Gurdwara: literally Guru's portal/ abode / House or Door. In the early period of Sikhism, before the advent of the word "Gurdwara", the word "Dharamsala" was used to refer to Sikh places of worship and service (Sewa). The word can be split into two: "Gur" or "Guru" referring to their Guru, Guru Granth Sahib i.e. Gurbani / Waheguru / the word or Shabad and "duwara" meaning "Door" of the "House"
Sikhism, has NO room whatsoever for symbolism or ritualism ; Sikhs have neither idols nor altars in their Gurdwara. They have no sacraments and no priestly order. The essential feature of a gurdwara is the presiding presence in it of the holy Sikh Scripture, called the Guru Granth Sahib also referred to as Satguru. This essentially is the focal point of a Gurdwara. The other main component is the holy congregation called the Sadh Sangat who are present within this sacred structure in humble obedience of principles laid down by the Sikh Gurus.
The Sikhs hold high respect for the commandments laid down in the Guru Granth Sahib and most faithful adherents will adhere to these commandments at all costs. Within the Gurdwara the Sikhs engage in prayer (Simran or Naam Japna) and in voluntary service called Sewa. Langar, free community kitchen serves meals to anyone who visits this Sikh institution. All the facilities are generally managed on a voluntary basis by volunteers called Sewadars. Very few paid staff are generally maintained in Gurdwaras.
This is the place where the young Sikhs learn the essentials of their faith and as they grow older this becomes their spiritual training centre - the KHALSA training institution; a place for organised "Satgur de Seva" or service of the True Guru.
In early Sikhism, the place used for Congregational prayers was called dharamsala, the abode of dharma, different from the modern usage which generally limits the term to a resting place. According to the Janam Sakhis, Guru Nanak wherever he went, called upon his followers to establish dharamsalas and congregate in them to repeat God's Name, and to recite His praise. He himself established one at Kartarpur on the bank of the River Ravi where he settled down at the end of his extensive preaching tours. "I have set up a dharamsal of truth," sang Guru Arjan (1563-1606). "I seek the Sikhs of the Guru (to congregate therein) so that I may serve them and bow at their feet" (GG, 73).
In the time of Guru Hargobind (1595-1644), dharamsals began to be called gurdwaras. The change of nomenclature was significant. Guru Arjan had compiled in 1604 a Book, pothi or granth (later Guru Granth Sahib) of holy hymns. Besides his own, he had included in it the compositions of his four spiritual predecessors and of some of the Indian saints and sufis. "The pothi is the abode of the Divine," said he (GG, 1226). This first copy of the Granth he installed in the central Sikh shrine, the Harimander, at Amritsar. Copies of the Granth began to be piously transcribed. The devotees carried them on their heads for installation in their respective dharamsals. Reverently, the Book was called the Guru Granth Sahib and was treated as a sacred embodiment of the Gurus' revealed utterances. The dharamsal where the Guru Granth Sahib was kept came to be called gurdwara. The designation became universal after the guruship passed to the holy Book, although the central shrine at Amritsar continued to be called Harimander or Darbar Sahib.
Ending the line of living Gurus, Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Nanak, had installed the sacred volume in 1708 as his eternal successor. The Holy Book has since been the Guru for the Sikhs and it must reign over all Sikh places of worship where religious ceremony focuses around it. The basic condition for a Sikh place to be so known is the installation in it of the Guru Granth Sahib. Every Sikh place by that token is the house of the Guru. Hence the name Gurdwara (gur+dwara= the guru's door).
During the second half of the eighteenth century and after, as the Sikhs acquired territory, gurdwaras sprang up in most of the Sikh habitations and on sites connected with the lives of the Gurus and with events in Sikh history. Most of the historical gurdwaras were endowed by the ruling chiefs and nobility with liberal grants of land.
This well-intentioned philanthropy, however, in many cases led to the rise of a hereditary priesthood, which was brought to an end through a sustained agitation culminating in securing from the Punjab Legislative Council legislation called the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925, providing for the management of the major historical Sikh shrines by a body known as the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee elected through adult franchise under government auspices. This kind of democratic control is a unique ecclesiastical feature. Most of the shrines not covered by the Gurdwaras Act are administered by committees chosen by local sangats.
Best Men / Women of saintly standing, well versed with GurMat and GurBani fundamentals in the Sikh community are selected by KHALSA (best 5 Sikh intellactuals who are publically acknowledged as TRUE Sikhs) to constitute Gurdwara Management committee.
Anyone of the five selected Sikhs, best male / female, (normally but not necessarily ) the senior most in Age, may become president to repersent this organisation of Panj Piaras institutionalised by the 10th Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh . These selected five best Sikhs are by default expected to be epitomes of Daya (concern for the Sikh 'Have Nots'), Dharm ( TRUTHfullness), Himmat (Courage of Conviction), Mohkam (Demonstrative Ability to Lead TRUTHfully) Sahib ( The Head of the organisation possessing all these four Holy attributes (Daya, Dharam, Himmat, Leadership).
As Sikhism has no priesthood, administrative control of gurdwaras is exercised by the best Sikhs selected (not elected) by KHALSA strictly as per the qualitative requirements (Daya, Dharam, Himmat, Leadership and accountability) formally outlined in SatGur. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee provides all available resources to the community for understanding the Commandments of 'TRUTH god' formally documented in SatGur
People of all racial / social / political / religious background or of none of these are welcomed to these shrines. As a protocol and holy KHALSA tradition, remember to remove your shoes and cover your head before entering the more sacred parts of the building.
The gurdwara and its hospitality are open to non-Sikhs as well as to members of the faith. The Sikh rahit maryada or code of conduct, however, contains certain rules pertaining to them. For example, no one should enter the gurdwara premises with one's shoes on or with head uncovered. Other rules in the rahit maryada concern the conduct of religious service and reverence due to SatGur. Rules also prohibit discrimination in the sangat on the basis of religion, caste, sex or social position, and the observation of idolatrous and superstitious practices.
A Gurdwara is identified by the following five basic features:-
- 1. GURU i.e. the Sikh holy book. A hall called Darbar Sahib, houses the GURU. This hall in most modern temples is large and will house many hundreds of visitors.
- 2. NISHAN , short for NISHAN SAHIB is a triangular orange flag with a KHALSA emblem ( Khanda )in the middle. It expresses the faith of Sikh Community in TRUTH god & SatGurBani. It is a KHALSA icon for TRUTH god's abode
- 3. PANGAT i.e. Community Kitchen. It is part of A building complex where communal meals are served. It may have tables and chairs, but as a tradition it is expected frome the devotees to sit on the floor.
- 4. SANGAT is a Holy congregation of the 'Saint Soldiers', the KHALSA. As per Sikh faith, this KHALSA congregation also represents combined ONE(TRUTH god ETERNAL) persona of 'HUMANITY & Guru' in SACH KHAND. Gurbani Singers & those regulating the function will normally address the KHALSA congregation as 'Guru Roop Sadh Sangat' literally meaning 'O TRUTH god !' in the guise of this holy gathering of Saint-Soldiers (i.e. KHALSA)
- 5. GOLAK refers to a systematic & formal Financial System in the custudy of Satgur Granth Sahib. The Gurdwara management team, on behalf of Satgur Granth Sahib manages the account, expentitures, donations & gifts etc.
In addition to the 5 Basic features, a Gurdwara may have:
- 6. Rest Room for the SGGS: A room where the Sikh Holy Book is placed overnight. This room is sometimes called "SACH KHAND" (which translates to abode of 'TRUTH god'/True /Pure Domain /Paradise )
- 7. Various utility rooms, washrooms, kitchen, etc. Some of the larger Sikh temples may also have rooms for the devotees to stay overnight with bathroom facilities.
Sikhs treat the holy Book like a living Teacher/Guru. This act of respect is a public resolution of a Sikh's Commitment to live a Truthful life dedicated to nothing but TRUTH god & HUMANITY, by walking on the way encapsulated in Satgur Granth Sahib.
Essence of the term 'Worship' in KHALSA( TRUTH god incarnate having all HUMAN attributes ) way of life is diffrent than that ordinarily understood by people.
'Worship' here is living with 'TRUTH god in ONE's own mind' & 'serving the GURU Satgur Granth Sahib' by:-
- LISTENIG to,..
- ...BELIEVING in,...
- ...OBEYING in real life... and
- ...CRAFTING & SHARING TRUE IDEAs (encapsulated in Satgur Granth Sahib) with all HUMAN beings.
A Sikh's shrine of worship is 'His Own Mind'. His worship ends only after he/she dies & becomes part of TRUTH god (having no attributes but a 'Name'. Lord's TRUE Name is 'TRUTH'.
This way Sikhs worship nothing bur 'ONE TRUTH god' which does not stay in specific temples or holy places. For a Sikh nothing else what so ever, but TRUTH alone is Holy. As TRUTH prevails in universes beyond the known universe, for a Sikh all ritualistic & traditional worships, being too trivial to please TRUTH god, are part of FALSEHOOD.Only TRUTHful living, conduct & disposition of KHALSA encompassing HUMANITY, has to be worshiped, served & glorified instead.
Typical Sikh Thoughts
"TRUTH god was, is & will ever be TRUE to his Name which is TRUTH, so will be KHALSA."
"This is the will of TRUTH god (with no attributes) & that of KHALSA(TRUTH god incarnate with all human attributes)."
"TRUTH god in this world lives in KHALSA & KHALSA lives in TRUTH god. Both live in SACH KHAND as one entity called TRUTH.
"A TRUTHful person is TRUTH god on earth."
The aspect of Sikhism most closely associated with the gurdwara, other than worship, is the institution of Guru ka Langar or free community kitchen which encourages commensality. Seva or voluntary service in Guru ka Langar is considered by Sikhs a pious duty.
A second characteristic of a [gurdwara]] is its being universal public place open to all devotees to pray individually or to assemble in congregation. Traditionally the devotees will sit cross legged on floor, however a covenient sitting arrangements for sick & elderly, normally along the walls, as required, may be made by the Gurdwara Managemet Team.
All those who enter Darbar Sahib, as asocial protocol & expression of love & faith in Satgur Granth Sahib, remove their shoes and cover their heads before entering. The devotees normally on entering this hall will walk slowly and respectfully to the dominant throne graced by Satgur Granth Sahib. They then stand before the Holy Scriptures, may say silent prayers, may offer any gifts to GURU and then bow humbly before Satgur Satgur Granth Sahib .
A systematic & formal Financial Management System, in the custudy of Satgur Granth Sahib exists in every Gurdwara. The Gurdwara management team, on behalf of Satgur Granth Sahib manages the account, expentitures, donations & gifts etc. .....
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 requirement is the installation of the Guru Granth Sahib, under a canopy or in a canopied seat, usually on a platform higher than the floor on which the devotees sit, and a tall Sikh pennant atop the building.
Lately, more and more gurdwaras have been having buildings imitating more or less the Harimander pattern, a mixture of Indo-Persian 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. 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.
The main function of the gurdwara is to provide Sikhs with a meeting-place for GurSeva. This mainly consists of listening to the words of the Guru Granth Sahib, singing them to musical accompaniment and hearing them expounded in katha, or lectures: and sermons.
The gurdwara also serves as a community centre, a school, a guest house for pilgrims and travellers, occasionally a clinic, and a base for local charitable activities. Apart from morning and evening services, the gurdwaras hold special congregations to mark important anniversaries on the Sikh calendar. They become scenes of much éclat and festivity when celebrations in honour of the birth anniversaries of the Gurus and of the Khalsa take place.
- 1. Patwant Singh, Gurdwaras in India and around the World. Delhi, 1992
- 2. Arshi, P.S., The Sikh Architecture. Delhi, 1984
- 3. Madanjit Kaur, The Golden Temple: Past and Present. Amritsar, 1983
- 4. Teja Singh, Sikhism: Its Ideals and Institutions. Bombay, 1938
- 5. Cole, W. Owen and Piara Singh Sambhi, The Sikhs: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. Delhi, 1978
- 6. Prakash Singh, The Sikh Gurus and the Temple of Bread. Amritsar, 1964
- 7. Pratap Singh, Giani, Gurudwara Sudhar arthat Akali Lahir. Amritsar, 1975
Above adapted from article By Fauja Singh