GURDWARA (the Sikh place of worship)
Since the time of Guru Nanak Sahib, where there were even a couple of Sikhs, they used to gather almost every day. Such gatherings were held in the houses of the Sikhs. With the increase in the number of the Sikhs, Dharmsalas (congregation centres) were established by the Sikhs. The first Sikh centre was set up by Guru Nanak Sahib at Kartarpur (Pakistan). It was followed by Khadur Sahib, Goindwal Sahib, Guru Da Chakk (Amritsar), Tarn Taran, Kartarpur (Jullundur district), Keeratpur Sahib, Chakk Nanaki, Anandpur Sahib, Paonta Sahib etc. During the end of the eighteenth century the Sikhs shrines began to be known as Gurdwaras.

Now, Gurdwaras have been established in each and every village, town and city of the Punjab. Even in the other parts of the world, wherever the Sikhs live, they have set up Gurdwaras.

Every Gurdwara, besides daily religious worship, is expected to provide food and lodging to the visitors/travelers. Hence, a Saran (inn /hostel) is usually attached to most of the Gurdwaras. In the foreign countries a school to teach Punjabi language, Gurmukhi script and Sikh history is also a part of most of the Gurdwaras.

It is utterly wrong to use the term TEMPLE for a Gurdwara. A Gurdwara is a Gurdwara, a Sikh shrine and not a temple. A temple is a place where statues are worshipped. Sikhism strictly forbids worship of a statue or a picture of a deity. Similarly, Darbar Sahib Amritsar is not Golden Temple, and, Gurdwara is not a Sikh church or Sikh mosque.

The term "Gurdwara" is a combination of two words: Guru (the Enlightener) and "dwara" (literally meaning door but here it denotes the abode). Hence, Gurdwara is the "abode of Guru Sahib." Gurdwara is the hub of the Sikh mosaic. A Sikh is supposed to join congregation in the Gurdwara as frequently as possible. Gurdwara is not an ordinary place of worship. It is a center of spiritual, social and educational activities.

Usually there are four parts of the complex of a Gurdwara: the main hall for worship, Langar (kitchen), Saran/Serai (inn i.e. residential area) and the school (for teaching of Punjabi language, Gurmukhi script and the history and philosophy of the Sikh religion). All the major or big Gurdwaras have all these facilities but, in small Gurdwaras, one or more of these facilitie The central and the pivotal object in a Gurdwara is Guru Granth Sahib (the Scriptures). Guru Granth Sahib is wrapped in fine rumalas (clothes). There must be a Chanani (canopy) over Guru Granth Sahib. A Chaur (it is wrong to call it fly-whisker) must be placed near Guru Granth Sahib. Both, the Chanani and Chaur are symbols of royalty and their presence is not functional. When Guru Granth Sahib is brought inside the hall (or room), all those present there must stand up with bowed hands. The burning of earthen lamps with Ghee/Ghio (with a view of holy-ness of lamps); the ringing of bells and clapping etc. in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib, are the acts against the Sikh ideology. The use of lamps for necessary light is permitted].

Nishan Sahib:- On the top of the building and/or in front of a Gurdwara a Nishan Sahib (the Sikh national flag) is erected. Its colour is Kesari (saffron) and the colour of the cloth for wrapping the flag-pole, a cloth, is usually light blue. According to earlier sources, the colour of the Sikh flag, at the time of Guru Gobind Singh Sahib, was blue. Saffron/yellow colour had been introduced during Maharaja Ranjit Singh's times. Nowadays, in several Gurdwaras, even the colour of the clothes wrapped on the flag-pole of the flag too, is saffron. There is no fixed length of the flag but it must be taller than the building of the Gurdwara. An insignia Khanda is surmounted on the top of the flag. This Khanda represents the concept of the one-ness of Miri (temporal) and Piri (transcendental) in the Sikh ideology.

A Nagaara (large drum) must always be kept in a Gurdwara and should be sounded at appropriate times. Nagara is an essential article of soveriegnty of the Sikh nation.

Services at Gurdwara:- Generally, a Gurdwara remains open to every visitor throughout the day. The services begin before sunrise with the opening of Guru Granth Sahib and making an Ardas (prayer). After this Hukam (order from Guru Granth Sahib) is read. It is followed by Ãsã Di Vãr (a hymn written by Guru Nanak Sahib) etc. For the rest of the day Keertan (singing of hymns) is performed. In a Gurdwara, only hymns from Guru Granth Sahib or the verses written by Bhai Gurdas and Bhai Nand Lal can be sung. In some Gurdwaras, there are noon and after-noon sessions too. In these sessions, exposition of Guru Granth Sahib is performed and/or the Sikh history is explained. In the evenings Guru Granth Sahib is closed (unless continuous uninterrupted recitation of Guru Granth Sahib is going on) after Rahirãs, Keertan, Ardãs and Sohilã. Service(s) of Guru Granth Sahib can be performed by men and women alike.

No pictures of any sort can be hung in the main congregation hall of a Gurdwara. In the library, corridors, Langar-hall, office etc. the pictures of the Gurdwaras and the Sikh martyrs can be hung. As there is no real picture of Guru Sahib, it is blasphemous to hang the pictures of the models. It is against the Sikh ideology to bow before the pictures of these models or even before the pictures of any sort. The Sikhs can not bow even before the monumental platforms erected in the memory of Guru Sahib or the Sikh martyrs.

Priest in Sikhism:- There is no priestly class in Sikhism. Any Sikh, male or female, can perform services in a Gurdwara. Similarly there are no missionaries (as a class) in Sikhism. Partly due to fast life or for convenience and partly because of lack of religious information to a common Sikh, some persons are appointed Bhai (literally: brother) or Granthi (one who can read Guru Granth Sahib, can interpret it and can sing hymns) but they have no special status like Christian priests or the Muslim Mullah or the Hindu Pujari. Similarly, there is no class of SANT as well. In the twentieth century several such people have emerged who call themselves (or love to be called) "Sant" but it is an un-Sikh class. In the Sikh Scriptures, term Sant has been used for the Almighty only. In Sikhism there is no agent in between man and the Almighty. This Sant-dom is copy of Hinduism and it has harmed the Sikhs a lot.

Dr. Harjinder Singh Dilgeer

For comprehensive information read books:
The Sikh Culture
The Sikh reference Book (Sikh Encyclopedia)
By the author

© Copyright Dilgeer 2002 All Rights Reserved