Places of worship – Sikhi

The following questions were asked by pupils. Click on each question to see the answer.

Why do Sikhs go to a place of worship?

Sikhs go to a place of worship to listen to the Guru Granth Sahib, meet other Sikhs and find out what is going on. This is because the gurdwara is a community centre as well as a place of worship. There are talks about health, trips for elderly people, fund raising for local charities and sports clubs.

What are the important rooms and features in a gurdwara?

The rooms link to the activities in the Gurdwara. So, the first would be a flagpole outside the Gurdwara where the Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag is. Coming into the Gurdwara there is an area for shoes since Sikhs do not wear shoes inside the Gurdwara as they may sit on the floor. There may be washbasins close by so they can wash their hands before eating. Then there is the Langar hall where the Langar is served. This is free vegetarian food that anyone can come to eat. There will be a kitchen close to this where the langar is prepared. In a hall called the Diwan the main worship takes place. People sing and listen to hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh scripture. Sometimes there is a small room next to this where the Guru Granth Sahib is kept at night.

You should include a room called Classroom where there may be lessons in how to play the instruments used in worship and also teach people to read the language the Guru Granth Sahib is in. People can also learn English and take Citizenship lessons there. There will also be a Library where there are books on Sikhism. There will be a room for the management committee who are ordinary Sikhs elected usually for a couple of years to manage the Gurdwara for the community and, of course, there will be a toilet, usually separate facilities for women and men.

What is it like to go to a service in a gurdwara?

OK, because you can leave when you want to and maybe sit somewhere else. I enjoy certain styles of music and some preachers are ok. I like it when they make you think about something; it only needs to be one thing, but you think about how you are living and whether it’s what you really want and the best you can do.

Are men and women allowed to worship together?

Men and women worship together always. They do not generally sit together as a group, however, if they are seated on the floor. They will segregate leaving space between them which worshippers can use to approach the throne of Guru Granth Sahib Ji.

This is due to the unwanted physical intimacy if people have to squish together and also violation of privacy if a mother was, for example, breast feeding. When there are chairs, for example, at a conference, women and men will sit together.

How often should Sikhs visit the Gurdwara?

Ideally, they could go twice a day to join in congregational worship, for dialogue and to perform service. Most go weekly, some Sikhs only go on the major festivals and for weddings. The gurdwara is very much a community centre as well as a place of worship.

Do you have a set pattern of worship in your services, i.e., like the Christian liturgy?

The order of service is laid out in the Sikh Rehat Maryada or code of conduct. This describes the activities that would take place, e.g. singing hymns followed by exposition of the hymns. However, Sikhs can pick and choose what elements to take part in. People generally drift in while hymns are being sung, listen to some exposition and then go for langar.

How often do you visit the Gurdwara and what is it like there?

I go to the gurdwara each week and on some of the special festivals mentioned above. It is a nice place where there is free vegetarian food that anyone can eat. For this reason, you may find non-Sikhs there, for example, homeless people or refugees. Also, Sikh worship is hymn singing so there is music. Although there are set times for services people are free to wander in and out at their choice so typically I will go to the prayer hall, bow before the Guru Granth Sahib to show my acceptance of its teachings as ruling my life, perhaps listen to one hymn and then go to eat.

A gurdwara is also a community centre so there are classes there that teach instruments, Panjabi (the language) and English (for recent immigrants). It organises activities for older people, such as trips. It is a place to share medical advice and it organises sponsored walks for local charities.

What do you do in the Gurdwara and is there a person who leads the prayers?

Sing hymns, pray, eat in the langar and offer voluntary service (sewa). There is no one person in charge of everything as different people perform different roles. There is an elected management committee who are responsible for making sure that it all works.

How does the gurdwara reflect beliefs about god?

The Golden Temple is the paradigm of a gurdwara. It was built lower than the city that was established around it as religion should serve humanity. The four doors show that people can reach God whatever their religious, racial, gender or caste identity. Free vegetarian food is served to all and it is important to eat as it expresses human equality and fellowship.