A Gurdwara meaning "the doorway to the Guru," is the Sikh place of worship and may be referred to as a Sikh temple.
In the early days of the Sikh Gurus, before the first gurdwara, followers of Guru Nanak formed a congregation. A Gurdwara always houses the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahi, and displays a triangular orange flag called the Nishan Sahib.
The Guru Granth Sahib is housed in the main hall known as the Darbar Hall. In most modern Gurdwaras, the hall is large and will house many hundreds of visitors.
Most Sikh temple buildings will have the following important features:
- A triangular orange flag with a Khanda, a Sikh emblem in the middle of the flag. The flag is referred to as a Nishan Sahib, which literally means mark or symbol.
- A Langar Hall is a large dining room where communal meals are served. Some temples may have tables and chairs but most will expect the devotees to sit on the carpeted floor.
- A Darbar Sahib is a hall which houses the SGGS, the Sikh holy book. This hall in most modern temples is large and will house many hundreds of visitors. Devotees will sit cross-legged on the carpeted floor. All those who enter the Darbar Sahib, which is also known as the Diwan Hall, must remove their shoes and cover their heads before entering. The devotees, normally on entering this hall, will walk slowly and respectfully to the dominant throne where the SGGS is placed. They then stand before the Holy Scriptures, say silent prayers, offer some coins, and then bow humbly before the SGGS. The Sikhs treat their holy Book like a living teacher or guru. This act of respect is not to be taken as an act of worship as Sikhs are only allowed to worship the One God, who they call Waheguru.
- A Night Room for the SGGS is a room where the Sikh Holy Book is placed overnight. This room is sometimes called "SachKhand," which translates to True/Pure Domain/Paradise.
- Various utility rooms, washrooms, kitchen, etc. Some of the larger Sikh temples also have bedrooms with bathroom facilities for the devotees to stay in overnight.
Customs and etiquette
In most, but not all gurdwaras, men and women typically end up sitting on different sides of the room, separated in the middle by a pathway that leads to the Guru Granth Sahib. Children of either gender may sit on either side. Some Gurdwaras, especially smaller ones, do not have any division. The segregation is purely to reduce distraction because the mind should only be focused on Waheguru. When entering the Darbar Hall, Sikhs should have their mind on the guru while singing God's praises. With men and women separated, this avoids distraction and thoughts of lust or Kaam.
Inside, devotees sit cross-legged on the floor. All those who enter the hall remove their shoes and cover their heads before entering. Upon entering the hall, devotees walk slowly and respectfully to the main throne on which the Guru Granth Sahib rests. Devotees then stand before the Holy Scriptures, often say a silent prayer, offer a donation (if able), then bow humbly. These manners and practices, though seemingly ritualistic in modern times are actually a well preserved extension of the ancient Punjabi practice of respect (for elders, ruling or religious persons).
Visiting a gurdwara
If you have not previously visited a gurdwara, below is a brief guidance for first-time visitors:
- Dress appropriately so that you can comfortably and decency sit on the carpeted floor. It is recommended to wear loose fitting clothing which covers most of your legs to reduce distraction and thoughts of kaam. While entering the main Prayer Hall (Darbar Sahib or Darbar Hall), all visitors have to remove their shoes and place them in the shoe racks provided, for which a token will be issued depending on which gurdwara you visit.
- Visitors cannot enter the gurdwara while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Visitors are also not allowed to smoke while in the gurdwara or soon before going into the gurdwara.
- Visitors need to cover their heads while in the Darbar Hall and the Dining Hall (Langar Hall) inside the gurdwara. Head covering for men/boys are normally available in the gurdwara but a knotted handkerchief is acceptable. (The gurdwara may provide handkerchief sized cloth to cover the head). Other hats (e.g, baseball-style caps) are not appropriate. Women/Girls need to wear a headscarf or other head covering, but they can also wear a knotted handkerchief. The gurdwara usually has a box of scarves, but you should bring your own headscarf for this purpose.
- Upon entering the large prayer room (called the Darbar Sahib), make a small bow to the Guru Granth Sahib (the holy book) to show respect to the 'Guru'. It is normal to sit cross-legged in a yoga style. It is recommended to practice this at home if possible before your trip to the gurdwara.
- Visitors will be offered Kara Parshad (sweet flour and oil based food offered as prashad) in the worship hall, which is usually given into the cupped hands of the visitor. If you are uncertain about your ability to eat a lot of this prashad, say "thoda" or “very small portion” to the Sewadar (volunteer) serving the Kara Parshad. You should take a small plastic bag (or ask for one from the Sewadar serving the Kara Parshad) to save your Kara Parshad for consumption later.
- You may be offered Langar (vegetarian food from the communal kitchen). If not too certain about consuming this food, you can ask to be excused although most people should take langar as it is regarded as a blessing by the Guru.
- When in the Langar Hall, it is better to ask for less rather than take too much and waste the food. Say “very little” to the Sewadar serving the Langar. If you require more later, just wait for the Sewadar to come around. If you are at a fundamentalist gurdwara, you may be required to sit on the ground while eating langar.
- The more modern, or "moderate" temples allow the visitors to sit comfortably on chairs and eat on tables.
- Also within the gurdwara is a learning center for Sikhs where you can learn more about their religion, as well as a library.