A Sikh friend of mine recently found out his wife was cheating. He wondered if Sikhism allows one to divorce and re-marry. We had to dig out for the truth through extensive research.
Can a Sikh divorce and re-marry? A Sikh can divorce and re-marry. This is especially the case where a Sikh gets widowed. There are other instances, too, like infidelity that warrants divorce and in some instances cruelty like domestic abuse can also warrant divorce in some regions.
Many Sikhs usually find it hard to divorce and re-marry. That’s because they don’t understand what Sikh views on marriage and divorce. This post explains all you need to know about remarriage and divorce in Sikhism.
Can a Sikh divorce and re-marry?
There are many different Sikh attitudes towards divorce and remarriage. It is essential to note that Sikhs revere their Gurus. As such, they follow their example in nearly all aspects of life, including marriage and divorce.
For instance, Gurus didn’t divorce. That’s because divorce in the past was hardly ever an option, mainly because a wife would have no means of supporting herself after divorce.
The society would view her as a rebel. There is also the fact that in the past, women solely depended on their husbands. Divorcing would, therefore, mean fending for oneself, which was challenging, back in the day.
Many Sikhs today agree that a couple may divorce after a marriage irretrievably breaks down. This is a departure from the norm, which encouraged and still encourages couples to work through their differences before resorting to divorce.
Extended family and friends often play a huge role in trying to help a couple with marital problems. This is, in fact, what used to happen in traditional Sikh communities. A couple would separate for a while as their friends and family explored how they could resolve their differences.
While the practice is still widespread today, it hasn’t in any way made divorce irrelevant. Today, Sikhs divorce for any of the following reasons.
- Irreconcilable differences
- Witchcraft etc.
Can a Sikh have more than one wife? Polygamy vs Monogamy
A Sikh cannot have more than one wife according to the holy text of the Guru Granth Sahib where a husband and wife are referred to as one soul in two bodies. Which is interpreted by many as meaning a single monogamous union between a Sikh man and a Sikh woman.
Sikhs aren’t allowed to have more than one wife, because Sikhs believe that a person’s fate is sealed the moment they’re born. Their fate, as far as marriage is concerned, is sealed with one other soul, not two or more.
How many wives did Guru Nanak have?
The first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak had one wife Mata Sulakni. Her father was called Mood Chand and her mother was Chando Rani.
How many wives did the Sikh gurus have?
Guru Gobind the tenth Guru, had three wives and other Sikh gurus with many wives also included Guru Hargobind, the sixth Guru also had three wives. The rest of the eight gurus including Guru Nanak who were married only had one wife.
Guru Gobind and Guru Hargobinds marriage to multiple wives was mainly due to cultural adherence in those times and not down to religious reasons.
Can a Sikh marry twice?
A Sikh can only marry twice if they have divorced their husband or wife or their first wife or husband has died and they have become widowed. Getting divorced maybe difficult in some Sikh cultures like in India, as it’s viewed as taboo but Sikhs living outside of India, may find it easier to divorce.
It is not possible to marry and commit bigamy or to have a polygamous relationships where a Sikh man is married to many wives.
The Role of Sangat and Panj Pyaare In Sikhism
Sangat refers to a congregation of Sikh faithful while Panj Pyaare refers to a group of 5 Sikh men, respected enough in the society to deliberate on sensitive issues. These two groups play a crucial role when it comes to resolving marriage differences in Sikhism.
Think of the Panj Pyaare as a council of elders with years of experience in handling weighty matters. That’s actually what they do. The Sangat, on the other hand, also plays a key role. They may recommend separation and, in very rare cases, divorce.
It’s also important to note that many Sikhs, especially in conservative Sikh communities of India, respect decisions made by the Sangat or the Panj Pyaare.
Divorce Under Civil Law
This mostly happens in the West. Sikhs are generally law-abiding. They respect the laws of the countries they settle in. There’s a gray area, though, when it comes to divorce. While many Western countries usually grant divorce once a partner files for a divorce petition, Sikhism begs to differ. It is easy to understand why.
Even in cases where Sikhism allows for divorce, it first encourages the conflicting couple to explore all means necessary to settle their differences and reconcile. This is sometimes not the case in Western countries. Once a couple chooses to divorce, exploring reconciliation options is hardly ever in the picture.
In many cases, Sikh couples choose to first resolve their differences the Sikh way. There are instances, though, where a party to marriage decides to depart from the norm and opt for civil divorce straightaway. More often than not, this works in the West. In conservative Sikh societies, such decisions usually come along with consequences. The party may be looked down upon for disregarding the Sikh way.
Sikhism doesn’t prohibit remarriage, as many people, including Sikhs, believe. This is especially the case where one’s partner dies. The idea that remarriage is forbidden is, as some Sikh priests say, ‘an old fashioned myth.’
In Sikhism, the Anand Sanskar solemnizes marriage ceremonies in what Sikhs call the Anand Karaj. Note that to non-Sikhs, the Anand Karaj is more or less like any other wedding. To Sikh faithful, that’s not the case. The Anand Karaj, in fact, why many Sikhs often think twice about marriage, divorce, and remarriage.
Note that the Anand Karah loosely translates to ‘blissful union.’ It doesn’t end there. Sikhs regard the ceremony as a sacred one because, to them, the ceremony unites two souls before the Guru Granth Sahib. As long as the two souls unite, they can’t part. That’s precisely where the confusion begins.
What happens when a person loses a partner before the other? Do their souls still remain unified? Can the surviving partner re-marry? Does the act or re-marrying amount to renouncing the other soul? All these questions and even more create confusion amongst Sikhs when it comes to remarriage.
According to Anand Sanskar, a widow is free to re-marry if she so wishes. A widower is also free to marry if he so wishes. In fact, the second marriage where a partner marries again after losing the first wife or husband should have the same status as the first wedding ceremony. In a nutshell, such a marriage still unifies the souls of the two consenting soul mates.
Conversion To Other Religions
From the onset, Sikhism doesn’t prohibit marriage between a Sikh and a non-Sikh. Note, though, that such a marriage cannot be solemnized in a Gurdwara. Additionally, it cannot be accorded the Anand Sanskar privileges.
This explains why many Sikhs often insist on conversion to Sikhism before committing into a serious relationship with a non-Sikh. But what exactly happens where a party in a Sikh marriage chooses to convert to another religion? Does such a conversion warrant a divorce?
Sikhism appears to be strict when it comes to marriage issues between a Sikh and a non-Sikh. The general view amongst Sikh priests is that if a party is unwilling to convert to Sikhism, then there should be no marriage in the first place. This stand changes, though, especially in the West, where religion sometimes takes a backseat in divorce matters. But that’s not all.
The truth is, change of religion shouldn’t affect a Sikh marriage. This has a lot to do with the fact that Sikhism detests the idea of segregation. It forbids any form of prejudice in the shape of caste and race. Marriage appears to be where the buck stops until and unless a party decides out of their own accord to convert to Sikhism.
Still, this doesn’t mean in a strict sense that a Sikh should divorce a non-Sikh on account of conversion. It follows then that in such circumstances, the Sangat and the Pang Pyaare’s advice will have the last word.
Sex is sacred in Sikhism. Only married couples are allowed to enjoy it. It doesn’t end there. Once a Sikh is married, they cannot engage in sexual intercourse outside the confines of marriage. But what happens where a partner is caught cheating or has made a habit of repeatedly cheating?
Traditionally, issues like infidelity were uncommon. Friends and family would intervene, as already mentioned. That’s not the case anymore. Even in conservative Sikh societies, infidelity warrants separation. Divorce may come in later, where the guilty partner doesn’t change.
It is also essential to note that modern challenges contribute to new religious proclamations. HIV/AIDs wasn’t a challenge decades ago. Today, it stands out as one of the most devastating diseases in the world. This presents a unique challenge in the Sikh marriage set up.
What becomes of a Sikh wife who suddenly realizes her husband is HIV positive and vice versa? Such a marriage will most likely end in divorce, even in extremely conservative Sikh societies.
Cruelty is a good ground for one to petition for divorce. But that’s only as far as civil divorce is concerned. In Sikhism, cruelty doesn’t outright warrant divorce. There are several reasons why this is the case.
Sikhs are encouraged to respect each other. A Sikh man must treat his wife and children with a high level of respect. This means issues like wife battering and chastising are alien in Sikhism.
They are forbidden. But while that is the case, domestic violence is rampant amongst Sikhs. So, what happens to a domestic violence victim who cites cruelty and other ills as a ground for divorce?
Sangat and Panj Pyaare hear cases of fighting couples. They then decide on the merits of a case whether the aggrieved party is free to consider divorce. In many cases, Sangat and Panj Pyaare delegations discourage divorce.
They encourage mediation and reconciliation as a way of bringing conflicting parties. There are instances, though, where extreme cruelty in the shape of continuous domestic violence often forces Sangat and Panj Pyaare councils to recommend divorce.
Modern Worldviews Vs. Conservative Sikhism
Modernism and Sikhism appear to contrast each other. Divorce is an excellent example of where the two aspects differ. Notably, modernism seems to have the upper hand over strict Sikhism. There is also the fact modernism appears to embrace logic far much better and faster than Sikhism.
Take cruelty in marriage, for example. Strict Sikhism would discourage outright divorce based on cruelty without first exploring mediation and reconciliation options. That’s not the case, though, when it comes to modern logic where divorce would appear as the only reasonable option.
Then there is polygamy. Many societies today shun the idea of polygamy. Sikh critics argue though that Sikhism discourages polygamy while its own history is replete with Gurus, who were polygamous.
Guru Gobind Singh and Guru Har Rai were all polygamous. Sikh King Maharaja Ranjit Singh was also polygamous. Notably, polygamy was common in Sikhism until the 1950s, when it was finally abolished.
So, what happens when a Sikh finally decides to divorce? Can they re-marry while the divorced husband is still alive? Sikhs in the conservative East discourage such decisions. Their counterparts in the Western part of the world seem to embrace their idea. Again, the Anand Karaj issue crops up to justify the conservative view.
Proponents of conservative Sikhism argue that the union of souls goes on even in the afterlife. Others argue that the union ends after one partner departs before the other and decides to re-marry. The latter view isn’t popular for several reasons. The most common reason has a lot to do with the fact that Sikhs believe a person’s fate is written on their foreheads the moment they’re born.
Fate, in this case, includes all aspects of one’s life, including divorce. So, if your fate had a specific person in it for purposes of marriage, you have to get married to that person for good.
Modernism allows one to marry after divorce. Sikhism isn’t so clear on this. It may be easy to sum up, the issue as something that boils down to an individual’s choice. A closer look reveals otherwise. As already stated, Eastern conservative views sharply contrast with liberal western views on pertinent issues like divorce.
As such, it is safe to conclude that where one decides to reside plays a big role when it comes to some decisions like remarriage and divorce. A Sikh living in India where Sikhism dictates all aspects of life would most likely be stigmatized. That may not be the case for a Sikh living in Berlin or London.
A Sikh must marry. That’s the bottom line. Strangely though, there are cases of many Sikhs today who live celibate lives. Note that unlike many other religions where priests are often encouraged to remain celibate, Sikhism still insists on marriage even for priests.
The only difference when it comes to the marriage amongst Sikh priests is the fact a Sikh can and should only marry a fellow priestess.
So, given that celibacy doesn’t’ augur well with Sikhism, what becomes of a divorced priest or priestess? Can they still re-marry? Divorce is uncommon amongst Sikh priests, to begin with. Even in instances where it happens, a Sikh priest or priestess can’t re-marry after divorcing. As strange as it may sounds, celibacy remains the new norm for the divorced priest or priestess.
Sikhism stands out when it comes to a woman’s independence and her quest to determine and choose her path. It encourages men to respect women. Does this independence, though, give room to a woman making up her mind on when to divorce or re-marry? Sadly, no!
Marriage in Sikhism must be between two consenting adults. As long as two people love each other and have the blessings of their parents, then they are free to marry. The same case applies to divorce in Sikhism. Where two partners decide to part ways, then they may separate for a while, but not entirely.
That’s because divorce in a strict sense isn’t common in Sikhism. Once separated, the couple can choose to reconcile. This is quickly changing now in the wake of feminism, where women are encouraged to choose their own paths.
So, what becomes of a separated or divorced woman? Traditionally, differences in marriage would call for automatic separation, where the bride would have to visit her in-laws for a while. She would then air out her grievances mostly to her mother in law and other female members of the family.
Her husband would be summoned to give his side of the case before a verdict would be given. That was and still is the case in many parts of India, where Sikhism is widespread.
A divorced woman didn’t have much of choice in traditional Sikh societies. Her best recourse would be to go back to her parent’s home. In some cases, depending on how bad her husband was, she would be accepted back and ties whether her husband would be severed. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the reality for many women.
Most would be encouraged to go back to their matrimonial homes and try to fix their differences. This is the sad reality even today in some places. It is also the reason why many Sikh women who divorce choose not to go back to their homes.
Arranged marriages were common many years ago in Sikhism. The practice is still somewhat common today. Strangely, divorce was an alien concept in arranged marriages.
This had a lot to do with the fact that arranged married were meant to strengthen ties between two families that enjoyed the friendship. Divorce in such unions was, therefore, easy to resolve. As time went by, though, arranged marriages became scarce.
Divorce and remarriage were traditionally alien concepts in Sikhism. So much has changed, though. Divorce is now a fairly common thing in Sikhism. Remarriage, on the other hand, is always and has always been an option where a person gets widowed.
Either way, it is safe to conclude that Sikhism is now alive to the many realities of the ever-changing world. It is evolving to accommodate aspects that would initially be considered ‘strange.’