Aarti Aarta is a form of worship which is performed by Sikhs, by standing in front of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji with incense, candles and conch shells. This type of worship has been happening since the time of the Gurus. This worship fixates on the Sargun (physical) form of the Guru, in order for a Sikh to understand the Nirgun (formless/spirit) form of the Guru we must first understand the Sargun (physical). An example of this would be in physically (Sargun) reading the Bani of Guru Granth Sahib Ji would we understand the formless spirit (Nirgun) of the Guru. Therefore by physical singing Aarti Aarta by standing and using incense and blowing conch shell we will have a greater respect for the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji as the living Guru of the Sikhs.
The Aarti Aarta is a praise to god and his power (Shakti), hence the name Aarti which is feminine and Aarta which is masculine. The Bani itself was composed by warrior saints such as Bhai Mani Singh Ji and Akali Baba Deep Singh ji with Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s approval. All of the verses sung in Aarti Aarta are called Mangla Shabad which fixate doing appraisal and devotion of god. Within Aarti Aarta there is Bani (prayers) from all three of the Sikh Granths (Holy Scriptures) which further concludes that there is a combination of Sant-Sipahi (saint-soldier). This is because the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji fixates on Bhagti (Devotion of God) and the other two Granths, the Sri Dasam Guru Granth Sahib Ji and Sri Sarbaloh Guru Granth Sahib Ji fixate on Shakti (divine power).
Aarti is recited as an appraisal to God and his Shakti when good overcame evil. This can be seen when Sri Sarbloh Avatar saved Dharma (righteousness) from the clutches of the demons. After the Dharma was saved, Aarti was done to Sri Sarbloh Avatar as appraisal by the Devte (demi-Gods and Goddesses). This can also be seen when Narsingh Avatar came to save Prehlaad who worshiped god other than his father Harnakash, who said that he was the only divine being and everyone should worship him instead of God. When Harnakash was killed by Narsingh Avatar and Prehlaad was saved, all the Devi Devte did Aarti to Narsingh Avatar for saving Dharma. The story of Prehlaad and Narsingh Avatar show relationship between god and his devotes. By god never leaving their side and always protecting them, this can be seen in the first and second verse of Rehiras Sahib:
ਹਰਿ ਜੁਗੁ ਜੁਗੁ ਭਗਤ ਉਪਾਇਆ ਪੈਜ ਰਖਦਾ ਆਇਆ ਰਾਮ ਰਾਜੇ
Har Jug Jug Bhagat Upaaiya Pejh Rakhda Raam Rajay
In each and every age, He creates His devotees and preserves their honor, O Lord King.
ਹਰਣਾਖਸੁ ਦੁਸਟੁ ਹਰਿ ਮਾਰਿਆ ਪ੍ਰਹਲਾਦੁ ਤਰਾਇਆ
Harnaakash Dusht Har Maaria Prehalad Taraaia
The Lord killed the wicked Harnaakhash, and saved Prahlaad.
As a result, Aarti is recited as an appraisal to Gods Shakti (power), hence the Mangla Shabads that are used in Aarti. The blowing of conch shell in Aarti Aarta represents the soul’s desperation to become one with God again, because in Sikh belief, the Atma (soul) is part of the Paramatma (divine soul of Vaheguru) and the Paramatma is part of the Atma, therefore all souls are part of Vaheguru, Just as the conch shell is taken out of the water and desires to go back. Conch shells are also blown at battle cries (Jakara) as the conch shell is an ancient battlefield instrument that invokes the warrior-spirit.
However, a short Aarti is also read. This is mainly read when time is restricted; this can also be said about Sri Anand Sahib. However in recent times Sikhs have become lazy in the prayers by shortening daily prayers and even going to the extent of to question the authenticity of them. It is very important that as Sikhs of the Guru that we maintain the old Maryada (Code of Conduct) and recite the longer versions of Gurbani so we attain the full bliss of reading them.
A question raised by some Sikhs:
“In the first verse in Aarti-Aarta, Satguru Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji Maharaj states “The universe is the plate and the sun and moon are the lamps and the stars in the constellations are the pearls”, so if the universe is the plate and the suns and moons are the lamps then why must we need to use a plate and candle in Aarti Aarta when Vaheguru has already made them in space?”
Those Sikhs only question the Aarti plate with candles as it looks like Hindu worship, however if that is the case, then Sikhs should stop using the Royal Whisk (Chaur Sahib) to fan the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji because in the second verse of Aarti Guru Ji states:
ਧੂਪੁ ਮਲਆਨਲੋ ਪਵਣੁ ਚਵਰੋ ਕਰੇ ਸਗਲ ਬਨਰਾਇ ਫੂਲੰਤ ਜੋਤੀ ॥੧॥
Dhoop Malaanalo Pavan Chavaro Karai Sagal Banrai Foolant Joti
The fragrance of sandalwood in the air is the temple incense, and the wind is the fan. All the plants of the world are the altar flowers in offering to You, O Luminous Lord. ||1||
If this is the case, then what is the need for the Royal Whisk (Chaur Sahib) when the wind is the lord’s fan. The reason for both is that in these to verses the Guru referring to the Nirgun (formless spirit) of God. Also Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is the living Guru of the Sikh and should be treated like a king, in the ancient days a kings was fanned by a Royal Whisk to show his status.
In the same way Aarti with candle and incense were used to pray to the Hindu gods and goddesses that represented a certain power of god, out of respect by their devotees. Therefore if the ten Gurus were the light of god himself on this world then what better way to show respect to gurus and their teaching by doing Aarti Aarta with candle and incense to the 11th light of the ten Gurus which is Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji Maharaaj.