Gurdwara (the door or the gateway to the Guru) is the name given to the Sikh’s place of worship, commonly addressed as Sikh temple in the western world. The Sikh scriptures are recited or sung and sermons are delivered. Guru Granth Sahib is placed on high palanquin under a canopy in the middle of one end of the hall. As well as sermons and the singing of the scriptures, the congregation is expected to participate in the ceremonies of birth, baptism, marriage, death and celebration of festivals.
Gurdwara is a place for acquiring a spiritual knowledge and wisdom. It is open to every one regardless of age, sex, caste, or creed. Here all men, women and children are treated as equal. It offers shelter and food to any one in need. It provides care for the sick, elderly and handicapped. It is also a centre for promoting culture and health. Moral education as well as knowledge of the religion and history is often taught to children in the Sikh temple.
Gurdwara is also a place for discussing problems facing the Sikh community. Infringement of the Sikh code of discipline may also be considered and suitable punishment decided. Gurdwara plays a socio-economic role in the Sikh community. It is expected to be free from any sectional interests or party politics.
The pattern of congregational worship can be divided into two categories: Katha, the reading of the holy hymns followed by their explanation and Kirtan, singing of the hymns. Attached to every Gurdwara is a free kitchen where the food, Langar, is prepared and served.
The community attempts to establish better relations and understanding between the Sikhs and other communities through occasional visits by them to a Gurdwara. Such visits are necessary not only to satisfy the curiosity of others but also to help them understand better the Sikh religion, customs and culture.
A Gurdwara can be identified from a distance by observing the Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag. The four doors of a Sikh temple represent the Door of Peace, the Door of Livelihood, the Door of Learning and the Door of Grace. These doors must always remain open to all.
The Sikh temple is a place for training the devotees in the company of pious people. The Gurus wanted to build a model human society through an ideal and benevolent world organisation.
Visitors to a Gurdwara must observe the protocol. Consumption of tobacco, liquor or narcotics is strictly forbidden to Sikhs and definitely not allowed in the Gurdwara premises. Before entering the hall, people take off their shoes, wash their hands, cover their head and think of the Guru. Non-Sikhs too must cover their head with a handkerchief or scarf. Upon entering the hall, where Guru Granth Sahib is kept, they walk slowly, bow humbly and touch their forehead to the ground, out of respect and love for the Guru. As people bow and place their offering respectfully before the Guru (money, flowers or words of thanks). Any sincere expression of gratitude is equally acceptable to the Guru.
After bowing and offering, one should sit down in the Sangat (congregation) quietly without disturbing others. Usually men sit on one side and women on the other, in a cross-legged position. Talking or whispering is not allowed. The usual service in the Gurdwara consists of Kirtan, the singing of the holy hymns, Katha, the reading of the hymns followed by their explanation; singing of six verses of Anand Sahib, Ardas, prayer, and Vak or Hukam, random reading of one hymn from Guru Granth Sahib. This is the Guru’s message or ‘Order’ of the day to the Sangat. Upon completion of the Hukam, Karah Parshad is distributed. Then Langar, food from the Guru’s kitchen, is served.