5 Conduct and Worship Tips to Know When You Visit the Sikh Gurdwara

What to Expect: Visitors and Events

The place where Sikhs gather to worship with reverence and respect is called a gurdwara and literally means the guru's door. A gurdwara meeting place has no specific size or design. It can be a bare, clean, simple room, or an elaborate building, such as the Golden Temple with its marble floors, gilded frescos, and ornate domes. Gurdwaras may be surrounded by fountains, or have a moat used by pilgrims for bathing. There might be a flag marked with the emblem of the Sikh coat of arms. The one necessary feature is the installation of Siri Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh Scripture.

If you are visiting a gurdwara, these 5 tips on conduct, worship, programs, and events will help you know what to expect, and understand what is expected of you.

1
Visitors are Welcome

Golden Temple and Akal Takhat Complex
Golden Temple and Akal Takhat Complex. Photo © [S Khalsa]

Anyone is welcome to worship in a gurdwara regardless of caste, color, or creed. A specific protocol of worship exists for the gurdwara. Cleanliness and respectful conduct is essential. If you are thinking of visiting a gurdwara, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Be modestly attired.
  • Cover your head.
  • Remove your shoes.
  • Wash hands, and feet if needed.
  • Bow respectfully before the Guru Granth.
  • Offer any donation such as flowers, food items, or money.
  • Sit quietly on the floor with your legs crossed, and face towards Guru Granth.
  • Accept prasad, a sanctified delicacy made from flour, butter, and sugar.
  • Enjoy a vegetarian meal from the free langar kitchen.

2
Guru Granth Scripture

Attendant at Gurdwara Service Worship Service
Attendant at Gurdwara Service Worship Service. Photo © [S Khalsa]

Guru Granth Sahib is the central focus of the Sikh worship service. Before the main worship service begins, a Sikh offers a prayer of ardas. Every one present stands. A Sikh attendant able to read the Gurmukhi scripture then performs prakash to ceremoniously open and invoke the manifest light of the Guru Granth. Worshipers reverently listen with utmost respect as a random verse of scripture is read. The worship service is concluded in the same manner. At the end of the day,  a final verse is read aloud. The sacred volume is closed, and Guru Granth Sahib is put to rest with a sukhasan ceremony.

Whether day or night, open or closed, the resting place for scripture of Guru Granth Sahib is required to have:

3
Gurdwara Programs and Worship Services

Receive Prashad with Both Hands
Receive Prashad with Both Hands. Photo © [S Khalsa]

Sikhs congregate together in the gurdwara for a multitude of purposes. To avoid disruption of any function, only one activity may take place at a time in a particular hall. Visitors are welcome to take part in Gurdwara worship services which include:

  • Kirtan: Join in singing devotional hymns of Sikh scripture. Many gurdwaras project words and meanings on to hanging screens.
  • : Listen respectfully to narration of Sikh scriptures and their meanings.
  • Gurbani: Listen and enjoy recitation of Sikh scriptures or daily prayers.
    Simran and Naam Jap: Join in and enjoy recitation of Waheguru, the Sikh word for God.
  • Ardas: Stand up with congregation during prayerful supplication and invocation of blessing.
  • Hukam: Listen to the divine order of a random verse read aloud from Guru Granth.
  • Prashad: A sweet delicacy is offered to every worshiper with every service. Many gurdwaras have prashad always available, otherwise it is served at the conclusion of a worship service. To receive prashad, either sit or kneel, and cup both hands together, when served.

4
Gurdwara Events

Guru Granth Sahib at Gurdwara Bradshaw
Guru Granth Sahib at Gurdwara Bradshaw. Photo © [S Khalsa]

Gurdwaras with large memberships usually have several rooms in addition to the main hall, which may be used for services or other purposes. Many annual events take also place at the gurdwara:

5
Inappropriate Conduct

Gong
Gong. Photo © [S Khalsa]

The gurdwara is considered the house of the Guru Granth Sahib. Only a specially trained Sikh is permitted to perform devotional kirtan, or read aloud from the Guru Granth while the congregation of Sikh sangat is present. Ceremonies and practices not condoned within the gurdwara complex include:

  • Festivities associated with other faiths.
  • Any other book or scripture level with, or above Guru Granth.
  • Rituals involving burning lamps & incense.
  • Sounding a gong.
  • Idol worship, or bowing to statues or pictures of the ten gurus.
  • Keeping water beneath the cot on which Guru Granth rests.
  • Sitting with legs extended or feet pointed towards Guru Granth.
  • Sitting on a cushion, chair, or in any position or posture designating rank.
  • Massaging, pressing or rubbing floor, walls, or legs supporting the Guru's cot.
  • Smoking, drinking, dancing, or parties.