Modern and Youth Issues

What is the Sikh attitude to divorce?

Sikhi favours family life and monogamy.

ਏਕਾ ਨਾਰੀ ਜਤੀ ਹੋਇ ਪਰ ਨਾਰੀ ਧੀ ਭੈਣ ਵਖਾਣੈ ॥
“Be faithful to your ‘one wife’, see others as your daughters and sisters, (for women you must be faithful to one husband and see others as your sons and brothers)”
(Bhai Gurdaas Ji, Vaar 6: Pauri 8.)

Marriage is highly regarded and both man and woman must respect one another as they join together to share their spiritual path and goal in life. The ideal family is one where there is mutual love and respect between the husband and the wife and their children and grandchildren if any. The Anand Marriage Act, 1909, gave a wife status equal to that of her husband. The marriage establishes a permanent relationship between the partners and there is no provision for a divorce under this Act, for the Sikh marriage (Anand Karaj) is a sacrament and not a civil contract.

The Sikh Rehat Maryada document published by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee states:

ਟ) ਆਮ ਹਾਲਤਾਂ ਵਿਚ ਸਿੱਖ ਨੂੰ ਇਕ ਇਸਤਰੀ ਦੇ ਹੁੰਦਿਆਂ ਦੂਜਾ ਵਿਆਹ ਨਹੀਂ ਕਰਨਾ ਚਾਹੀਏ
p. In normal circumstances, no Sikh should marry a second wife if the first wife is alive.

In the book 'Sikh Rehat Maryada: History, Guiding Principles and a Contextual Translation' (2020) authored by Bhai Manvir Singh UK, he provides further information about the above clause.  Bhai Manvir Singh writes (p. 180):

Although the concept of marital ‘divorce’ is not mentioned in the Sikh Rehat Maryada document or any Sikh scriptural source, the clause “in normal circumstances…” (“ਆਮ ਹਾਲਤਾਂ ਵਿਚ…”), which was added in the 1945 edition, suggests that in exceptional circumstances a Sikh can remarry whilst their initial spouse is still alive.

Bhai Manvir Singh explains that in accordance to Sikh tradition, if there is marital disharmony there are certain protocols that a Sikh would be expected to follow. This would involve the Gur-Sangat or the Panj Piaare (i.e, five selected religiously high-caliber Sikhs representing the Guru in the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji). In accordance with the 1936 edition of the Sikh Rehat Maryada, Gur-Sangat has been defined as the following:

‘Gur-Sangat’:  Where there are even a small number of Sikhs they will form a ‘Gur-Sangat’. The more people there are, the better it is. Where there are at least five tyaar-bar-tyaar (fully disciplined) Amritdharis in the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji it is called ‘Gur-Sangat’
(SRM: Chapter 11, Article 18)

Bhai Manvir Singh Khalsa (p. 180) writes:

If there is marital disharmony, the Sangat should intervene and provide guidance in resolving any issues in accordance with Gurmat. Secondly, the Panj Piaare can be asked to help resolve the situation. Any Gurmat based resolution given by the Panj Piaare should be honoured by both parties involved. In some very extreme, abnormal or rare circumstances of marital breakdown, the Gur-Sangat or the Panj Piaare can give permission to someone to re-marry; however, even then there is no religious ceremony or process for divorce as divorce is a civil matter.

Although there is no specific official ruling on divorce, on 1st March 2005, the then Akal Takhat Jathedar, mentioned divorce and re-marriage. On 3rd March 2005, Varinder Walia of the Tribune newspaper, reported:

The charges of polygamy put Giani Iqbal Singh, Jathedar [head-priest], Patna Sahib, in a fix yesterday when the Jathedar, Akal Takht, Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti, announced that without divorce, second marriage by a Sikh is violation of the 'Sikh rehat maryada,' approved by the S.G.P.C. and [the] Akal Takht.

In some very extreme, abnormal, or rare circumstances of marital breakdown the Gur-Sangat or Panj Piaare give would allow permanent separation and re-marriage. However, the couple would have to obtain a divorce under the Civil law of the land. In the olden times, if the marriage broke down in an extreme circumstance, the woman would leave her husband and go and stay with her parents. Nowadays, the partners may live separately, or apply for a civil divorce. However, the Panj Piaare, elder Gursikhs or Sangat should be consulted. Marriage should not be considered something that can be formed and broken at one's own individual will. It is a commitment made in front of God and to be relieved of that commitment to the other person some very extenuating circumstances must be present and sanctioned by the Guru in the form of the Gur-Sangat, or Panj Piaare.

If one gets to get remarried, they can get remarried with the Anand Kaaraj ceremony:

ਙ) ਪੁਨਰ ਵਿਆਹ ਦੀ ਵੀ ਇਹੋ ਰੀਤ ਹੈ, ਜੋ ‘ਆਨੰਦ’ ਲਈ ਉਤੇ ਦੱਸੀ ਹੈ |
o. Remarriage may be solemnized in the same manner as the Anand marriage.
(SRM: Chapter 11, Article 18)




S.G.P.C., Sikh Reht Maryada (1936 edition). Amritsar: Dharam Parchar Committee.

S.G.P.C., Sikh Reht Maryada (English), Amritsar: Dharam Parchar Committee. 2004.

S.G.P.C., Sikh Reht Maryada. Amritsar: Dharam Parchar Committee. 2006.

Bhai Manvir Singh (2020). The Sikh Rehat Maryada: History, Guiding Principles & a Contextual Translation. UK: Namastwang Publishers.