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A gurdwara (Punjabi: ਗੁਰਦੁਆਰਾ, gurduārā or , gurdwārā), meaning the gateway to the guru, is the place of worship for Sikhs; however, people of all faiths are welcomed in the Sikh Gurdwara. The gurdwara has a Darbar Sahib where the Guru Granth Sahib is seen and a Langar where people can eat free food. A gurdwara may also have a library, nursery, and classroom. A gurdwara can be identified from a distance by tall flagpoles bearing the Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag.
The first gurdwara was built in Kartarpur, on the banks of Ravi River in the Punjab region by the first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji in the year 1521. It now lies in the Narowal District of west Punjab (Pakistan). The worship centres were built as a place where Sikhs could gather to hear the guru give spiritual discourse and sing religious hymns in the praise of Waheguru. As the Sikh population continued to grow, Guru Hargobind, the sixth Sikh guru, introduced the word 'gurdwara'.
The etymology of the term 'Gurdwara' is from the words 'gur (ਗੁਰ)' (a reference to the Sikh Gurus) and 'dwara (ਦੁਆਰਾ)' (gateway in Gurmukhi), together meaning 'the gateway through which the guru could be reached'. Thereafter, all Sikh places of worship came to be known as gurdwaras.
Some of the prominent Sikh shrines established by the Sikh Gurus are:
By the early 20th century, a number of Sikh gurdwaras in British India were under the control of the Udasi mahants (clergymen). The Gurdwara Reform Movement of the 1920s resulted in Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee taking control of these gurdwaras.
Any place where the Guru Granth Sahib is installed and treated with due respect according to Sikh Rehat Maryada (the Sikh code of conduct and convention) can be referred to as a gurdwara, whether it is a room in one's own house or a separate building. The main functions that are carried out in all public gurdwaras on a daily basis include:
Along with these main functions, the gurdwaras around the world also serve the Sikh community in many other ways including, libraries of Sikh literature, schools to teach children Gurmukhi (Sikh script), the Sikh scriptures and charitable work in the wider community on behalf of Sikhs.
There are no idols, statues, or religious pictures in a gurdwara, but the essential feature of a gurdwara is the presiding presence of the holy book and the eternal Sikh Guru, the Guru Granth Sahib. The Sikhs hold high respect for the teachings and commandments laid down in the Guru Granth Sahib.
A gurdwara has a darbar (main) hall, a free community kitchen called a langar, and some other facilities. A gurdwara is identified from a distance by tall flag-poles bearing the Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag (see photo). Many of the historical gurdwaras associated with the lives of the Sikh Gurus have a sarovar (eco-friendly pool) attached for bathing.
The Sikh marriage ceremony, called Anand Karaj is performed inside a gurdwara. Sikhs also perform some of the rites of their death ceremony (Antam Sanskar) within the gurdwara. It is also the main focal point of most of the important Sikh Festivals, with the exception of Nagar Kirtan, which is a Sikh processional singing of holy hymns throughout a community; however; it does begin and conclude at a gurdwara.
Many gurdwaras are designed to seat men on one side and women on the other, although designs vary, and the divided seating is far from mandatory. They do not generally sit together but on separate sides of the room, both at an equal distance from the Guru Granth Sahib, as a sign of equality. Worshippers are offered Karah Parshad (sweet flour and ghee-based food offered as prashad) in the worship hall, which is usually given into cupped hands by a sewadar (gurdwara volunteer).
In the langar room, food is cooked and served by the volunteers in the community. Only vegetarian food is served in the langar hall, to suit the visitors from different backgrounds so that no person may be offended. All people belonging to different faiths sit together to share a common meal, regardless of any dietary restrictions. The main philosophy behind the Langar is two-fold : to provide training to engage in Seva and an opportunity to serve people from all walks of life and to help banish all distinctions between high and low or rich and poor.
Unlike the places of worship in some other religious systems, gurdwara buildings do not have to conform to any set architectural design. The only established requirements are: the installation of the Guru Granth Sahib, under a canopy or in a canopied seat, usually on a platform higher than the specific floor on which the devotees sit, and a tall Sikh pennant flag atop the building.
Lately, more and more gurdwaras have been having buildings imitating more or less the Harimandir Sahib pattern, a synthesis of Indo-Persian and Sikh architecture. Most of them have square halls, stand on a higher plinth, have entrances on all four sides, and have square or octagonal domed sanctums usually in the middle. During recent decades, to meet the requirements of larger gatherings, bigger and better ventilated assembly halls, with the sanctum at one end, have become accepted style. The location of the sanctum, more often than not, is such as to allow space for circumambulation. Sometimes, to augment the space, verandahs are built to skirt the hall. A popular model for the dome is the ribbed lotus, topped by an ornamental pinnacle. Arched copings, kiosks and solid domelets are used for exterior decorations.
It is the duty of all Sikhs to engage in personal and communal meditation, Kirtan and the study of the holy Scriptures. Meditating and understanding the meaning of texts from the Guru Granth Sahib is important for the proper moral and spiritual development of a Sikh. One must study Gurmukhi script and be able to read Gurbani to understand the meaning of the text. A Sikh has to revert to the Guru Granth Sahib for the all spiritual guidance in ones life.
It is believed that a Sikh is more easily and deeply engrossed by Gurbani when engaged in congregational gatherings. For this reason, it is necessary for a Sikh to visit gurdwara. On joining the holy congregation, Sikhs should take part and obtain the benefit from the combined study of the holy scriptures. No one is to be barred from entering a gurdwara regardless of their religious or regional background and are welcomed in.
Seva is an important and prominent part of the Sikh religion. Dasvand forms a central part of Sikh belief (of Vand Chhako) and literally means donating ten percent of one's harvest, both financial and in the form of time and service such as seva to the gurdwara and anywhere where help is needed. All Sikhs therefore get involved in this communal service whenever an opportunity arises. This in its simple forms can be: sweeping and washing the floors of the gurdwara, serving water and food (Langar) to or fanning the congregation, offering provisions or preparing food and doing other 'house keeping' duties.
Sikhism offers strong support for a healthy communal life, and a Sikh must undertake to support all worthy projects which would benefit the larger community and promote Sikh principles. Importance is given to Inter-faith dialogue, support for the poor and weak; better community understanding and co-operation.
Many gurdwaras also have other facilities for Sikhs to learn more about their religion, such as libraries, complexes for courses in Gurmukhi (Sikh script), Sikhism and Sikh scriptures, meeting rooms, and room-and-board accommodation for those who need it. Gurdwaras are open to all people of all religions and are generally open all hours of a day. Some gurdwaras also provide temporary accommodations (serais) for visitors or devotees. The gurdwara also serves as a community centre and a guest house for travellers, occasionally a clinic, and a base for local charitable activities. Apart from morning and evening services, the gurdwaras hold special congregations to mark important anniversaries on the Sikh calendar. They become scenes of much éclat and festivity during celebrations in honour of the birth anniversaries of the Gurus and Vaisakhi.
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