According to Sikhism, a gurudwara is built primarily for congregational worship. The Sikhs are known to be large-hearted individuals. Hence, they build imposing and beautiful gurudwaras, some of which can accommodate up to hundreds of devotees. A majority of their important shrines have a connection with either of the 10 Gurus or have a historical significance, and they eventually become centres of pilgrimage.
Every Sikh is expected to visit the gurudwara daily and pray along with the congregation or “sangat.” The sangat is imbued with God’s love, and the Sri Guru Granth Sahib is central to the congregation.
At the gurudwara, the morning service commences before dawn with the practice of kirtan, which is the singing of hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib, accompanied by instrumental music, chanting from the Holy Book, and katha (exposition of the scripture). To conclude, the whole congregation stands up with folded hands during the recitation of the “Ardas,” which literally translates to “humble prayer.” Lastly, there is a supplication to God asking for his grace for the good of entire humankind. After the service is over, “prasad” or sacrament, which is a preparation of sugar, ghee, and wheat flour, is distributed.
Gurudwaras are open to individuals of all castes, communities, and religions, and there is no observation of purdah. In a gurudwara, all human beings are treated equally, irrespective of their social or financial status in the world. Within the gurudwara, the head must always be kept covered as a mark of respect to the Guru Granth Sahib. In addition, shoes are not allowed within the premises. Smoking, alcohol, and other intoxicants are all taboos.
All gurudwaras are presided by priests or “granthis” so that someone can dedicate his entire time to the temple’s upkeep and routine duties.
Gurudwaras usually have provisions for accommodation of pilgrims. Besides being a place of worship, Sikhs consider it to be a social institution, too. In certain places, some schools function on the premises of the gurudwara. Often, marriages and other religious ceremonies are conducted in the shrines.
A gurudwara can be easily spotted from a distance by the triangular yellow flag, called the Nishan Sahib, which is hoisted from a pole within the compound.
Many gurudwaras are two-storied, with the primary roof being common to both floors. The first floor has a gallery at the centre, overlooking the hall below, and it is usually supported by four columns and outer walls. On the centre of the ground floor, the Guru Granth Sahib is enshrined either on a platform or a palanquin fitted with a canopy above.
The top of a gurudwara is graced by a dome, especially on older shrines. It is generally white and sometimes gilded like the Harmandir Sahib or Golden Temple in Amritsar.
Gurudwaras have entrances from all sides, signifying the facts that they are open to all individuals without any distinction and the omnipresence of God.
Sachkhand usually refers a level in spirituality. Literally, it translates to “realm of truth.” However, it commonly is the holiest room in a gurudwara. This is where the holy scriptures are placed during the night. At the day’s end, the Guru Granth Sahib is made to rest here. Before entering the Sachkhand, one must take a bath to ensure cleanliness. The Sachkhand is usually situated at the gurudwara’s highest point.
A gurudwara’s main hall is called the “Darbar.” All ceremonies are performed here, and the behaviour within the Darbar should reflect deep respect. Devotees enter the Darbar and walk towards the holy Guru Granth Sahib. When the devotee is paying obeisance to the Guru, he or she may place offerings in the form of food, cloth, or money. After that, bowing down before the Guru and kneeling on the floor with his or her forehead touched to the ground, the devotee must take his seat on the floor of the Darbar.
Within a gurudwara, one hall is called the Langar hall. This is the hall where “langar” is distributed. It typically contains a kitchen where the langar is immaculately prepared. Traditionally, everyone sits on the floor, with men and women seated on separate sides.
Previously, primarily in the subcontinent, gurudwaras were run solely by the sangat. Later, it was realised that there was a need for a group of people to be ultimately responsible for the diverse functions related to the running of the gurudwara, such as treasury, administration, etc. Hence, Gurudwara Committees were formed, whose members were usually elected by the sangat. The committee’s existence is solely as a function of administration, and it holds no superior right in a gurudwara.