A Visit to a Gurdwara (Place of Worship)

In the Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship), before entering the DARBAR SAHIB (hall, where the holy book Guru Granth is placed) people must cover their heads and take off their shoes. Visitors without a proper head cover, i.e. turban or chunni (lady’s scarf) can borrow scarves provided by the Gurdwara, or otherwise a large handkerchief could serve the purpose. Shoes should be left in the racks.

On approaching the Guru Granth Sahib (Holy Book), Sikhs usually put some money on the holy cloth or into the GOLAK (donation-box). Some, especially ladies, bring articles of food such as milk, sugar and butter which are then collected for the LANGAR (free kitchen).

It is obligatory for every Sikh young and old to show the utmost respect to the Guru Granth. So, as soon as they come face to face with the Holy Granth they bow down on their knees, most touching their foreheads to the floor.

In the congregation, women generally sit on one side and the men on the other side of the hall. It is rude and disrespectful to show one’s back or stretch one’s feet towards the Holy Granth. That is why everyone tries to sit cross-legged. Also it is customary that everyone sits on the carpeted floor, which is symbolic of down to earth humility before the Guru and equality with fellow Sikhs.

On one side of the MANJI SAHIB (Guru’s seat) RAGGEES (musicians) recite SHABADS (hymns) and play the harmonium and TABLA (a pair of small seated drums). Occasionally they stop reciting and one of them elaborates on the Guru’s word (hymns) and his teachings. Sometimes they choose to sing an incident from the Sikh history and talk about it. Finally, the service ends with ARDAS (formal prayer).

Everyone stands up, bows their heads and fold their hands showing humility and submission to the Guru and the WAHEGURU (God Himself). When the priest says ARDAS, he occasionally interrupts it with the word ‘Waheguru’ (like Amen in English). Finally, ‘PARSHAD’ (warm sweet food made of flour, purified butter, sugar and water) is served, before dispersing.

LANGAR– The institution of ‘Langar’ is an important aspect in the Sikh way of life. ‘Langar’ literally means kitchen. But in Sikh terminology, langar in the Gurdwara means cooking and serving of food on a large scale. There is always a queue of willing helpers to do this service and the food is free to every visitor.

This practice also serves as a practical demonstration and a reminder to the Sikhs that they should not believe in the caste system, and should eat together irrespective of their status, high or low; rich or poor. However, the food served at the Gurdwara is always vegetarian. in Britain special congregation services are held on either Saturday or Sunday and the ‘Langar’ is an almost inseparable part of the ‘whole service.’