A gurdwara (meaning 'door to the Guru') is the place of worship for Sikhs. People from all faiths, and those who do not profess any faith, are welcomed in Sikh gurdwaras. Each gurdwara has a Darbar Sahib where the current and everlasting Guru of the Sikhs,
the holy scripture Guru Granth Sahib is placed on a Takhat (an elevated throne) in a prominent central position. The Raagis (who sing Ragas) recite, sing and explain, the verses from theGuru Granth Sahib, in the presence of the holy congregation.
All gurdwaras have a langar hall, where people can eat free vegetarian food. They 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 most well-known gurdwara is the Harmandir Sahib (popularly known as The Golden Temple) in Amritsar, Punjab, India. This gurdwara is one the most important in Sikhism and Sikh's are obliged to come at least once in their lifetimes.
The first gurdwara was built in Kartarpur, on the banks of Ravi River in the Punjab region by the first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak Devin 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 inGurmukhi), 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:
- Nankana Sahib, established in the 1490s by first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev, Punjab, Pakistan.
- Sultanpur Lodhi, established in 1499 became the Sikh centre during Guru Nanak Dev time Kapurthala District, Punjab (India).
- Kartarpur Sahib, established in 1521 by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev, near River Ravi, Narowal, Punjab, Pakistan.
- Khadur Sahib, established in 1539 by the second Sikh Guru, Guru Angad Dev, near River Beas, Amritsar District, Punjab, India.
- Goindwal Sahib, established in 1552 by the third Sikh Guru, Guru Amar Das, near River Beas, Amritsar District Punjab, India.
- Sri Amritsar, established in 1577 By the fourth Sikh Guru, Guru Ram Das, District Amritsar, Punjab (India).
- Tarn Taran Sahib, established in 1590 by the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev, District Tarn Taran Sahib, Punjab (India).
- Kartarpur Sahib, established in 1594 by the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev, near river Beas, Jalandhar District, Punjab (India).
- Sri Hargobindpur, established by the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev, near river Beas, Gurdaspur District, Punjab (India).
- Kiratpur Sahib, established in 1627 by the sixth Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind, near river Sutlej, Ropar District, Punjab, India.
- Anandpur Sahib, established in 1665 by the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, near river Sutlej, Punjab, India.
- Paonta Sahib, established in 1685 by the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, near river Yamuna, Himachal Pradesh India.
By the early 20th century, a number of Sikh gurdwaras in British India were under the control of the Udasi mahants (clergymen). TheGurdwara Reform Movement of the 1920s resulted in Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee taking control of these gurdwaras.
Gurdwara buildings do not have to conform to any set architectural design. The only established requirements are: the installation of the 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.
In the 21st century, more and more gurdwaras (especially within India) have been following 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.
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 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.