan is not possible. Genuine interest, with 'munn rakhiye bhav' is the primary requirement. One may practice numerous austerities, but if there are no spiritual value in it, none will be beneficial; all they achieve is a build-up of one's haumai.
9: Gurpreet Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), May 10, 2012, 5:37 PM.
The worst is when liquor parties follow an akhand paatth!
10: Harcharan Singh (Singapore), May 10, 2012, 9:48 PM.
I agree with S. Mohan Singh ji. I cannot imagine the Gurus sanctioning this practice as it is open to abuse, neglect, disrespect of Guru Granth Sahib and Sikhi in general. It becomes Brahmanical in nature as it becomes a source of money making on the one hand and also a short-cut to God, without any conscious effort. It becomes dogmatic because there is a need to finish it in 48 hours as though any delay will condemn you to eternal damnation. Like the 'rehan sabhai kirtan' which goes on for 24 hours, such things involving sitting for long periods and passively listening or reciting page after page, hour after hour, with no contemplation or meditation on the substance, is not a proactive practice. What is proactive is the daily nitmem though that can also deteriorate, as anything can, into repetition and ritual, if one is not attentive. The most important thing in Sikhism should be not merely reading or singing but vichaar - understanding the Guru's message and its application in modern times through modern apparatus and means. In that sense, akhand paatths and prolonged kirtan sessions can be a waste of time and energy as there is no dialogue or meditation on the bani being recited. The only advantage I can see is that those who are learning to recite the Guru Granth can become more fluent in their reading and understanding of it. Akhand paatths, etc. are one way traffic vehicles of religious communions whereas vichaar consists of a dialogue because it is interactive. Many of us are stuck in age old rituals that further reinforce our passivity. In that sense akhand paatths, etc. are an escape from the actual reality that we need to deal with. For example, we don't engage in meaningful dialogue because there is none such in gurdwaras. Also the money making aspect of akhand paatths shields the fact that the gurdwaras have not developed better ways to improve their finances. Doing akhand paatths should be the individual duty of families where they participate and complete it slowly - more of a sehaj paatth, really. Gurbani is not a passive exercise, but when limited only to gurdwaras instead of at home, it becomes that. What is proactive is listening to gurbani, not only reciting the nitnem throughout one's life but reading other banis too, contemplating on what we read and acting in the spirit of gurbani in all our endeavours. Instead of using our time in the best possible way, we are spending time having long akand paatths, when we could be out there in the community helping the poor, etc.
11: Ravinder Singh (Mumbai, India), May 12, 2012, 6:13 AM.
The akhand paatth, either by reading or listenting to and learning from it, is a reward in itself. Otherwise it seems to be mere karamkkand. We all are aware of the view of the Guru on karamkhand.
12: Harpreet Singh (Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, India), May 15, 2012, 9:25 AM.
I'll try to answer the questions raised: The first: What is akhand paatth? It is the non-stop/ continuous recitation of Guru Granth sahib. Its origins: After the passing away of Guru Gobind Singh Ji in 1708 and during the brief period that followed under the leadership of Banda Singh Bahadar, Sikhs were embroiled in a guerrilla warfare of survival with the Mughals, and had to seek shelter in jungles. The period lasted through much of the 18th century. It was in these days of attack and ambush that the practice of doing akhand paatth was started. Whenever the Sikhs knew they had a respite of 3 - 4 days, they would start an akhand path so that they remained in touch with gurbani. Time was of the essence, and they had merely adjusted to the need of the times. In normal times, therefore, it is not necessary to do the paatth non-stop or within any specified time-period. What we should be doing now is what is commonly known as Sehaj paatth. In such a practice, n individual alone or as part of a family or group, recites a few pages of the Guru Granth each day, leaving time for contemplation/ vichaar. Thus, he/ they slowly proceed through the whole Guru Granth until it is completed. The akhand paatth has no functional value today - or spiritual merit! Ideally, each person should do it himself/ herself. However, if a person is old, infirm, or unable to read, it is okay to hear another person do the recitation. Reading of gurbani is not a talisman or mantar/ mantra.
13: R. Singh (Canada), May 17, 2012, 6:01 PM.
I am not sure if it is a historical fact that Guru Gobind Singh performed an akhand paatth. Manipulating history to over-ride gurmat principles is not conducive to Sikh values. There is no magical-mantric value to akhand paatths a la Hindu havans, etc. sikhi is about learning and absorbing gurbani. Breakneck speed of recitation with time restraints is not conducive to the concept of contemplation during "amrit-vela" when the mind is fresh. There is nothing to be gained or learned through a ritualistic exercise.
14: Major Ajeet Singh Mac (Indore, India), September 22, 2015, 5:28 PM.
I wish to highlight that Guru Granth Sahib is our living Guru Baba Nanak. If you have not enjoyed the glimpse of Him while lifting your head after bowing begore it, it means that you have yet to progress in your divine love of Guru Nanak. Coming to Akhand Paatth, its value is enormous since it can inspire and bless a new lease of life. Reading gurbani for 48 hours continuously implies that you desire to get the pleasure of union with the Guru. This facility is available to us as a gift. Gurbani vichaar and living by it means it is like holding the equivalent of the Ashwamaeg Yagya which was once the privilege of kings, now we as ordinary Sikhs can do it through akhand paaatth of Guru Granth Sahib. Kirtan is also an important part of our 'diet'.