Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Guide to attending the Gurdwara/Sikh Temple

Nishan Sahib image from
A Sikh temple is also called a Gurdwara. Here is a guide to attending a Sikh temple. 

There is no smoking, consumption of alcohol or drugs on the temple premises. When you attend the temple you will notice that there is a triangular orange flag outside the temple. This is called the Nishan Sahib. The nishan sahib helps for people from far and wide to be able to find the temple.  It has a khanda (the symbol for our religion) on it. The double edged sword itself in the middle is also called a khanda. And there are two kirpans (swords) on either side and a chakkar or circle.

The double edged sword symbolizes divine knowledge/one God.The two kirpans represent the balance between Piri (spiritual sovereignty. It reminds us of our spiritual role in praying, etc.) and Miri (political sovereignty. It reminds us of our worldly roles in fighting against injustice).The circle inside symbolizes God without beginning or end, and a symbol of oneness of humanity

Khanda, image from
Inside the temple there will be an area to put your shoes. Men’s and women’s sides will be opposite to each other. After you remove your shoes, you should wash your hands and cover your head (no hats please). There are head coverings provided if you don’t already have one. We remove our shoes and cover our heads as a sign of respect. When attending the temple it’s important to wear something comfortable yet modest as you will be sitting on the ground.  

In the front of the main hall you will see the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. These are our holy scriptures. There were 10 Gurus in Sikhism and the 10th, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, passed on the guruship to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, therefore we treat our Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji as our living Guru. It has the writings of the Sikh Gurus, and also many Hindus and Muslims. You will notice the scriptures are covered in a cloth. That is called the Ramala Sahib and is changed every week. When you walk up to the Guru Granth Sahib Ji you can stand and say a prayer and offer some money if you’d like. Then you will bow down to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Note we are bowing down to the Divine light and knowledge of the Guru, not the physical book. We do not do idol worship in Sikhism. Just as a king sits on a throne, we have a Manji sahib for the Guru Granth Sahib. The canopy above is called a chanani. You may have observed that there is a person standing behind the Guru Granth Sahib waving a Chaur Sahib. This is used to fan the Guru Granth Sahib out of respect, just as young people used to wave fans for their elders in their homes and people waved them for the emperors.  

Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Image from 
The men sit on one side of the temple and the women sit on another side. (The explanation I have heard is because of opposite polar energies, and because it helps to keep people focused. But I think it’s probably more cultural than religious, as some Gurdwaras do not follow this.) We sit on the ground for equality. It’s important to remember not to sit with legs extended/feet turned towards the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, or stand with your back turned to the Guru Granth Sahib as this is considered disrespectful. It’s okay to turn around and walk back to your seat, etc. though. 

The service consists of playing music (usually the harmonium, but sometimes other instruments ranging from violin to sitar are used) while singing hymns. You may see men, women or children singing hymns on the stage. Children are usually in Punjabi classes on Sundays however. The Gyani (similar to a priest; he is knowledgeable spiritually and lives at the temple) will explain some of the meanings of the hymns and explain stories from our history. People in the audience will often sing along to the hymns. At around 12 pm (or later if there is a special event) we do a prayer collectively called Anand Sahib and then we stand up for a collective prayer, the Ardas. People stand with their hands folded/joined. In this prayer, we remember the sacrifices made by Sikhs before us, and we thank God for what we have, and specific people can ask to have their prayers read aloud as well.  There are parts in the prayer where we remember God by saying his name aloud, Waheguru. At the end everyone bows down and stands up again. Once the Gyani says “Bole So Nihal” (whoever utters the phrase following shall be fulfilled), everyone replies “Sat Sri Akal” (Eternal is the Lord). And then “Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki fateh" (Hail the Khalsa that belongs to God, and Hail God to whom belongs the victory).  Then we sit to listen to the hukamnama, the reading of a hymn from the Guru Granth Sahib which is taken as the order of God for the day. Once this is concluded, there are usually announcements and the kara parshad/degh is handed out. This probably best described as “pudding” although it is thicker consistency, and is made of flour, butter, and sugar. It is handed out as a blessing. During the Ardas you may have observed that someone stirred the degh with a small kirpan (sword) signifying it has been blessed by the Guru. Langar is served downstairs once the service is concluded. Langar is a free kitchen. Volunteers from the community prepare the food and share it with the community. Again, everyone sits together on the floor- whether it’s a king or a poor person, for equality.  Everyone is welcome to attend.

Although anyone is welcome at the temple anytime, for those not familiar with the temple it may be best to go on Sundays when there are lots of people around to explain and there is a service. People come and go as they please, but the service on Sundays is usually from about 10-1230 and then langar is served.


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