A Gurdwara is the place where Sikhs come together for congregational worship.
The first Gurdwara in the world was built by Guru Nanak in 1521-2 at Kartarpur. There are about 200 Gurdwaras in Britain.
The literal meaning of the Punjabi word Gurdwara is ‘the residence of the Guru’, or ‘the door that leads to the Guru’.
In a modern Gurdwara, the Guru is not a person but the book of Sikh scriptures called the Guru Granth Sahib.
It is the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib that gives the Gurdwara its religious status, so any building containing the book is a Gurdwara.
Although a Gurdwara may be called the residence of the Guru (meaning the residence of God), Sikhs believe that God is present everywhere.
Before the time of Guru Arjan Dev, the place of Sikh religious activities was known as a Dharamsala, which means place of faith.
The purpose of a Gurdwara
- It’s a place to learn spiritual wisdom
- It’s a place for religious ceremonies
- It’s a place where children learn the Sikh faith, ethics, customs, traditions and texts
- A Gurdwara is also a community centre, and offers food, shelter, and companionship to those who need it.
Inside the Gurdwara
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. Nor are there candles, incense, or bells, or any other ritualistic devices.
The focus of attention, and the only object of reverence in the main hall (or Darbar Sahib) is the book of Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, which is treated with the respect that would be given to a human Guru.
The Guru Granth Sahib is kept in a room of its own during the night and carried in procession to the main hall at the start of the day’s worship.
The four doors
There are four doors into a Gurdwara, known as the Door of Peace, the Door of Livelihood, the Door of Learning and the Door of Grace.
These doors are a symbol that people from all four points of the compass are welcome, and that members of all four castes are equally welcome.
There’s always a light on in a Gurdwara, to show that the Guru’s Light is always visible and is accessible to everyone at any time.
Visiting a Gurdwara
In India many Sikhs visit a Gurdwara before work. In Britain 39% of Sikhs go once a week, and while Sikhs do not regard any particular day of the week as a holy day, they usually go to a Gurdwara on Sundays as that fits the UK pattern of work.
Most Sikhs go to the Gurdwara on Gurpurbs, the festivals honouring the Gurus.
Anyone, of any faith, can visit a Gurdwara and will be made welcome.
Before going into a Gurdwara
All visitors to the Gurdwara should remove remove their shoes and cover their heads before entering the main hall. It is forbidden to smoke or take tobacco on to the premises and visitors cannot enter the Gurdwara while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.