A gurdwara meaning the gateway to the guru, is the place of worship for Sikhs, however, people of all faiths are welcomed in the Sikh Gurdwara. The gurdwara has a Darbar Sahib where the Guru Granth Sahib is seen and a Langar where people can eat free food served by the Sikh community. A gurdwara may also have a library, nursery, and classroom. A gurdwara can be identified from a distance by tall flagpoles bearing the Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag.
The first gurdwara was built in Kartarpur, on the banks of Ravi River in the Punjab region by the first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji in the year 1521. It now lies in the Narowal District of west Punjab (Pakistan). The worship centres were built as a place where Sikhs could gather to hear the guru give spiritual discourse and sing religious hymns in the praise of Waheguru. As the Sikh population continued to grow, Guru Hargobind, the sixth Sikh guru, introduced the word ‘gurdwara’.
The etymology of the term ‘Gurdwara’ is from the words ‘gur’ (a reference to the Sikh Gurus) and ‘dwara’ (gateway in Gurmukhi), together meaning ‘the gateway through which the guru could be reached’. Thereafter, all Sikh places of worship came to be known as gurdwaras.
Description of a Gurudwara
Any place where the Guru Granth Sahib is installed and treated with due respect according to Sikh Rehat Maryada (the Sikh code of conduct and convention) can be referred to as a gurdwara, whether it is a room in one’s own house or a separate building. The main functions that are carried out in all public gurdwaras on a daily basis include:
- Shabad Kirtan: which is the singing of hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib. Strictly speaking only Shabads from Guru Granth Sahib,Dasam Granth and the compositions of Bhai Gurdas and Bhai Nand Lal, can be performed within a gurdwara. It is improper to sing hymns to rhythmic folk tunes or popular film tunes.
- Paath: which is religious discourse and reading of Gurbani from the Guru Granth Sahib, with its explanations. Broadly here are two types of Paath: Akhand Paath andSadharan Paath.
- Sangat and Pangat: providing a free community kitchen as a langar for all visitors, regardless of religious, regional, cultural, racial, caste, or class affiliations.
A typical layout for the Darbar Sahib, inside a Gurdwara. Men and women usually sit on separate sides of the hall.
Along with these functions, the gurdwaras around the world serve the Sikh community in many other ways including acting as libraries of Sikh literature and schools to teach children Gurmukhi (Sikh script),housing the Sikh scriptures and organizing charitable work in the wider community on behalf of Sikhs.
There are no idols, statues, or religious pictures in a gurdwara. The essential feature of a gurdwara is the presence of the holy book and the eternal Sikh Guru, the Guru Granth Sahib.The Sikhs hold high respect for the teachings and commandments laid down in the Guru Granth Sahib.
A gurdwara has a darbar (main) hall, a free community kitchen called a langar, and some other facilities. A gurdwara is identified by tall flag-poles bearing the Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag. Many of the historical gurdwaras associated with the lives of the Sikh Gurus have a sarovar (eco-friendly pool) attached for bathing.
The Sikh marriage ceremony,called Anand Karaj is performed inside a gurdwara. Sikhs also perform some of the rites of their death ceremony (Antam Sanskar) within the gurdwara. It is also the main focal point of most of the important Sikh Festivals, with the exception of Nagar Kirtan, which is a Sikh processional singing of holy hymns throughout a community. Such processions do begin and conclude at a gurdwara.
Many gurdwaras are designed to seat men on one side and women on the other, although designs vary, and the divided seating is far from mandatory. They do not generally sit together but on separate sides of the room, both at an equal distance from the Guru Granth Sahib, as a sign of equality. Worshippers are offered Karah Parshad (sweet flour and ghee-based food offered as prashad) in the worship hall, which is usually given into cupped hands by a sewadar (gurdwara volunteer).
In the langar room, food is cooked and served by the volunteers in the community. Only vegetarian food is served in the langar hall, to suit the visitors from different backgrounds so that no person may be offended. All people belonging to different faiths sit together to share a common meal, regardless of any dietary restrictions. The main philosophy behind the Langar is two-fold : to provide training to engage in Seva and an opportunity to serve people from all walks of life and to help banish all distinctions between high and low or rich and poor.
Unlike the places of worship in some other religious systems, gurdwara buildings do not have to conform to any set architectural design. The only established requirements are: the installation of the Guru Granth Sahib, under a canopy or in a canopied seat, usually on a platform higher than the specific floor on which the devotees sit, and a tall Sikh pennant flag atop the building.
Lately, more and more gurdwaras have been having buildings imitating more or less the Harimandir Sahib pattern, a synthesis of Indo-Persian and Sikh architecture. Most of them have square halls, stand on a higher plinth, have entrances on all four sides, and have square or octagonal domed sanctums usually in the middle. During recent decades, to meet the requirements of larger gatherings, bigger and better ventilated assembly halls, with the sanctum at one end, have become accepted style. The location of the sanctum, more often than not, is such as to allow space for circumambulation. Sometimes, to augment the space, verandahs are built to skirt the hall. A popular model for the dome is the ribbed lotus, topped by an ornamental pinnacle. Arched copings, kiosks and solid domelets are used for exterior decorations.
Meditating on the Guru Granth Sahib
Shabad Kirtan is performed daily in Gurdwara’s around the world by Sikh Ragis.
It is the duty of all Sikhs to engage in personal and communal meditation, Kirtan and the study of the holy Scriptures. Meditating and understanding the meaning of texts from the Guru Granth Sahib is important for the proper moral and spiritual development of a Sikh. One must study Gurmukhi script and be able to read Gurbani to understand the meaning of the text. A Sikh has to revert to the Guru Granth Sahib for the all spiritual guidance in ones life.
It is believed that a Sikh is more easily and deeply engrossed by Gurbani when engaged in congregational gatherings. For this reason, it is necessary for a Sikh to visit gurdwara. On joining the holy congregation, Sikhs should take part and obtain the benefit from the combined study of the holy scriptures. No one is to be barred from entering a gurdwara regardless of their religious or regional background and are welcomed in.
Voluntary service (Seva)
Seva is an important and prominent part of the Sikh religion. Dasvand forms a central part of Sikh belief (of Vand Chhako) and literally means donating ten percent of one’s harvest, both financial and in the form of time and service such as seva to the gurdwara and anywhere where help is needed. All Sikhs therefore get involved in this communal service whenever an opportunity arises. This in its simple forms can be: sweeping and washing the floors of the gurdwara, serving water and food (Langar) to or fanning the congregation, offering provisions or preparing food and doing other ‘house keeping’ duties.
Communal life and other matters
Sikhism offers strong support for a healthy communal life, and a Sikh must undertake to support all worthy projects which would benefit the larger community and promote Sikh principles. Importance is given to Inter-faith dialogue, support for the poor and weak; better community understanding and co-operation