Sikh Missionary Society
Sikh Missionary Society U.K. (Regd)
10, Featherstone Road. Southall, Middx, U.K. UB2 5AA
Tel: +44 020 8574 1902
Fax: +44 020 8574 1912
Reg Charity No: 262404
The Gurdwara (The Sikh Temple)
The Gurdwara (The Sikh Temple)

Sikh Missionary Society: Publications: The Gurdwara (The Sikh Temple):

The Sikh Temple

The Sikh Temple

Man is the product of history. His individual development is rendered possible only because he is a member of some society, tribe, state or nation. No member of society is endowed with so much perfection as to be able, without the assistance of others, to supply his own physical, psychological and moral necessities. The moral standard of the average man is unconsciously kept up by the morals of the best men in society. 'It is when the best men cease trying that the world sinks like lead'. These gifted individuals become a boon to society and not only affect intimately the morals and well being of the society but also they attract people to form a nucleus for mutual spiritual and social benefit, round which individuals develop themselves as parts of a social and spiritual motive force. Finding the existing religious inactive, and therefore ineffective and incapable of guiding society, Guru Nanak (1469-1539), the founder of Sikhism, formed one such nucleus in India by inviting people from all religions to form groups, commonly known as Chaukies (Sittings) where nothing but God and God alone was worshipped and the reformation of society was discussed.

To the Hindus, he said, "The true Guru (religious leader) is one who unites all" (Siri Rag).

He reminded Muslims of the teaching of the Holy Quran, "All human beings, whatsoever, are only one community".

The primary object of the Guru was to protect society from internal dissensions and strife and to keep the believers as a single family.

"Man without religion" says J.C. Hare, "is the creature of circumstances". The word religion means 'to bind or hold together' and its Japanese equivalent is 'Shukyo'-teaching the society (Shu=society and Kyo=teachings). The Guru's effort was, thus, to create a religion in the true sense that aimed at keeping all united. He gathered round him a picked band of followers, extricated them from the accumulated errors of the past, enjoined on them devotion of thought and excellence of conduct, advised them to translate spiritual knowledge into action and use them for the service of the 'True One' through regular Shabad Chaukies.

In defence against sporadic persecution, the first meetings were usually held in the homes of converts, but soon, the Chaukies became very popular and the Guru presided over huge gatherings which came to be known as Diwans (meetings) in opposition to the Diwan (court) held by the Qazi (where Muslims paid the Tithe (Zakat) and one fifth of any booty they had taken, and the Hindus had to pay poll tax (Jazia) and land tax (Kharaj) to the Qazi). The Guru's Diwans attracted throngs of devoted, free and mentally unbiased people unfettered by rules and rituals. Even those who had been polytheist idol worshipping Hindus could be seen worshipping the 'True One' with the monotheist idol breaking Muslims and the much detested Shudras (so called low castes), who were not allowed to enter the Hindu temples lest they desecrate the Hindu temples and their gods. All voluntarily brought offerings to the Guru in cash and kind. Thus obedience to God through the Guru took precedence over obedience to man. Instead of mere intellectual perception of morality, the actual practice of morality became the rule, after the model of the Guru's own life. The privilege of equality was extended to all who had faith in the Guru's word. "If only there be faith, although it be only a mustard seed", says F.B. Mayer, "Sycamore trees can be uprooted, mountains cast into the sea and demons exorcised from their victims". The faithful had already formed the nucleus of a church in the teeth of opposition before the Guru died.

The second Guru, Angad Dev, set up centres for teaching and preaching the founder's ideas and started a common kitchen which was always kept open by the offerings of the Sikhs and no one was refused access to it. The third Guru, Amar Das, established 22 Manjis (seats) in different parts of the country to preach the mission. The fourth Guru, Ram Das, founded the city of Amritsar where he caused the 'pool of nectar' (Amritsar) to be excavated by his followers. In the centre of the pool, by the invitation of the fifth Guru, Arjan Dev, the foundation of the holiest temple of the Sikhs was laid in 1589 AD. by the Muslim saint, Mian Mir, a reputed descendant of the Calif Omar.

This temple has four doors in contrast to the one door of a Muslim mosque or Hindu temple. Four doors indicate no preference to any direction as the Muslims attached importance to the direction of Mecca. Also that people of all religions and beliefs and of all countries are welcome into the temple. The temple was desecrated and later destroyed in 1819 by Ahmad Shah Abdali, but only two years later it was reconstructed and redecorated. Now there are more than two hundred historic Sikh temples called Gurudwaras. Besides these, there are the local Gurudwaras, at least one in every village or town. Some of the historic Gurudwaras are now in Pakistan. The most important Sikh temple is the Golden Temple (Darbar Sahib) at Amritsar whose foundation has been described above. There are four Takhats (Seats of authority)-at Patna (the birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh), Nander (the place where Guru Gobind Singh ascended to heaven), Anandpur (the birth. place of Khalsa) and Akal Takhat (adjacent to the Golden Temple at Amritsar; from which all-important edicts are issued to the Sikh community.

A GURUDWARA (Literally the Guru's door) is a rendezvous chosen by the Guru or Sikhs for meeting and speaking about God and for public worship. It is a place of meditation, divine knowledge, bliss and tranquillity. Unlike the Hindu Temples containing altars and idols, the Sikh Temple has only a religious book and no statue or idol. The Sikhs are not supposed to believe in the plurality of God, reverence for rivers or trees, Brahminical supremacy, the caste system, witchcraft, Hathayoga, animism, idols, or priest craft. The Gurudwara is a school in which members of the faith are trained in holiness through the philosophy expounded in the Guru's hymns of love and devotion. The hymns inculcate in the followers ideas of love, contentment, humility, the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, and purity of mind, body, thought, word and deed. Austerities, fasts, penance, incantations, spells, the worship of heroes, cemeteries and places of cremation, are strictly forbidden to the Sikhs who attend a Gurdwara. Devotees are supposed to desist from working miracles, uttering blessings and curses, and believing in omens. They wear God's name as a necklace and try to practice Nam (remembrance of God's name), Dan (charity) and Ishnan (purity), truthfulness and openness, self-restraint in temper, labour for the purpose of mutual benefit, profitable and edifying speech, humility and forbearance.

The Sikh Temple is usually visible from a long way off because of its tall flag-pole, fully draped in yellow cloth with a yellow flag proudly fluttering in the skies with the Sikh symbol consisting of quoit and dagger in the centre and two curved swords with their handles crossing underneath. In India Gurudwaras are often built in Indo-Sarasenic style (1. In England the Gurudwaras are housed in whatever building is available and are not specially designed and constructed, but almost all carry the Nishan Sahib (the flag pole)) with domes shaped like a squashed onion on the roof top covered with 'copper gilded with gold' and surrounded by smaller domes built after the Moghul style. The arches are enriched with carvings of flowers and leaves. There is no such thing as a Hindu Shikhra, a Muslim minaret or a Christian spire. Images, idols and statues are conspicuously absent. In their place religious hymns bordered by floral designs, branches and leaves, engender in the beholder aesthetic and religious emotions. The Golden Temple is symbolic of Sikh traditions in architecture, art, religion and history. It rises from the centre of a pool which greatly enhances its beauty by the reflections in its water. According to Percy Brown the Gurudwara is an embodiment of "Religious emotions, materialised in marble, glass, colour and metal".

The devotees take off their shoes before entering the Gurdwara and cover their heads. Passing along an aisle, they reach the focal point where the Holy Granth (The Sikh Holy Book) wrapped in a costly cloth is placed on a platform under a canopy. With reverence, they bow to the ground with folded hands, make offerings of money or eatables, and retracing their steps sit down in the Sangat (the holy congregation). All sit on the floor, women to one side of the aisle and men on the other, indicating the equality of all Sikhs under the Guru.

Return to the top of the page.

The Sikh Temple: Sangat

"The only danger to religion is indifference towards it", says Burk (2. Edmund Burk-letter to William Smith, dated 29th Jan., 1795.) "because indifference is half infidelity".

The Gurus knew that the human mind is like a garden wherein something must grow and that if it is neglected, a luxurious growth of weeds would result. To counteract indifference the Gurus made it compulsory for the Sikhs to attend the Sangat in the Gurudwara and to keep constantly in touch with the best in society. The Sangat is usually called Sat Sangat (assembly of the true) or Sadh Sangat (assembly of the Saints), and is akin to Hebrew Qahal (assembly of the Holy). Through the Sangat the novice receives the Guru's instructions and acquires the qualities of the Sadh Sangat through the Bani (word) recited from the Holy Granth. Like children consciously and unconsciously imitating their parents, the Sikhs become imitators of the Guru, the ideal man. They think that as is God, so is the Guru and as is the Guru so will be the follower. "If anybody wants to see me, let him go to the Sangat and approach it with faith and reverence; he will surely see me there", says Guru Gobind Singh in Prem Sumarg. So in the Sangat no one acts and behaves in moral isolation but on the other hand all aspire to live according to a definite model believing that "men take after whom they serve." (War Bihagra M.3)

The Sangat is an ideal company or a miniature ideal society. Like a touch-stone it turns brass into gold. Great prominence in the Sangat is given to living a true life, to modesty, tolerence, patience, service, simplicity, conscientiousness, justice, mercy and benevolence.

The hands and mind are always in action for the loftier ideal. The Sikh scripture and traditions lay great emphasis on Sangat for the attainment of final beatitude by rising from the moral to the spiritual plane through Dharam Khand (the region of duty), Gian Khand (the region of knowledge), Sarm Khand (the region of effort), Karam Khand (the region of action) and Sacch Khand (the region of grace). Counting the advantages of the Sangat, Bhai Gurdas writes: - "Trees that grow near the sandal are perfumed like sandal. If any of the eight metals are touched by the philosopher's stone it becomes gold, As rivers, streams, and water courses which fall into the Ganges, become the Ganges; So does the Sangat save sinners and wash away the filth of sin. It saves countless souls from hell and embraces millions of the lost. The holy see God in the midst of them."

Guru Nanak felt that the real cause of the misery of the people was their disunity born of diversity of belief. He, therefore, refused to recognise any distinction between man and man and tried to bring his followers together both in thought and deed. He inculcated a common mode of worship and a common social institute by laying the foundation of Sangat and Pangat. Sangat means 'association'. It is getting together of noble and good people. Pangat literally means a row. It stands for people sitting and eating together in the same row in Guru-ka-Langar. From the time of Guru Nanak, Sangat and Pangat have gone together for the Sikhs, both in precept as well as in practice. Wherever there was a Sangat there also was a Langar; as these Sangats were* "not merely places of worship but also wayside refectories which gave good and shelter to indigent wayfarers." *(Glossary of Punjab Tribes and Castes, Vol. 1, p. 687)

Return to the top of the page.

The Sikh Temple: Guru Granth Sahib

This is the sacred book of the Sikhs also popularly known as the Adi Granth. It was compiled by Guru Arjan and installed in the Golden Temple in the year 1604. At that time it contained the hymns of only the first five Gurus and those of Bhagats (saints) of medieval India. The original copy of the Granth fell into the hands of Dhir Mal, the son of the sixth Guru, Har Gobind, who refused to pass it on to the ninth Guru Tegh Bahadur. Guru Gobind Singh; therefore, dictated the whole book once again to his devoted follower Mani Singh at Damdama in the year 1706. He also included in it the hymns written by the Ninth Guru. Before his death Guru Gobind Singh ordered his Sikhs to take good care of the Holy Book and regard it as their final and eternal Guru (enlightener) after him.

The Holy Book contains 1,430 pages and 3,384 hymns, of which 937 have been contributed by fifteen Bhagats and seventeen Bhats. The bulk of the hymns are in Punjabi. The other languages used are Hindi, Persian, Sanskrit, Gujrati, Marathi and dialects of North India. Where reference has been made to Islam, Arabic words have also crept in. The writers come from different corners of India and belong to different castes and creeds signifying the egalitarian character of the Granth. The whole book is in sublime poetry and the hymns have been arranged according to 31 tunes (Ragas). It is an excellent record of social, political and religious thought in India between the 12th and the 17th centuries. This book is unique because it is the authentic record of the Guru's words and is free from interpolations. It can be truly called 'a spiritual dictionary' or 'an encyclopaedia of philosophy.'

Commenting about the nature of the Granth, Guru Arjan writes: - "In this platter and placed three things, Truth, Harmony and meditation. These are seasoned with the Nectar-Name of the Lord, Who is the support of all. Those who partake of this dish and relish it Will be saved and emancipated." (Mundavani M.5, page 1,429)

According to Prof. Puran Singh the Granth is "the scripture of all nations, for it is the lyric of divine love, and all the people of the earth subsist on such glowing lyrical power. Guru Granth Sahib is but one song, one idea and one life."

The Granth was first translated into English by Dr. Trump in 1869 who translated 5,719 stanzas out of the total of 15,575. Macauliffe made the next attempt in 1909 and produced six volumes entitled "The Sikh Religion". It has recently been translated into English by Mr. Manmohan Singh in 8 volumes. An eminent Sikh Scholar, Dr. Gopal Singh, has written another very good translation. UNESCO has also produced a translation of selections from the Granth.

In the Sikh Temple the Granth is rested on a small seat placed on a high platform under a canopy. A chawri is waved over it at the time of service as a sign of its spiritual prominence.

The Granth is kept wrapped up in fine cloth. It is opened daily in the early morning after a prayer and closed after the evening prayer.

Return to the top of the page.

The Sikh Temple: Kirtan

KirtanOne main function of the Sangat is Kirtan (singing of the Guru's hymns to the accompaniment of musical instruments). The Guru is manifest in the Sangat through Kirtan because according to Sikhism, "The Guru is the word and the word is Guru" (Kanra M.4). Guru Nanak; the founder of Sikhism demonstrated in a practical way his love for Kirtan by always keeping a bard named Mardana with him. So did Guru Arjan when he invented a type of Saranda (fiddle) for religious music and said, "Kirtan is like a valuable diamond, Full of bliss and deep in qualities. On whomsoever the Lord showers his graces, Kirtan becomes his sustenance."

Guru Ram Dass likewise said,  "Whosoever performs Kirtan or listens to His praises, is loved by the Lord Himself."

Music is a tonic for man's heart. It kindles the soul. According to Plato, music is valuable not only because it refines the feelings and character but also because it preserves and restores health and lends grace to the body and soul. The Guru's idea of Kirtan (music) is given in this verse, "Of all elements, the most significant is the element of knowledge. Of all meditations, the most significant is the meditation of One. Of all sound, the most significant is the Kirtan of God." (Guru Arjan)

The Sikhs are very fond of hymn singing. Their celestial music can be heard in the Gurdwaras where the Sangat imbibes the Guru's instructions through the thrilling Gurubani set to music by the Ragis (musicians). Sujan Rai, the author of Khulasa-tul- Tawarikh (1696) says, "The only way of worship with them is that they read the hymns composed by their Gurus and sing them sweetly with the accompaniment of musical instruments."

Return to the top of the page.

The Sikh Temple: Nam

The Sangat sings 'Nam' in the Gurdwara. Nam, like the term logos in Greek, has many meanings. It may mean God (Sukhmani MV. 16-5) and it may mean God's praises. The immortal and immaculate 'Nam' is to be sung, spoken and meditated on in Sangat. In most cases, it signifies the revelation of God through the Guru's sacred word. Thus in the sangat everyone concentrates on 'Nam' and dwells on His excellences. It is thus that the holy word (Nam) and the organised fellowship (Sangat) make the love existing between the Guru and the Sikhs more intense than has ever existed between the most romantic lovers of the world.

"The Guru is the Sikh and the Sikh who practises the Guru's word is one with the Guru." (Asa Chhant M.4)

Return to the top of the page.

The Sikh Temple: Langar

The temptation of evil always surpasses the human powers for resisting it with the result that in spite of inherent progressive tendencies, it remains practically impossible for human beings to fulfill the standard of virtue expected of them. The institution of Langar, started by Guru Nanak at Kartarpur and carried forward by the other Gurus, is a form of sublimation of the human mind and habits. It enjoins all to work and provide for the whole human family. All who visit the Gurudwara sit down together in a row (Pangat) and partake of the simple food offered with loving care irrespective of the recipient's caste, creed, colour or country. Guru Arjan says, "Let all share equally; no one should be viewed an outsider."

LangarThus in a Gurudwara, idle mysticism has given place to active service done in the midst of worldly relationships. The Langar is a place of 'charity and service, where each gives according to his capacity and takes according to his needs. The devotees may pay for expenses, bring provisions, pay tithes, donate land to the Langar or personally contribute their labour of love by grinding the corn, cooking the food, fetching the water, cleaning the utensils, bringing fuel or serving food. It is thought meritorious to take meals in a Langar by sitting in a row with others rising above sectarian prejudices and mixing like members of a joint family without differentiation of social, political or spiritual status. Even the great king Akbar once came to Guru Amar Dass and enjoyed his meals in the Langar. The Langar is open day and night and volunteers are always ready to welcome and serve the needy with food. When the provisions run short, the Langar is called 'Mast' which means that the needy have to be content with whatever is available at the moment and that the Langar requires immediate help. Impressed by the Langar in the Gurudwara, I.B. Bannerji in his book, 'Evolution of the Khalsa', writes, "In spite of the fact that the ideal of service and the inculcation of a spirit of brother- hood were equally significant features of almost all the schools of religious revivals in contemporary India; it was in Sikhism alone that a sense of corporate unity gradually evolved." (Indu Bhushan Bannerji, Evolution of the Khalsa, Vol. I, p. 254)

"And from the earliest days of Sikhism, one manifestation of this corporate obligation was the maintenance of the Langar. Teja Singh says, 'It is the glory of the Sikh history that the Guru had in mind the duties of a nation, as much as the duties of an individual.' The Sikhs were given the realisation that their concern was not merely personal salvation, but being members of a community they also had a larger set of duties and responsibilities. The ideal of service in this larger context became intimately bound up with the concept of the 'Sikh Brotherhood' or the 'Sikh Sangat', so the ideal of service for a Sikh ceases to be merely individualistic and involves a sense of corporate responsibility. A corporate sense could only arise if certain obligations were made definite and universal, so that the character of a corporate liability would evolve." (Guru Nanak Souvenir S.S.F. Bhopal, page 52)

Table of Contents
Next Chapter - Ceremonies
Return to the top of the page.

Copyright (©)2004 by Sikh Missionary Society (U.K.)
All Rights Reserved.