Everything You Need to Know About Sikhism Scriptures and Prayers

Naam Simran and Nitnem Banis

Nitnem banis are the daily prayers of Sikhism. Five required daily prayers are known as panj bania. The prayers of the Sikh initiation ceremony known as Amrit banis. The Sikhism prayerbook, called a gutka, is treated with special respect because the daily prayers of Sikhsim are taken from the holy scripture Guru Granth Sahib and the compositions of Tenth Guru Gobind Singh. The prayers of Sikhism are written in the Gurmukhi script, the sacred language of Gurbani used only for Sikh prayers. Every Sikh is expected to learn Gurmukhi and read, recite, or listen to the required daily prayers which make up the Nitnem banis.

Praying near the Golden Temple in Punjab
Christopher Pillitz/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Standing or sitting for the practice of engaging in five daily prayers in Sikhism includes:

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Paath at the Golden Temple, Harmandir Sahib
Paath at the Golden Temple, Harmandir Sahib. Photo © [Gurumustuk Singh Khalsa]

Guru Granth Sahib the holy scripture and everlasting Guru of the Sikhs is a collection of hymns written in raag authored by Sikh gurus, minstrels and bards, offering guidance to overcoming ego thus realizing the divine and achieving enlightenment:

The Guru's ordinance is determined by reading a random verse, or hukam:

Every Sikh is to read the complete scripture of Guru Granth Sahib:

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Reading Gurbani
Reading Gurbani. Photo © [Gurumustuk Singh Khalsa]

A question often asked is, "What's the use of reading Gurbani if I'm not able to understand it?"

The hymns of Guru Granth Sahib refereed to as Gurbani, the guru's word, are considered to be medicine for the soul afflicted by egoism, and a daily prescription which counter acts ego. Subduing ego comes with faithful practice of reading Nitnem and Guru Granth Sahib scripture regularly to become familiar with Gurbani:

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Nitnem Prayerbook With Gurmukhi Script
Nitnem Prayerbook With Gurmukhi Script. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Nitnem is a  word meaning daily covenant. Nitnem prayers, or banis, are written in Gurmukhi script. Nitnem banis are daily prayers required to be read, recited or reviewed by listening appropriately.  Nitnem includes a set of five prayers known as Panj Bania :

  • Morning Prayers - Japji Sahib, Jap Sahib, Tav Prasaad Swaye
  • Evening Prayers - Rehras
  • Bedtime Prayers - Kirtan Sohila

Amrit Banis are prayers recited by the Panj Pyare during the initiation ceremony and are included as part of the morning prayers by devout Sikhs as part of their nitnem:

  1. Japji Sahib
  2. Jap Sahib 
  3. Tev Prashad Swayae
  4. Benti Choapi
  5. Anand Sahib has 40 stanzas, six are included at the close of Sikh worship services and ceremonies whenever sacred prashad is served.
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    Amrit Kirtan Hymnal
    Amrit Kirtan Hymnal. Photo © [S Khalsa]

    The various prayer books of Sikhism are:

    • Gutka - Hand held prayer book.
    • Amrit Kirtan - Hymnal of immortal nectar.
    • Pothi - a sacred book with selections from Gurbani.
    • Bir - Collection of compositions in the sacred volume of Guru Granth Sahib.
    • Granth - Religious book containing Sikhism's holy scriptures such as Guru Granth or Dasam Granth.
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    Gurmukhi Paintee (Alphabet) Cross Stitch Sampler
    Gurmukhi Paintee (Alphabet) Cross Stitch Sampler. Cross Stitch and Photo © [Susheel Kaur]

    All Sikhs regardless of origin are required to learn to read the Gurmukhi script in order to be able to read Sikhism daily prayers and scriptures, Nitnem and the Guru Granth Sahib:

    Each character of Gurmukhi script has its own particular unchanging sound grouped by classification:

    Learning Gurmukhi script can happen a variety of ways:

        • Gurmukhi cross stitch gallery includes samplers stitched by Susheel Kaur featuring Gurmukhi script, Sikhism symbols, slogans and prayers.
        • "Let's Learn Punjabi Jigsaw" is a fun 40 piece Punjabi alphabet jigsaw puzzle which aids learning Gurmukhi script.
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          "Panjabi Made Easy" by J.S.Nagra
          "Panjabi Made Easy" by J.S.Nagra. Photo © [Courtesy Pricegrabber, used with permission]

          Gurmukhi script is identical to the Punjabi Alphabet. Books offer invaluable guides to pronunciation and character recognition vital for learning to read the phonetic Gurmukhi script used in Sikh scripture and daily prayers. Books for English speaking beginners tutor using a Romanized phonetic system:

          • Punjabi Made Easy (Book One) by J.S.Nagra
          • by N.S.R. Ganathe
          • by Henry A. Gleason, Jr and Harjeet Singh Gill.
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          Sacred Nitnem With Velour Hardcover and Printed Carboard Slip Cover
          Sacred Nitnem With Velour Hardcover and Printed Carboard Slip Cover. Photo © [S Khalsa]

          Learn to read and understand prayers in Gurmukhi with the aid of Romanized transliteration and English translation:

          • "Sacred Nitnem" - by Harbans Singh Doabia Nitnem bani daily prayers in Gurmukhi and English.
          • "Sacred Sukhmani"  by Harbans Singh Doabia "Peace Lagoon" a divine composition of Guru Ajrun Dev.
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          Nitnem CD "Bani Pro" by Rajnarind Kaur

          Bani Pro 1 & 2 by Rajnarind Kaur
          Bani Pro 1 & 2 by Rajnarind Kaur. Photo © [Courtesy Rajnarind Kaur]

          "Bani Pro" by Rajnarind Kaur is a multiple track CD set designed for teaching proper pronunciation of Nitnem banis, the required daily prayers of Sikhism:

          • "Bani Pro 1" designed according to Panj Bania, five required prayers as outlined by Sikh Rahit Marayda (SRM), code of conduct.
          • "Bani Pro 2" is a supplemental CD with additional prayers not included in "Bani Pro 1" which are read daily by many devout Sikhs.
          Sikh Prayer Book With Cover in Pothi Pouch
          Sikh Prayer Book With Slip Cover in Pothi Pouch. Photo © [S Khalsa]

          These Do It Yourself projects provide protection for Sikhism prayerbooks:

          • Sew a DIY Gurbani prayer book cover to protect your Nitnem gutka or Amrit kirtan pothi.
          • Carry or store scriptures in this DIY practical protective prayer book pothi pouch that you can easily sew yourself.
          • Teach your baby Sikhism symbols and respect for sacred prayer books with DIY Baby's First Prayerbook .
          • Build and furnish a DIY portable altar for reading Guru Granth Sahib.
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          Mother and Son Sing Prayers Together
          Mother and Son Sing Prayers Together. Photo © [S Khalsa]

          The hymns of the Guru Granth Sahib reflect the journey of the soul through life in partnership with the divine. The hymns and prayers of Gurbani mirror the emotions experienced by every individual. In Sikhism life’s important events are accompanied by the singing sacred verses appropriate to the occasion:

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