VAK from Sanskrit vaka meaning sounding, speaking; a text, recitation or formula or vakya meaning speech, saying, statement, declaration, a sentence or period. This term has a special connotation in the Sikh system. In Sikh terminology, Vak means the command or lesson or hukam read from the Guru Granth Sahib.
Vak laina or hukam laina (obtaining or receiving the Guru’s word or command) is for the Sikhs tantamount to having a darshan or audience of the Guru Granth Sahib, ever-present Guru for them. It is an act of seeking the counsel or instruction of the Guru who ‘speaks’ through the vak or hymn recited aloud. Customarily, vak or hukam is recited in sangat by an officiant after the installation or opening of the Guru Granth Sahib in the morning and every time after ardas or supplicatory prayer is said at the end of the service. Vak or hukam may be read individually by the seeker from the Holy Book in the gurdwara or in his own home or he may request the granthi (officiant) or any one else present to read it out for him.
The Sikh Rehit Maryada or the code governing Sikh belief and practice published by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, statutorily elected religious body representative of the entire Sikh community, lays down the following procedure under the head hukam laina:
- (a) To bow before the Guru Granth Sahib, respectfully to attend the sangat which truly represents the Guru, and to recite or listen to vak amounts to having the darshan or sight of the True Guru. To have a sight of the Guru Granth Sahib by uncovering it and then not to read the vak is manmat or self-willed transgression.
- (b) During the congregation, only one thing should take place at a time — kirtan, discourse or scripture-reading.
- (c) During the congregation, only a Sikh (man or woman) is entitled to sit in attendance of the Guru Granth Sahib.
- (d) While any one, Sikh or non-Sikh, may read the Scripture for himself, only a Sikh should read it aloud for the sangat.
- (e) For obtaining vak, the hymn at the top of the left hand page of Guru Granth Sahib opened at random should be read out from the beginning. If the beginning is at the preceding page, the leaf may be turned back one page. A complete hymn should be read ending with the line where usually the name Nanak appears.
- (f) Hukam should also be picked from the holy book at the end to mark the close of the ceremony.
Vak thus recited in slow rhythm and with correct intonation makes impact on the listeners. It is taken to be the Guru’s command for the day. Historically, there have been instances when theological or even mundane disputes have been settled by having recourse to vak. For example, on 12 October 1920, when the priests of the Harimandar Sahib refused to accept the sacrament (karah prasad) brought by a group of the so-called low-castes, it was agreed to obtain the Guru’s verdict. The priests agreed. As the custom goes, the Guru Granth Sahib was opened at random and the words read impromptu went unambiguously in favour of the reformers. This was accepted without argument and without question. Such reliance on vak arises from the belief of the devotees that the bani of Guru Granth Sahib is revelation enjoying Divine sanction.
1. Sikh Rahit Maryada. Amritsar, n.d
2. Cole, W. Owen, The Guru is Sikhism. London, 1982
Above adapted from article By P. S. Sambhi