Gurupurabs are the birthdays of the first and the last gurus and these are celebrated with devotion and dedication. It is also known as ` Guru Nanak Jayanti `, the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak who founded the Sikh faith. Nanak received a traditional Hindu education and was exposed to the basic doctrine of Islam in his childhood. He began associating with learned men early in his life, and under their influence started composing and singing hymns. Always secular in his outlook, he even organized a canteen where Muslims and Hindus of all castes could come and eat together. It is believed that he had a vision from god, directing him to preach to mankind.
The main celebrations for the Gurunanak Jayanti are mostly religious. For two days and nights, preceding the festival, there is Akhand Path. The Akhand Path is the continuous reading of `Granth Sahib` from beginning to end. The Akhand Path culminates on the day of the Guru Purab and the holy book is then taken out in a grand procession. It is beautifully decorated with flowers and carried on a float. Children participate in the procession and march to the tune of local band playing religious hymns. Five men walk in front of the `Granth` with drawn out swords in memory of Panj Pyare of Guru Gobind Singh. At the head of the procession is the Nishan Saheb or the Sikh flag.
In Amritsar, Sikh holy city, celebrations begin with the Golden Temple - the holiest of Sikh shrines - being beautifully decorated with lights. A large procession (Nagarkirtan) is organised one day before the birthday and is led by the Panj Pyare (Five beloved ones). The Palki (Palanquin) of Shri Guru Granth Sahib is followed by groups of kirtani Jatha, various school bands and students, eminent citizens, Gatka Parties (displaying mock-battle with the traditional weapons), and devotees sing hymns from Guru Granth Sahib in chorus. The path of the nagarkirtan is decorated with flags, flowers; religious posters decorated gates and banners depicting various aspects of Sikhism. Houses and gurudwaras are lit up to add to the festivities.
On the Gurpurab day, the Divan begins early in morning at about 4 or 5 a.m. with the singing of Asa-di-var and hymns from Guru Granth Sahib. Sometimes katha, religious and Sikh Historical lectures and recitation of poems in praise of the Guru follow it. Sikhs visit gurudwaras where special programmes are arranged and (religious songs) sung. Kirtan-Darbars and Amrit Sanchar ceremonies are also held in the Gurdwara hall. After the Ardas and distribution of Karah Parshad (sweet pudding) the Langar is served to one and all and there is kirtan till late in the night.
The langar consists of sweets and community lunches that are offered to everyone irrespective of religious faith. Even the Prabhat Pheris, the early morning religious processions start three weeks before the festival. These processions go around the localities singing shabads (hymns). Here, even the devotees offer sweets and tea when the procession passes by their homes. Such Gurupurabs mark the culmination of the Prabhat Pheris. On the martyrdom of Guru Arjun Dev, sweetened milk is offered to the thirsty passers-by to commemorate the death of the Guru.