Expressing Faith through Worship
For Sikhs, attending the Gurdwara fulfils a basic human need to worship, to recognize the fire within the wood of our being (Guru Granth Sahib: 606). Sikh sentiments are contained in the following verses: ‘The earth has been set up as a dharamsal, a place for righteousness’ and ‘the saints of different worlds’ (Guru Granth Sahib: 7-8). Therefore, there are many worlds where sentient life is able to align with the One. The purpose of the world is to create a space where the One can expand its love beyond itself and we can be trained in love. The material worlds are spaces where the Spirit is potentially allowed to shine through the veil of shame and filth that is the ego.
One verse occurs three times in the Guru Granth Sahib Ji – in the morning and evening prayers and in the main text also. The Sodar verse discusses planets, fire, water, Buddhas, angels, the gods and goddesses and saints praising the One in its court. Sodar means ‘the gate’, in this case, the door to the divine kingdom.
Gurdwara literally means ‘door to the Guru’. The Guru in the form of the Guru Granth Sahib holds court in the gurdwara. Outside will be found a flag, the Nishan Sahib with the Sikh symbol placed on it. Inside, there will be found a worship area with a throne or takht at the centre. This is a platform for the Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
The Guru Granth Sahib Ji is treated as the ruler of the Sikh’s life. Therefore, it is placed on a throne under a canopy with an attendant waving a fan over it. Sikhs bow to it and must never turn their back to the ruler.
Worshippers always take off their shoes when entering a Gurdwara. They also bow or prostrate themselves before the Guru Granth Sahib. During worship which may last up to five hours, worshippers (the sadhsangat) sit cross-legged on carpeted floors. Hymn singing or ragas, sermons and prayers alternate during the course of the devotions. There are no priests in Sikhi so anyone may read the Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
At the end of devotions a worshipper receives karah parshad, a sweet mixture of flour, semolina and butter, to provide food and sustenance. As it is important to feed the physical as well as the spiritual body, food is prepared in the langar (kitchen) and worshippers have food during the course of the day. The Guru Granth Sahib describes itself on p.1429 as a platter serving spiritual nourishment of three kinds – reality, contentment and food for thought and discussion.
A Gurdwara is not only a place of worship, it is also a centre for the community. Therefore, there are often medical dispensaries or educational facilities associated with it. Classes are run for Panjabi and music so that the younger generation may develop their ability to take part in Sikh life. There are often classes for English and citizenship for the older generation so they can play a fuller role in British society.