What you need to know before you visit the Gurdwara
The place where Sikhs gather to worship is called a Gurdwara and literally means the guru’s door. A gurdwara meeting place has no specific design. It can be a bare, clean, simple room or an elaborate building, such as the Golden Temple with its marble floors, gilded frescos, and ornate domes. Gurdwaras may be surrounded by fountains, or have a moat used by pilgrims for bathing. There might be a flag marked with the emblem of the Sikh coat of arms. The one necessary feature is the installation of Siri Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh Scripture.
Anyone is welcome to worship in a Gurdwara regardless of caste, color, or creed. A specific protocol exists for the Gurdwara. Cleanliness is essential. If you are thinking of visiting a Gurdwara, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Please dress appropriately so that you can comfortably and with decency sit on the carpeted floor. It is recommended that all visitors to the Gurdwara wear loose fitting clothing which covers most of your legs. Low hanging or tight-fitting pants/trousers may not be suitable. Please try sitting on the carpeted floor at home for a short period to see if the clothing is suitable.
- All visitors entering the Main Prayer Hall, called the Darbar Sahib and the Dining (Langar) Hall will have to remove their shoes and place them in the shoe racks provided.
- Strictly No Smoking is allowed in the vicinity of the Gurdwara premises. Visitors cannot enter the Gurdwara while under the influence of Alcohol or Drugs. You should not take cigarettes or tobacco with you into the premises or smoke while near the Gurdwara or soon before going into the Gurdwara.
- All visitors MUST cover their heads while in the main Gurdwara areas ie: (Darbar Sahib and Langar Hall) Head covering for men/boys will normally be available in the Gurdwara but a large knotted handkerchief is acceptable. (The Gurdwara may provide handkerchief sized cloth to cover the head). Other hats and caps (eg baseball-style caps) may not be appropriate (please check with the Gurdwara officials). Sikh men normally wear a Turban. Women/Girls will need to wear a headscarf. The Gurdwara usually has a box of scarves, but you could bring your own headscarf for this purpose. The Sikh ladies usually wear a “Chunni”, which is normally a long, flowing semi-transparent plain cloth with a decorated, veiled edging.
- Chairs are not provided in the Gurdwara and so, when sitting, this will be on the carpeted floor both in the Main Prayer Hall (Darbar Sahib) and in the Langar Hall. (A few chairs may be available in the Langar Hall for visitors who have difficulty sitting on the floor due to old age or other medical condition).
- On first entering the large prayer room (called the Darbar Sahib), a small bow to the Guru Granth Sahib (the holy book) shows respect to the host community. Backs should not be turned on the Guru Granth Sahib or the soles of the feet pointed towards the Sikh holy book when sitting on the carpet (as a mark of respect). It is normal to sit cross-legged yoga style. It may be a good idea to practise this at home if possible before your trip to the Gurdwara.
- Visitors will usually be offered Kara Parshad (sweet flour and oil based food offered as a gift) in the worship hall, which is usually given in cupped hands and eaten with the right hand. If you are uncertain about your ability to eat a lot of this food – Say “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 (volunteer) serving the Kara Parshad) to save your Kara Parshad if it is not to your taste – Please do not refuse it or throw it away.
- 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 (volunteer) serving the Langar. If you require more later, just wait for the Sewadar to come around.