Gurdwara - What To Expect - A Simple Overview


1947-2014 (Archived)
Sangat ji

There are topics that many newcomers to Sikhism ask about frequently. The first visit to a gurdwara is something that I have noticed causes a little case of nerves. It is understandable because when a religion is completely new -- and when services fall completely outside of one's past experiences - well, a person just doesn't want to feel stupid, act in ways that are culturally offensive, or be so baffled that nothing is learned

A gurdwara which is the Sikh place of worship is open to all humanity without exceptions, open to all races, levels of society and creeds. And a Sikh of the Guru must per Gurbani help anyone who seeks to know more about the panth.

First rule of course is -- DO NOT BE NERVOUS (easier said than done). You will find it is an enjoyable experience. And one that is as different from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions as can be imagined. We can discuss why later. Just imagine yourself "in sangat" which means a gathering of people who are relaxed and happy in their devotion to Guruji.

This thread consists of a series of articles from the blog of Sukhmandir Khalsa ji found on an Internet site. They are rally wonderful articles with pictures and descriptions that ring true to my own personal experience.

All About the Sikh Gurdwara

Where Sikhs Worship

By Sukhmandir Khalsa,

See More About:

The Guru's door is always open and welcoming. Step inside the gurdwara and leave aside differences. A sublime atmosphere of devotion greets the senses. Strains of hymns beckon the ear. An array of vivid hues engage the eye. Bow before the Guru Granth in a moment of humility. A helping of the sacred delicacy, prashad, delights the palate. The scent of food cooking promises the tongue fulfillment. Sit with the congregation and discover a sanctuary for the soul. The opportunity for selfless service presents an unparalleled inner cleansing experience.

Photo © [Khalsa Panth]
Gurdwara means the "guru's door". A gurdwara is the Sikh meeting place for worship. The members of the congregation, welcome all people to visit any gurdwara regardless of caste, color, or creed.

Source All About the Sikh Gurdwara - Where Sikhs Worship



1947-2014 (Archived)
What You Need to Know Before You Visit the Gurdwara

Gurdwara Basics

By Sukhmandir Khalsa,

See More About:

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:

  • Be modestly attired.
  • Cover your head.
  • Remove your shoes.
  • Wash hands and feet if needed.
  • Bow before the Guru Granth.
  • Offer any donation such as flowers, food items or money.
  • Sit quietly on the floor with your legs crossed facing Guru Granth.
  • Accept prasad, a sanctified delicacy made from flour, butter, and sugar.
  • Enjoy a meal from the free kitchen.


1947-2014 (Archived)
An illustrated tour

The Sikh Gurdwara Illustrated

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Gurdwara, the Guru's House of Worship

Sangat lines up outside the entrance of Gurdwara Bradshaw.
Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Visiting the Gurdwara

The Sikh meeting place for worship is the gurdwara and means literally "guru’s door". Members of the Sikh congregation are called sangat. All people are welcome to visit any gurdwara regardless of caste, color, or creed. A visitor to the gurdwara is required to remove shoes, and cover the head. It is advisable to wear modest attire.

A gurdwara houses Siri Guru Granth Sahib and may be either a simple or elaborate building. The Nishan Sahib, Sikh flag, is installed on gurdwara grounds and flies high above the gurdwara complex, so that it can be seen by those approaching the gurudwara.


1947-2014 (Archived)
Remove Shoes Before Entering Gurdwara

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Gurdwara Shoe Rack and Sevadar
Photo © [Khalsa Panth]
Gurdwara Shoe Rack

Every visitor to the gurdwara is obligated to remove shoes before entering. Many gurdwaras have shoe racks close to the entrance. Visitors have a choice to make use of the shoe rack or to leave shoes to either side of the gurdwara entrance.
Shoe Seva

A Sikh man or woman may arrange visitors shoes neatly in rows clean the shoes and shoe racks. Shoe seva may be done voluntarily or assigned as tankaiya by five beloved panj pyara, the administers of Sikh initiation, as chastisement for a transgression of the Sikh code of conduct. Sevadars performing shoe seva consider the task of cleaning the shoes of sangat to an honor. Shoe seva is always done lovingly with great respect for sangat, the Sikh congregation, and is believed to be a blessing of humility, capable of cleansing the soul.

Source;Remove Shoes Before Entering Gurdwara


1947-2014 (Archived)
Wash Hands Prior to Entering Gurdwara

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Singh washing hands before entering gurdwara.
Photo © [Khalsa Panth]
Wash Hands When Entering Gurdwara

A Sink or other means of washing hands is available close to the entry of a gurdwara. It is considered disrespectful to enter a gurdwara without washing hands after touching shoes. Hands should be washed and clean before touching a kirtan pothi, a book of hymns, or gutka, a prayer book containing the required nitnem prayers, and before and after receiving karah prashad, a blessed delicacy.

Source: Wash Hands Prior to Entering Gurdwara


1947-2014 (Archived)
Enter the Gurdwara to Mathatake

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Sangat stands in line to mathatake when entering the gurdwara.
Photo © [Khalsa Panth]
The Sangat Forms a Line to Mathatake

When entering a gurdwara every visitor performs mathatake and bows to show respect to Guru Granth Sahib.

Before sitting. It is customary to give an offering of cash, flowers, or foodstuff to used in the langar kitchen. When a large number of sangat, members of the Sikh congregation, gather for gurdwara service, the line of devotees extends down the entire length of the aisle leading to Guru Granth Sahib.

Sangat wait in line to perform mathatake turn by turn. An attendant granthi performs chaur seva, waving a whisk over Guru Granth Sahib.

Source: Enter the Gurdwara to Mathatake


1947-2014 (Archived)
Sangat Listens to Ragi Kirtan at the Gurdwara

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Ragis sit on stage and perform kirtan.
Photo © [Khalsa Panth]
Ragis Perform Kirtan in the Gurdwara

Inside the gurdwara all visitors sit on the floor, unless severe disability poses a problem. Traditionally the men sit together on one side of the gurdwara, the women, and young children sit on the opposite side. Ragis sit on stage in the front of the gurdwara and perform kirtan, divine hymns selected from Guru Granth sahib. Members of sangat gather to listen, and sit in close proximity to each other with their legs respectfully crossed.

As a rule, two ragis play kirtan using the harmonium, a hand pump type of keyboard, and a third ragi plays the tablas, a set of two drum played with the hands. The ragis also perform kathaa, a sermon on the meaning of the shabad, during the kirtan. Sangat typically give the ragis donations to show appreciation for their service.

Source: Sangat Listens to Ragi Kirtan at the Gurdwara


1947-2014 (Archived)
Gurdwara Speeches and Completion of Service

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Please note that in my own experience, speeches are the exception not the rule. There are speeches when sangat business is being shared (e.g., the strategic plan for the year, or an upcoming parade or celebration of a feast day, called a gurupurab.) There may be instead of speeches a Chlldren's Program during the service if the sangat has an active Gurbani school for children). At that time the children will sing and even play kirtan. When that happens it is very exciting. The normal kirtan jatha (group) will give their places to the children who then perform. Sometimes their music teacher will play with them. When there is a children's program the gurdwara will be very crowded because parents, grandparents, neighbors, and friends of the children will all be there. Some gurdwaras have a children's program nearly every week (e.g., the Sunday Gurdwara service at the Guru Ram Das Ashram in Espanola, NM -- which is a Western Dharma service).

There will be at least one "katha" which is an explanation of a concept in SGGS, for example liberation of the soul or the importance of seva. The katha is more like a devotional lecture or learning experience, and not exactly a "speech."

A Sikh woman gives a speech in the gurudwara.
Photo © [Khalsa Panth]
Speechmaking and the Gurdwara Service

Speeches are an important part of the gurdwara service and usually are made after kirtan is finished. The man or woman giving the speech stands behind the podium to one side of Guru Granth Sahib next to the kirtan stage.

Speeches are conducted on a variety of topics such as political or panthic issues, fundraising for the gurdwara facility, and announcements of gurmat camps, and other events of interest to sangat.
Speechmaking in the Gurdwara

Speeches are an important part of the gurdwara service and usually are made after kirtan is finished. The man or woman giving the speech stands behind the podium to one side of Guru Granth sahib next to the Kirtan stage.
Speeches are conducted on a variety of topics such as:

  • Political or panthic issues.
  • Fundraising for the gurdwara facility.
  • Announcements of gurmat camps.
  • Other events of interest to sangat.
Completion of Gurdwara Service

The gurdwara service is completed with:

Source: Gurdwara Speeches and Service


1947-2014 (Archived)
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Karah Prashad Service in the Gurdwara

Taking prashad at Gurdwara
Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Gurdwara and Karah Prashad

During a gurdwara service, a sevadar commonly sits on the floor and doles out karah prashad to visitors and sangat once they have performed mathatake, a gesture of respect to Guru Granth Sahib. The devotee cups both hands together extending them to receive the prashad.

Karah Prashad is prepared ahead of time in the langar kitchen. A batch of prashad is always blessed by a sevadar offering of ardas and touching with kirpan before being served. Once it has been blessed, prashad can be mixed in with remnants of any other batch of prashad. A gurdwara service routinely ends with one or more sevadars walking among the congregation and individually serving karah prashad to all sangat present.

Another personal note: In Punjabi culture, young men often are the ones who serve food at weddings and other important celebrations to guests. In keeping with that tradition at some gurdwaras, not all, young boys and the young and older men will be the ones who serve the karah prashad. They also may be the ones who cook langar and serve langar in the langar hall. More about that later. I only mention this because if you are new to Sikhism and come from a Christian faith you will be surprised by this seva -- you probably are used to seeing only woman preparing and serving food to the congregation.

Karah Prashad in the Gurdwara


1947-2014 (Archived)
Langar Line Queue at the Gurdwara

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Queuing for Langar
Photo © [Khalsa Panth]
The Gurdwara Langar Line

The sangat lines up to receive langar. Photographs of Sikh martyrs line the walls above their heads.

Eating utensils, trays, cups, and napkins, which may be either disposable or steel, are provided. The meal is prepared by volunteers. Sevadars serve sangat as they file by the serving area. Langer usually consists of:

  • Sabji, a vegetable dish.
  • Dhal, a bean or lentil soup.
  • Dahee or raitia, plain or spiced yoghurt with cucumbers or other condiments.
  • Roti, a kid of flat bread.
  • Snacks both salty and sweet.
  • Salad and fresh fruit.
  • Drinks like water, milk, sodas, and tea made with milk.


Personal note: In some gurdwaras langar may be served with the sangat sitting on the floor only. In others, there may be tables for those who wish to sit in the western style. There is one Gurdwara in Australia where there are 2 langar halls: one traditional, and the other with tables and chairs. When someone is physically challenged or very old, chairs of course are provided. I am almost there, but still hanging in.

Source: Langar Line Queue at the Gurdwara


1947-2014 (Archived)
What it looks like...

Sangat Dine in the Langar Hall at the Gurdwara

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Serving langar to sangat.
Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Sangat line up in rows and dine sitting side by side on the gurdwara langar dining hall floor. Men and women may sit in different areas, or in family groups according to whim. No difference in caste, color, creed or rank is observed. Sevadars serve the sangat, walking between the lines of the diners, offering helpings of gur ka langar, blessed food and drink, until everyone has eaten their fill.


Personal note: Men and women sit together in langar if they are part of a family group. Otherwise they sit separately. I am not sure how strict this rule is -- but that is all that I have ever witnessed based on 3 gurdwaras attended.


1947-2014 (Archived)
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Langar Seva at the Gurdwara

Gurdwara Langar Cleanup Seva
Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Langar Seva at the Gurdwara

A singh does clean up seva in the the langar hall of the gurdwara. After dining, sangat gives disposable refuse and leftover waste to the sevadar who has taken responsibility for clean up.

The sevadar scrapes plates and empties cups, throwing away disposable items, stacking and returning washable steel plates, and cups and to the dishwashing area.

Source: Langar Seva at the Gurdwara


1947-2014 (Archived)
Just to be sure we are on the up and up.

The Sikh Code of Conduct, or Sikh Rehat Maryada, has established conventions for the preparation of the Karhah Prashad, the reading of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, and the minimum requirements for a Gurdwara Service. I have posted them at this point for reference.


Karhah Prashad (Sacred Pudding) Article XII
a. Only the sacred pudding which has been prepared or got prepared according to the prescribed method shall be acceptable in the congregation.

b. The method of preparing the Karhah Prashad is this : In a clean vessel, the three contents (wheat flour, pure sugar and clarified butter, in equal quantities) should he put and it should be made reciting the Scriptures. Then covered with a clean piece of cloth, it should be placed on a clean stool in front of the Guru Granth Sahib. Thereafter, in the holy presence of the Guru Granth Sahib , the first five and the last stanza of the Anand Sahib should be recited aloud (so that the congregation can hear) (If another vessel of the sacred pudding is brought in after the recitation of the Anand, it is not necessary to repeat the recitation of the Anand Sahib. Offering of the sacred Pudding brought later to the sacred Kirpan is enough.), the Ardas, offered and the pudding tucked with the sacred Kirpan for acceptance.

c. After this, before the distribution to the congregation of the Karhah Prashad, the share of the five beloved ones should be set apart and given away. Thereafter, while commencing the general distribution, the share of the person in attendance of the Guru Granth Sahib (Giving double share to the person in attendance constitutes improper discrimination) should be put in small bowl or vessel and handed over. The person who doles out the Karhah Prashad among the congregation should do so without any discrimination on the basis of personal regard or spite. He should dole out the Karhah Parshad equally to the Sikh, the non-Sikh or a person of high or low caste. While doling out the Karhah Prashad, no discrimination should be made on considerations of caste or ancestry or being regarded, by some, as untouchable, of persons within the congregation.

d. The offering of Karhah Prashad should be accompanied by at least two piece in cash.


The Katha or Exposition of Gurbani (Sikh Holi Scriptures) Article XIII

a. The exposition of the Gurbani in a congregational gathering should be carried out only by a Sikh.

b. The object of the exposition should only be promoting understanding of the Guru's tenets.

c. The exposition can only be of the ten Guru's writings or utterances, Bhai Gurdas's writings, Bhai Nand Lal's writings or of any generally accepted Panthic book or books of history (which are in agreement with the Guru's tenets) and not of a book of any other faith. However, four illustration, references to a holy person's teachings or those contained in a book may be made

Expository Discourse Article XIV

No discourse contrary to the Guru's tenets should be delivered inside a Gurdwara.

Gurdwara Service Article XV
In the Gurdwara the schedule of the congregational service generally is:

ceremonial opening of the Guru Granth Sahib, Kirtan, exposition of scriptures, expository discourses, recitation of Anand Sahib, the Ardas (see Article-IV (3) (a) above), the raising of Fateh slogan and then the slogan of Sat Sri Akal and taking the Hukam.

These principles lay out the essential expectations. On specifics, various sangats may differ. For example, some gurdwaras have Sri Guru Granth Sahib in the Darshan Sahib 7 days a week, and 24 hours a day, and there will be on going services. So the Guru Granth will not be retired, but stays in place.

Where I go: [FONT=Geneva, Arial, Helvetica, san-serif]

The front door you can barely see it

Panj Pyaare getting ready for a parade
View from the parking lot

Close up of the front door

Banner in a parade
Local policeman enjoying Indian food during the parade.