The Sikh Gurdwara Illustrated

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Gurdwara, the Guru's House of Worship

Gurdwara Entrance
Sangat lines up outside the entrance of Gurdwara Bradshaw. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Visiting the Gurdwara

The Sikh meeting place for worship is the gurdwara and means literally "guru's door". Members of the Sikh congregation are known as sangat. All people are welcome to visit any gurdwara regardless of caste, color, or creed. A visitor to the gurdwara is required to remove shoes, and cover the head. It is advisable to wear modest attire.

A gurdwara houses the holy scripture, Siri Guru Granth Sahib and may be either a simple or elaborate building. The Nishan Sahib, Sikh flag, is installed on gurdwara grounds and flies high above the gurdwara complex, so that it can be seen by those approaching the gurudwara.

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Remove Shoes Before Entering Gurdwara

Gurdwara Shoe Rack
Gurdwara Shoe Rack and Sevadar. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Gurdwara Shoe Rack

Every worshiper and visitor to the gurdwara is obligated to remove shoes before entering. Many gurdwaras have shoe racks close to the entrance. Visitors have a choice to make use of the shoe rack or to leave shoes to either side of the gurdwara entrance.

Shoe Seva

A Sikh man or woman may arrange the shoes neatly in rows clean the shoes and shoe racks. Shoe seva may be done voluntarily or assigned as tankaiya by five beloved panj pyare, the administers of Sikh initiation, as chastisement for a transgression of the Sikh code of conduct. Sevadars performing shoe seva consider the task of cleaning the shoes of sangat to be an honor. Shoe seva is always done lovingly with great respect for sangat, the Sikh congregation, and is believed to be a blessing of humility, capable of cleansing the soul.
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Wash Hands Prior to Entering Gurdwara

Singh washing hands before entering gurdwara.
Singh washing hands before entering gurdwara. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Wash Hands When Entering Gurdwara

A Sink or other means of washing hands is available close to the entry of a gurdwara. It is considered disrespectful to enter a gurdwara without washing hands after touching shoes. Hands should be washed and clean before touching an Amrit Kirtan hymnal pothi, a book of hymns, or gutka, a prayer book containing the required nitnem prayers, and before and after receiving karah prashad, a blessed delicacy.

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Enter the Gurdwara to Mathatake

Gurdwara Standing in line to Bow Mathatake. Queuing up to Mathatake
Sangat stands in line to mathatake when entering the gurdwara. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

The Sangat Forms a Line to Mathatake

When entering a gurdwara every worshiper and visitor performs mathatake and bows the forehead to the floor to show respect to Guru Granth Sahib.

Before sitting. It is customary to give an offering of cash, flowers, or foodstuff to used in the langar kitchen. When a large number of sangat, members of the Sikh congregation, gather for gurdwara service, the line of devotees extends down the entire length of the aisle leading to Guru Granth Sahib.

Sangat wait in line to perform mathatake turn by turn. An attendant granthi performs chaur seva, waving a whisk over Guru Granth Sahib.

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Sangat Listens to Ragi Kirtan at the Gurdwara

Gurdwara Ragi Kirtan
Ragis sit on stage and perform kirtan. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Ragis Perform Kirtan in the Gurdwara

Inside the gurdwara all worshipers and visitors sit on the floor, unless severe disability poses a problem. Traditionally the men sit together on one side of the gurdwara, the women, and young children sit on the opposite side. Ragis sit on stage in the front of the gurdwara and perform kirtan, divine hymns selected from Guru Granth Sahib. Members of sangat gather to listen, and sit in close proximity to each other with their legs respectfully crossed.

As a rule, two ragis play kirtan using the harmonium, a hand pump type of keyboard, and a third ragi plays the tablas, a set of two drum played with the hands. The ragis also perform kathaa, a sermon on the meaning of the shabad, during the kirtan. Sangat typically give the ragis donations to show appreciation for their service.
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Gurdwara Speeches and Service

Gurudwara Speeches
A Sikh woman gives a speech in the gurudwara. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Speechmaking and the Gurdwara Service

Speeches are an important part of the gurdwara service and usually are made after kirtan is finished. The man or woman giving the speech stands behind the podium to one side of Guru Granth Sahib next to the kirtan stage.

Speeches are conducted on a variety of topics such as political or panthic issues, fundraising for the gurdwara facility, and announcements of gurmat camps, and other events of interest to sangat.

Speechmaking in the Gurdwara

Speeches are an important part of the gurdwara service and usually are made after kirtan is finished. The man or woman giving the speech stands behind the podium to one side of Guru Granth sahib next to the Kirtan stage.

Speeches are conducted on a variety of topics such as:

  • Political or panthic issues.
  • Fundraising for the gurdwara facility.
  • Announcements of gurmat camps.
  • Other events of interest to sangat.
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Hukam and Completion of Gurdwara Worship Service

Reading the Hukam
Reading the Hukam. Photo © [S Khalsa]

Completion of the gurdwara worship service involves taking a hukam, a random verse read from Guru Granth Sahib to determine divine will. Prior to the hukam:

  • Ragia perform the hymn Anand Sahib as the sangat sings along.
  • Every one stands as Ardas, a prayer of petition is offered by a sevadar.
  • Everyone is seated on the floor as the granthi selects a random verse and reads aloud a Hukamnama from the scripture of Guru Granth Sahib.
  • Sevadars distribute Karah prashad, to the sangat who remain seated while partaking of the blessed delicacy.
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Karah Prashad Service in the Gurdwara

Gurdwara Taking Prashad
Taking prashad at Gurdwara. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Gurdwara and Karah Prashad

During a gurdwara service, a sevadar commonly sits on the floor and doles out karah prashad to visitors and sangat once they have performed mathatake, a gesture of respect to Guru Granth Sahib. The devotee cups both hands together extending them to receive the prashad.

Karah Prashad is prepared ahead of time in the langar kitchen. A batch of prashad is always blessed by a sevadar offering of Ardas and touching with kirpan before being served. Once it has been blessed, prashad can be mixed in with remnants of any other batch of prashad. A gurdwara service routinely ends with one or more sevadars walking among the congregation and individually serving karah prashad to all sangat present.

Don't' Miss:
Illustrated Prashad Recipe

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Langar Line Queue at the Gurdwara

Gurdwara Queuing for Langar
Queuing for Langar. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

The Gurdwara Langar Line

The sangat lines up to receive langar. Photographs of Sikh martyrs line the walls above their heads.

Eating utensils, trays, cups, and napkins, which may be either disposable or steel, are provided. The meal is prepared by volunteers. Sevadars serve the sangat as they file by the serving area. Langer usually consists of:

  • Sabji, a vegetable dish.
  • Dhal, a bean or lentil soup.
  • Dahee or raitia, plain or spiced yoghurt with cucumbers or other condiments.
  • Roti, a kind of flat bread.
  • Snacks both salty and sweet.
  • Salad and fresh fruit.
  • Drinks like water, milk, sodas, and tea made with milk.

Don't Miss:
All About Langar and the Guru's Free Kitchen
Sikhism Food Glossary and Cooking Terms
Vegetarian Food and Recipes From the Guru' s Free Kitchen

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Sangat Dine in the Langar Hall at the Gurdwara

Gurdwara Langar Seva
Serving langar to sangat. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Sangat line up in rows and dine sitting side by side on the gurdwara langar dining hall floor. Men and women may sit in different areas, or in family groups according to whim. No difference in caste, color, creed or rank is observed. Sevadars serve the sangat, walking between the lines of the diners, offering helpings of gur ka langar, blessed food and drink, until everyone has eaten their fill.

Sikh Gurdwara Langar Kitchen and Dining Hall Illustrated

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Langar Seva at the Gurdwara

Gurdwara Langar Cleanup Seva
Gurdwara Langar Cleanup Seva. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Langar Seva at the Gurdwara

A singh does clean up seva in the the langar hall of the gurdwara. After dining, sangat gives disposable refuse and leftover waste to the sevadar who has taken responsibility for clean up.

The sevadar scrapes plates and empties cups, throwing away disposable items, stacking and returning washable steel plates, and cups and to the dishwashing area.