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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.

Gur­d­wara Pro­to­cols:

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.

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