Sikh Missionary Society
Southall, Middx, U.K. UB2 5AA
Charity No: 262404
titles, duties and related skills
religious titles, duties and related skills
There is no ordained priesthood in Sikhism, and no structured hierarchy
or strict division of duties. Generally, any Amritdhari Sikh, with the
necessary skills and proficiencies, can perform all the ceremonial and
other duties in a Gurdwara without any discrimination regarding gender,
caste or race.
An Amritdhari Sikh is one who has accepted the full physical and
spiritual discipline according to the Sikh code (the Sikh Reht Maryada)
at an Amrit Sanchar ceremony. This ceremony is conducted by the Five
Beloved Ones (the Panj Piaray) – themselves Amritdhari Sikhs, who are
selected for the ceremony by the holy congregation, the Sangat (or the
Gurdwara management these days).
While the same person, with the necessary qualifications, can perform
all the religious duties, the following are the titles and related
functions performed at the Gurdwaras:
Granthi: Bearing in mind that there is no ordained priesthood in
Sikhism, a Granthi equates to a priest or “minister of religion”. Any
qualified Amritdhari Sikh can perform the duties of a Granthi. One
appointed as a full time Granthi MUST be an Amritdhari practicing Sikh
following the prescribed code of religious discipline, the Sikh Reht
Maryada. He (or she) should have all the skills of a Paatthi (be able
to read the holy Scriptures, Guru Granth Sahib), be able to interpret
the Gurbani ( sacred hymns in Guru Granth Sahib), deliver sermons to
the holy congregation (Sangat) and do all the duties relating to the
care of Guru Granth Sahib as the “living Guru” at ceremonial occasions.
Preferably, a Granthi should be able to hold discourses, know the
language of the country and carry out extrovert religious duties
including those relating to the interfaith aspect. It is desirable but
not essential that a Granthi be able to sing the sacred hymns i.e.
musical proficiency is not a requirement. Also, it is preferable that a
Granthi should be married.
Paatthi: A person who is proficient in reading the holy Scriptures,
Guru Granth Sahib. Usually, a Paatthi is also able to do the other
tasks associated with supplication (Ardaas) in the congregation
(Sangat) and the morning evening ceremonies associated with Guru Granth
Sahib e.g. first opening in the early morning and final closure of the
holy Book in the evening. These tasks do not require much proficiency
but the reading of the Scripture requires years of practice in correct
pronunciation. Some never reach the final stage of absolutely correct
pronunciation (Shudh Ucharan) which has great significance for
interpretation. Knowledge of any other language is not necessary.
Granthis, Raagis, Kathakars and most practicing Sikhs who can read
Panjabi in Gurmukhi alphabet, are usually reasonably proficient
Raagi & Raagi Jatha members: A Raagi is a singer of sacred hymns. A
professional Raagi must have a group called a Raagi Jatha of at least
two persons: the main singer and a percussionist who usually plays the
Indian tabla (two small drums placed side by side). Usually Raagi
Jathas (groups) travel in threes – the main Raagi and another, maybe
less proficient, and the percussionist, the one who keeps the drum
beat. The main Raagi should be proficient at singing Gurbani (sacred
hymns) preferably to the musical measures prescribed in Guru Granth
Sahib. Years of training is required.
These days the main Raagi must be able to play the harmonium or a
string instrument (rare). Any practising Sikh with reasonable
proficiency can sing Gurbani in a Gurdwara. Ability to speak local
language would be desirable e.g. to be able to teach children or do
short translations of hymns in between singing for the benefit of Sikh
youth or non-Sikhs who are entitled to sit in the Sangat. There are
well known Raagi families (Ghranas) in Panjab tracing their ancestry
back to the days of the Sikh Gurus. They command much respect amongst
the Sikhs but may not be bale to speak any other language. .
Percussionist with Raagi Jathas: Beat is almost essential for
professional Gurbani singing. A Raagi Jatha always has a percussionist,
playing Indian tabla – a pair of small drums – or some other type of
traditional drum e.g. dholki or mardang, which are rarely played these
days except in cultural programmes. A number of years of training is
required to play the tabla proficiently, although, there are always
Kathakar and Pracharak: Kathakars are Sikh scholars proficient at
interpreting the holy Scriptures in the traditional and modern context.
The interpretation is direct (of the Guru’s Word or Gurbani) as well as
illustrative through historical accounts and modern incidents. Most
Granthis should also be reasonably proficient Kathakars. Pracharaks are
articulate missionary preachers well versed in Sikh history and
religious tradition, and may also be proficient kathakars. It is highly
desirable that Kathakars and Pracharaks should be reasonably proficient
in the English language.
Dhadi and Dhadi Jathas are very popular, especially amongst Sikh
migrants from Panjab: A Dhadi sings religious ballads, usually martial
in nature telling the stories of great Sikh heroes, sacrifices and
armed struggle for the righteous cause. These ballads are called the
Dhadi Vars and are sung to popular traditional beats and rhythms from
the land of undivided Panjab. Considerable vocal and musical
instrumental skills are required. The two instruments usually played
are a string instrument called the sarangi, and a small hand-held drum
called the dhad. One person plays the sarangi and two play dhads. Some
dhadi jathas may occasionally use sarangi and a harmonium accompanied
by a percussionist playing a drum called dholki. Dhadi jathas are part
of the Sikh religious martial tradition. They travel around in groups
of threes or four and are never employed full time by Gurdwaras.
Knowledge of English is not relevant.
Sikh religious scholars visiting UK should be proficient in the English
language. However, certain traditional Sikh schools of learning do not
teach English, yet, they produce Sikh scholars of the highest calibre
capable of interpreting Guru Granth Sahib and the Sikh religious
(Prepared as a briefing paper for UK Sikh-government meetings)
Please acknowledge quotations from this article
Articles may be published subject to prior approval by the author
Return to the top of the page.
Copyright (©)2011 by Sikh Missionary Society (U.K.)
All Rights Reserved.