A Gurdwara is the place where Sikhs come together for congregational worship. The literal meaning of the Punjabi word Gurdwara is 'the residence of the Guru', or 'the door that leads to the Guru'.
In a modern Gurdwara, the Guru is not a person, but the book of Sikh scriptures called the Guru Granth Sahib. It is the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib that gives the Gurdwara its religious status, so any building containing the book is a Gurdwara.
Although a Gurdwara may be called the residence of the Guru (meaning the residence of God), Sikhs believe that God is present everywhere.
The purpose of a Gurdwara
It's a place to learn spiritual wisdom
It's a place for religious ceremonies
It's a place where children learn the Sikh faith, ethics, customs, traditions and texts
A Gurdwara is also a community center, and offers food, shelter, and companionship to those who need it.
Gurdwaras are generally managed by a committee of their community.
Before going into a Gurdwara
All visitors to the Gurdwara should remove their shoes and cover their heads before entering the main hall. It is forbidden to smoke or take tobacco on to the premises and visitors cannot enter the Gurdwara while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Inside the Gurdwara
There are no idols, or statues in a Gurdwara, because Sikhs worship only God, and they regard God as having no physical form. The focus of attention, and the only object of reverence in the main hall (or Darbar Sahib) is the book of Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, which is treated with the respect that would be given to a human Guru.
The Guru Granth Sahib is kept in a room of its own during the night and carried in procession to the main hall at the start of the day's worship.
The book is placed on a raised platform (Takht or Manji Sahib, meaning "throne") under a canopy (Chanani or Palki), and covered with an expensive cloth when not being read. During a service a person with a whisk or fan called a Chaurwaves it over the Guru Granth Sahib.
On entering a Gurdwara
Sikhs will bow to the Guru Granth Sahib as the first thing they do, touching the floor with their forehead. This not only shows their respect but also indicates that they submit themselves to the truths contained in the book.
People also place an offering of food or money in front of the Guru Granth Sahib. This is used to run the Gurdwara and the free food kitchen (Langar). The offering is not charity but a sharing of God's gifts. If a person has no money or food to offer they may offer flowers, or just some words of sincere thanks.
Seating in a Gurdwara
Everyone sits on the floor in a Gurdwara. This is to be humble before the Guru Granth Sahib and because it gives everyone a place of equal status to sit. Most people sit cross-legged. No-one should sit with their feet pointing at the Guru Granth Sahib. Men and women generally sit on separate sides of the hall.
Towards the end of a service karah prasad, a sweet vegetarian food that has been blessed, will be served. This should be taken and received in cupped hands as a gift of God.
The free food kitchen, or Langar
Every Gurdwara has a Langar attached to it where food is served to anyone without charge. The term Langar is also used for the communal meal served at the Gurdwaras.
The food served in the Langar must be simple, so as to prevent wealthy congregations turning it into a feast that shows off their superiority. Only vegetarian food is served in the Gurdwaras. This ensures that any visitor to the Gurdwara, whatever the dietary restrictions of their faith, can eat in the Langar.
The meal may include chapati (bread), dal (pulses), vegetables and rice pudding.