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Gurdwara: literally Guru SatGur's portal/ abode / House or Door. The word can be split into two: Gur meaning SatGur Granth Sahib i.e. Gurbani/Waheguru or God and "duwara" meaning "House" or "Door"

The common translation of the term as 'Sikh Temple' is not satisfactory for, their faith possessing no sacrificial symbolism, Sikhs have neither idols nor altars in their holy places. They have no sacraments and no priestly order. The essential feature of a gurdwara is the presiding presence in it of Sikh Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib.


A Gurdwara is a KHALSA training institution; a place for organised Satgur Seva of Satgur Granth Sahib.Darbar Sahib in Amritsar, Punjab, India is the focal institution for all the Gurdwaras located the world over.

The Golden Temple

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 personal Gurus, Guru Gobind Singh, Nanak X, 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).

Non-Sikh and Sikh Visitors to a Gurdwara shown with their heads covered.

People of all religious background or of no religious faith are welcomed to these shrines. As a protocol & holy KHALSA tradition , remember to remove your shoes and cover your head before entering the more sacred parts of the building.

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.
  • 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. .....

Its external distinguishing mark is the Nishan Sahib or the Sikh flag, saffron in colour, that flies day and night atop the building, or, more often, separately close to it.

SatSangat or GurSangat or SadhSangat

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 .

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.

KHALSA Worship

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:-

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'.

A sikh is expected to believe in, swear by, worship, live with, die for, work for nothing but TRUTH(god).This 'impossible' feat becomes 'possible' for him through the grace of TRUE Guru SatGur's GurBani

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.

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 Sikh in attendance of the Satgur Granth Sahib.

The Institution

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.

See Also

View of a Langar Hall (Dining Hall) inside a Gurdwara.

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 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. Men and women of good standing in the Sikh community may be elected to the gurdwara committee and anyone, male or female, may become president. As Sikhism has no priesthood, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee provides guidance to the community in religious matters.

The main function of the gurdwara is to provide Sikhs with a meeting-place for worship. 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. 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 typical layout for the Darbar hall.Men and women usually sit on separate sides of the hall.

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 the Guru Granth Sahib. 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.

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. For functions other than purely religious, a gurdwara complex must provide, in the same or adjacent compound, for Guru ka Langar and accommodation for pilgrims.

See Also


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