Gurdwara, or the ‘Gateway to the Guru’ is a place of congregation for Sikhs to come together to pray.
There are no idols, statues, or religious pictures in a Gurdwara, because Sikhs worship only God, and they regard God as having no physical form. The object of reverence however, is the Sikh scripture called the Guru Granth Sahib, which is treated with the respect that would be given to a human Guru.
‘Sangat’ or the coming together of people is an important aspect of Sikhism, that promotes exchange of thoughts and unity. This is one of the reasons why Gurdwaras across the world serve as community centers for not just Sikhs but for people of various faiths.
Langar is the free community kitchen where food is served to anyone, irrespective of caste, religion, color or creed. The food served is generally simple and is only vegetarian. The meal may include chapati, dal (pulses), vegetables and rice pudding.
The four doors
The four doors into a Gurdwara are the Door of Peace, the Door of Livelihood, the Door of Learning and the Door of Grace. These are symbols to depict that people from all four points of the compass are welcome.
Some Gurdwaras also have a Sarovar or a pool for bathing. Sikhism believes that while bathing in these pools can clean one from the outside, a person cannot be considered clean if their heart is not pure from within.
At the Gurdwara
Before entering the Gurdwara, all visitors are required to remove their shoes and cover their heads.
Upon entering, one bows to the Guru Granth Sahib, touching the floor with their forehead. Sikhs also greet the congregation by the words ‘Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Sri Waheguru ji ki fateh’, which means, the Khalsa owes allegiance to God and sovereignty belongs to God alone.
Men and women generally sit on separate sides of the hall.
Each Gurdwara has a ‘Granthi’, who organises the daily services and reads from the Guru Granth Sahib. The morning service begins with the Kirtan. This is then followed by a sermon or talk, usually based on a theme from Sikh history.
The congregation then stands for the ‘Ardas’, or the prayer. During the prayer, the word ‘Waheguru’ is often repeated.
After the prayer, the Guru Granth Sahib is opened at a random page and the hymn found at the top of the left-hand page, known as the ‘Vak’ or ‘Hukam’ is read. The text is considered to be a relevant lesson for the day.