Worship, Ceremonies & Institutions

Describe the Sikh Gurdwara

A Sikh place of worship is called a ‘Gurdwara’, which is open to visitors, irrespective of their colour, faith, gender or background. The common translation of the term as temple is not satisfactory, as Sikhism possesses no sacrificial symbolism. Sikhs have neither idols nor altars in their holy places. They have no sacraments and no priestly order. A Gurdwara is marked by a tall flag-pole – Nishan Sahib – covered with cloth and with a yellow flag bearing the Sikh Insignia that is situated outside the Gurdwara.

The essential feature of a Gurdwara is the presiding presence in it of the Sikh Sacred Scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, the living Guru of the Sikhs and a free-community kitchen. Gurdwara literally means door (home) of the Guru. Guru Granth Sahib Ji is kept in a central place on a raised platform and under a canopy. A Sikh volunteer sits behind holding a “Chaur Sahib” (made from horse hair attached to a wooden or steel handle), which he or she waves from time to time in token of respect for “The Word of God” contained in the Sacred Scripture. The congregation sit on a carpet, men on one side and women on the other. They listen to the religious prayers, discourse and explanation of the sacred hymns, singing of the sacred hymns by musicians or lectures delivered by knowledgeable preachers.

Historical Background
Guru Nanak started the first Sikh assembly at Kartarpur in 1521. This was the beginning of a religious congregation called Dharamsala (place or seat of religion). In the mornings and the evenings the followers of Guru Nanak formed a Sangat (congregation) and hymns were sung by the Guru and Bhai Mardana Ji often in chorus with all present. Later on, such sessions were held in the homes of the Guru’s followers. The second Guru, Guru Angad, added another activity to the routine of work by teaching Panjabi in the Gurmukhi script. This was called the Paatthsala. Here children gathered, to learn the script of the Guru’s hymns. Guru Amardas, the third Guru, extended the free kitchen. The Fourth Guru established an ideal centre for work at Amritsar, while the Fifth Guru built the Harminder Sahib later (known as the “Golden Temple”). Almost all the Gurus set up centres wherever they went or whenever they acquired a group of followers. These centers were called Gurdwaras. The most important Sikh centers that hold seats of authority are the Sri Akaal Takhat Amritsar, Kesgarh Sahib at Anandpur, Patna Sahib, Hazoor Sahib at Nander and Damdama Sahib at Sabo Ki Talwandi.

Main Functions & Activities
The main function of the Gurdwara is to provide Sikhs with a meeting-place for congregational worship through ‘Keertan’, the collective singing of God’s praise through the Shabads (Sacred Hymns) in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, and seeking support and guidance from the Guru. The Gurdwara also serves as a community centre, a school, a guest house for pilgrims, and a base for local charitable activities. Since the Sikh faith does not have an ordained clergy, public worship can be lead by any competent initiated male or female Sikh.

An essential part of any Gurdwara is the ‘Langar’ (free kitchen). The Guru designed an institution in which all people would sit on the floor together, as equals, to eat the same simple food. It is here that all people high or low, rich or poor, male or female, all sit together to share and enjoy the food together, expressing the ideals of equality, sharing, and the oneness of humanity.

The Gurdwara is also used for performing the birth, marriage and death ceremonies of Sikhs. Sikh festivals like Diwali (Bandi Chhor Diwas), Vaisakhi and Gurpurbs are celebrated in all Gurdwaras. Then the sessions are long and well attended. Special lectures are arranged to explain to the audience the significance of each occasion or historical event. Some big Gurdwaras have a library and reading room, a Sikh Museum and school. Welfare projects like widow-homes, orphanages, dispensaries or clinics are run by many historical Gurdwaras in India. A Gurdwara is managed by a committee elected from the congregation, according to its registered Constitution.