Sikhism Scriptures and Prayers

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that was founded over 500 years ago in Punjab, India. Sikh translates to a "disciple" and was created by Guru Nanak in the 15th century. Nit-Nem Sikh translates to "Daily Discipline" and is a collection of a few Sikh hymns that are to be consumed daily by the Sikhs at specific times throughout the day. This collection often incorporates the Gurbani, a reference to several compositions by the Sikh Gurus and other writers, which is typically read daily in the morning, evening, and nighttime.

The Daily Prayers

Nitnem Banis are the daily prayers of Sikhism. Five required daily prayers are known as Panj Bania. The prayers of the Sikh initiation ceremony are known as Amrit Banis. The Sikhism prayer book, called a gutka, is treated with special respect because the daily prayers of Sikhism 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 several practices, such as Naan Simran and Kirtan. These daily prayers involve meditations and readings at all hours of the day which may include specific objects or traditions, like worship in song.

The following prayers are part of the Sikhs culture:

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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 and authored by Sikh gurus, minstrels, and bards. This scripture offers guidance to overcome the ego and realize the divine in order to achieve enlightenment.

The following resources highlight more information about Guru Granth Sahib, the authors of the holy scripture, and the importance of Raag.

The Guru's ordinance is determined by reading a random verse, or Hukam. Hukam is a Punjabi word that comes from an Arabic hukm, translating to "command" or "divine order." The term constitutes the mission of becoming in harmony with the will of God to achieve inner peace.

Learn about the divine command and get the guide on reading Hukam:

Every Sikh is to read the complete scripture of Guru Granth Sahib. This ​continuous reading is known as the Akhand Path, a common practice of ongoing recitation of the sacred religious texts. This practice does not involve any breaks and can be done individually or in a group.

Below is some guidance on the scripture:

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

It is often wondered why one should read Gurbani if they are not able to understand it.

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

The following resources expand on understanding Gurbani readings and how to make time for the daily scriptures.

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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]

    Sikhism prayer books are used for the divine poetic language of Gurbani and written in the Gurmukhi script. The prayers were written by the Gurus who were very particular in their teachings and preparations of the disciples. The lessons were the language of the higher power and passed down from multiple generations.

    The various prayer books of Sikhism are:

    • Gutka: A hand held prayer book.
    • Amrit Kirtan: A hymnal of immortal nectar.
    • Pothi: A sacred book with selections from Gurbani.
    • Bir: A collection of compositions in the sacred volume of Guru Granth Sahib.
    • Granth: A 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 the Gurmukhi script has its own particular and unchanging sound grouped by classification which holds significance in Sikh scripture:

    Learning Gurmukhi script can happen in a variety of ways. For example, the Gurmukhi cross stitch gallery includes samplers stitched by Susheel Kaur and features the Gurmukhi script, Sikhism symbols, slogans, and prayers. Additionally, the "Let's Learn Punjabi Jigsaw" is a fun 40 piece Punjabi alphabet jigsaw puzzle which aids in learning the 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]

      The Gurmukhi script is identical to the Punjabi Alphabet. Books offer invaluable guides to pronunciation and character recognition. This is vital for learning how to read the phonetic Gurmukhi script used in Sikh scripture and daily prayers.

      One book for English speaking beginners and tutors using a Romanized phonetic system includes the Punjabi Made Easy (Book One) by J.S.Nagra.

      Additional Sikhism prayer books can be of assistance in learning to read and understand prayers in Gurmukhi. The following books can aid with the Romanized transliteration and English translation:

      • Sacred Nitnem: This book is by Harbans Singh Doabia and includes Nitnem Bani daily prayers in Gurmukhi and English.
      • Sacred Sukhmani. This book is also by Harbans Singh Doabia. "Peace Lagoon" a divine composition of Guru Ajrun Dev.
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      The "Bani Pro" CD 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. In this CD set, the songs are recited slower than other discographies, allowing for clear pronunciation and a great help for those learning. The following set designs are explained below.​

      • "Bani Pro 1" is designed according to Panj Bania, a five required prayers as outlined by Sikh Rahit Marayda (SRM), per the code of conduct.
      • "Bani Pro 2" is a supplemental CD with additional prayers that is 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 prayer books. Protecting your prayer book covers is important for respecting the sacred texts, especially when traveling. From sewing to teaching lessons, the following projects provide creative and low budget ideas you can do at home.

      • Sew a DIY Gurbani prayer book cover to protect the Nitnem gutka or Amrit kirtan pothi.
      • Carry or store scriptures in this practical protective prayer book pothi pouch that can easily be sewn alone.
      • Teach a baby Sikhism symbols and respect for sacred prayer books by creating a "Baby's First Prayerbook."
      • Build and furnish a simple 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 singing sacred verses appropriate to the occasion. The following hymns are examples of prayers and blessings sung during both celebratory life events and difficult times.

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