GURDWARA - DOORWAY TO THE GURU GURDWARA - DOORWAY TO THE GURU
The word ‘Gurdwara’ means “doorway to the Guru” in Punjabi. It is a place where Sikhs come together for congregational worship. People from all faiths and even atheists are also welcomed inside the Sikh gurdwaras. Guru Nanak who was the founder of the Sikh religion built the first Gurdwara in the world in 1521 at Kartarpur, on the banks of Ravi River in Punjab region. During the times of the early Gurus, the place of Sikh religious activities was known as a ‘Dharamsala’, which means place of faith. As the Sikh population began to expand, Guru Hargobind introduced the word ‘Gurdwara’, through which the Guru could be reached.
There are no idols, statues or religious pictures in a Gurdwara because Sikhs regard God as having no physical form. There are four doors into a Gurdwara. These doors are a symbol that people from all four castes are equally welcome. There is always a light on in a Gurdwara. This symbolises the fact that the Guru's Light is always visible and is accessible to everyone at any time. The morning service begins with the singing of hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib. This is followed by Katha which is reading of the Guru Granth Sahib. After the service, food is offered to the congregation. This consists of ‘Karah Parshad’ and a more substantial meal in the Langar.
Gurdwaras fly ‘Nishan Sahib’ - the
Sikh flag outside. The Nishan Sahib is a Sikh triangular flag made of cotton or silk cloth. The flag is orange or yellow and has the Sikh emblem in the middle. This flag is hoisted on a tall flagpole, outside most Gurdwaras. The flagpole itself is covered with fabric and ends with a twoedged dagger (khanda) on top.
Guru Nanak - The founder of Sikhism:
Guru Nanak, was born on Vaisakhi Day, 5th of April, 1469 in Rai-Bhoi-di Talwandi in the present
Shekhupura District of Pakistan which is 40 miles from Lahore. His birth is celebrated worldwide as ‘Guru Nanak Gurpurab’ on Kartik Pooranmashi, the full-moon day in the month of Katak according to the lunar calendar which is usually in November. Guru Nanak’s parents were both Hindus. According to Sikh traditions, his birth and early years were marked with many events that demonstrated that Nanak had been marked by God. As a child, Nanak is said to have voiced interest in divine subjects. He demonstrated great ability as a poet and philosopher. Nanak's religious ideas were drawn on both Hindu and Islamic thought. At the age of around 16 years, he started working as an accountant under Daulat Khan Lodi, who was the governor of Lahore. But, while still quite young Nanak decided to devote himself to spiritual matters. He had a vision of the true nature of God and believed that spiritual growth was through meditation. On 24 September 1487, Nanak married ‘Mata Sulakkhani’ who was the daughter of Mul Chand and Chando Ra i, in the town of Batala. The couple had two sons named Sri Chand and Lakhmi Chand. In 1496, at age 27, Nanak set out on a spiritual journey through India, Tibet and Arabia thereby parting with his family for a thirty-year period. He spent the last part of his life at Kartarpur in Punjab, where he was joined by many disciples who were attracted by his teachings. Guru Nanak appointed Bhai Lehna as the successor Guru. Bhai Lehna was thus renamed as Guru Angad, meaning "one’s very own". Shortly after that, Guru Nanak died on 22 September 1539 in Kartarpur, at the age of 70. The fundamental beliefs of Sikhism attributed to Guru Nanak are that there is only one creator, unity of all humankind, engaging in selfless service, denouncing of the caste system and equality regardless of caste or gender.
As a religious custom, shoes should be removed prior to entry and feet washed if dirty. Bare head should be covered as signs of respect towards the Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Granth Sahib is the central religious scripture of Sikhism and is regarded by Sikhs as the final, sovereign and eternal living Guru following the lineage of the ten human Gurus of the Sikh religion. It lists Nanak’s teachings. Sikhs bow to the
Guru Granth Sahib and touch the floor as soon as they enter the
Gurdwara. Voluntary cash offerings are usually made at this time to help carry the expenses of running the Gurdwara. As a sign of equality, all people irrespective of their status sit on the floor in a Gurdwara facing the Guru Granth Sahib. The Guru Granth Sahib is always installed on a higher level. All people are expected to stand facing the Guru Granth Sahib when the common prayer is read out. ‘Karah parshad’ which is a ceremonial pudding made from butter, sugar and flour is served to the people at the conclusion of a Gurdwara service. Gurdwaras are generally open 24 hours a day. In the Langar, which is the free community kitchen, all people sit on the floor and cooked food is served by volunteers. Only vegetarian food is served here.
The purpose of a Gurdwara is to learn spiritual wisdom, Sikh faith, ethics, customs, traditions and texts. It is a place for religious ceremonies. A Gurdwara also serves as a community centre and offers food, shelter and companionship to those who need it. Although a Gurdwara may be called a doorway to the Guru, Sikhs believe that God is present everywhere.
Nishan Sahib - the Sikh religious flag hoisted outside the Gurdwaras.