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Gur Panth Parkash

Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh



Origin and Development of the Sikh Institution of Gurdwara
– A Legacy of Guru Nanak –

Dr Madanjit Kaur

In the sphere of the cultural heritage of Medieval India, at the advent of the Bhakti Movement ushered in a unique progressive, scoio-cultural and spiritually enlightened revolutionary ideology in the region of Punjab, the advent of Guru Nanak is one of the most important landmarks in the development of modern religious traditions in Indian History. Unlike other prophets, Guru Nanak has himself recorded his teachings in his bani (devotional songs or hymns) which is incorporated in Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

Guru Nanak was a prophet with universal vision and humanitarian spirit. He was very much concerned with the spiritual uplift of the common man. It is a distinctive contribution of Guru Nanak that he rejected traditional Indian religious institutions as vehicles and platforms of preaching and propagating his message. He introduced new doctrines and a mode of worship. He compiled his discourses in the language of the common man, used local dialects and adopted selected vocabulary from different languages according to the requirement of the audience and mode of the themes in his hymns. No doubt, Guru Nanak’s major concern is spiritual but he has used secular vocabulary for spiritual purposes to communicate his message to the masses. Morally sound value system preached in Guru Nanak bani with logical commentary on the contemporary Indian society and political setup distinguished sharply Guru Nanak and his thought from other religious traditions which strengthened the strong foundation of the institutions he introduced. What distinguished Guru Nanak from the bhaktas and saints was his revolutionary and progressive outlook supported by positive and practical actions. The institution introduced by Guru Nanak proved to be a successful vehicle in projecting and affecting major social transformation in the rigid structure of the orthodox framework of caste-ridden Hindu society.

Guru Nanak consolidated the spirit of dissent against religious dogmatism, polytheism, idol worship, ritual based mode of worship, priesthood, religious hierarchy, traditional Hindu temple architecture based on medieval vision, caste system, social inequality, gender discrimination, injustice and political exploitation. Guru Nanak projected new goals before the masses and sought to introduce a progressive liberal, humanitarian and universal religion based on the fundamental doctrine of unity of God and equality of mankind. In fact, Guru Nanak envisaged a revolutionary transformation of the Indian society. He not only gave a new religious thought at metaphysical level but also took practical steps by introducing the doctrine of Guru, Guru sabad (Pothi -  Adi Granth later Sri Guru Granth Sahib) -, the traditions of sangat, nam simran, kirtan, langar, pangat and seva and institution of Gurdwara etc. All these initial steps aimed to provide an ideal framework of egalitarian society. Subsequently all these institutions proved to be a strong source of consolidating the social solidarity of the Sikh community and a source of vital strength to the Sikh Panth. It was this intensity of Guru Nanak’s message and mission not only on the spiritual but also at the temporal level that served as a solid edifice for the evolution of the Sikh community under the superb guidance of his successor Sikh Gurus. All the above mentioned practices are the part and parcel of the institution of Gurdwara, Sikh Centre of worship.


It is evidently clear from the bani of Guru Nanak that his concern is with the salvation of the whole of mankind. The Guru traveled widely in far-off places and adjoining countries for his mission. Bhai Gurdas, records the Udasis (religious travels) of Guru Nanak for the emancipation of the suffering humanity in his Vars.1 According to Janamsakhis (Meharban Janamsakhi), wherever Guru Nanak went, he called upon his followers to establish dharamsala (a place to practice religion or abode of religion) and congregate (hold sangat) in them to repeat God’s Name (nam) and to recite His praise.2 Bhai Gurdas stands a testimony to the fact that all the households of the devotees of the area visited by Guru Nanak became religious centres (dharamsals) singing the praise of the Lord (kirtan).3

At the end of his extensive preaching tours Guru Nanak settled down on the banks of the river Ravi in the village of Kartarpur (now in Pakistan), late in 1521 AD.4 It is believed that Guru Nanak  composed mojor portion of his bani at Kartarpur.5 At that time, Guru Nanak was more than fifty years old with experience of more than three decades of spiritual endeavour  and religious preaching, Guru Nanak had raised his headquarters at Kartarpur for the application of ideals which had been  contemplated and matured during his early experience of meditation.6 His fame had spread far and wide. The number of his disciples had increased considerably. The devotees and followers of Guru Nanak gathered at Kartarpur to learn from their preceptor, the new art of living introduced by him.

Guru Nanak spent rest of his life at Kartarpur. Two decades of settled life at Kartarpur marks the most significant period of Guru Nanak’s life. Here he built a Dharamsal which became nucleus of preaching his mission and to practise the religion founded by him.7 The Guru organized daily programme at the dharamsal at Kartarpur, held congregations and imparted regular instructions to his followers in the new faith. It was at Kartarpur that a regular daily routine of Guru Nanak’s teachings were evolved into fundamental Sikh doctrines, beliefs, practices, and institutions.8 

There is a great stress to emphasise the importance of satsang or sadhsangat (assembly of the holy and pious people) in the compositions of Guru Nanak and this ideal found its practical expression in the corporate worship preformed by the Guru and his disciples (Sikhs) at Kartarpur Dharamsal.9 The early morning (Amrit Vela) was devoted to meditation (nam simran). The tradition of group singing of devotional songs, i.e., kirtan with the accompaniment of musical instruments was adopted for congregational worship in the praise and glory of the Almighty in the early morning and evening times daily. At Kartarpur Dharamsal, Guru Nanak himself sang his hymns with the accompaniment of his Muslim companion Mardana who played on Rabab (musical instrument with strings adopted in a new form by Guru Nanak). This was the origin of the Sikh institution of Gurdwara. Dharamsal was its original name. Kartarpur was first Sikh community centre of the Sikhs. Here, Guru Nanak himself led the life of a householder, adopted agriculture as means of earning his livelihood (kirat). Guru Nanak’s ideal of social equality found practical expression in the common meals (langar) as well as voluntary selfless service (seva) for the welfare of humanity.

Within a short time, it became clear to the people at the community centre established by Guru Nanak that it aimed at practising the three fold ideals preached by him-nam japna, kirat karna and wand chhakna (sometimes also referred as nam, dan and ashnan meaning devotion, charity and purity. All men and women irrespective of their age, caste, creed social or economic status were welcomed at Kartarpur community centre. The establishment of Dharamsal was a simple but a revolutionary experiment in socio-cultural history of India. It played a significant role in making successful the new system of institutional religion tagged with collective worship, community organization and social training in the form of sadh Sangat, nam simran kirtan, langar and pangat. The Sikh women played significant-role in the functioning of Dharamsal at Kartarpur particularly in the service of the langar (community kitchen). Besides, women participated in al the spiritual and social programmes of Dharamsal. Thus was put into practice the principal of equality of women in Sikhism on a strong footing. They were not-segregated from religious services but became integral part of the functioning of the institution of Dharamsal.

Before his demise, Guru Nanak nominated his most devoted selfless disciple Bhai Lehna (renamed Angad) as his successor. The succession of Guru-ship introduced by Guru Nanak had been termed as a big event in the history of Sikhism.10 It assured the continuity of the programme introduced by Guru Nanak. The institution of Guru-ship took the task set by Guru Nanak to its fulfillment of the new Panth laid by Guru Nanak. It emerged as a distinct religious tradition and the Sikh community thenceforth entered history of human civilization as a corporate entity long before the advent of modern theories of social welfare and corporate bodies introduced in modern times by Rousseau, Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber.11


The term Gurdwara has been mentioned in Sri Guru Granth Sahib in the bani of Guru Nanak Dev at three places:

       At the Guru’s abode alone one is cleansed,

       By listening to Masters teachings one acquires enlightment.12

Again Guru Nanak narrates the of purpose of the Gurdwara as:

       To the abode of the Lord have I dedicated my heart,

       from whom the Holy Name I have obtained.13

Guru Nanak also stresses emphasis on the merits and virtues of the Gurdwara. The Guru affirms faith in the Gurdwara as abode of God from where the devotee gets the boon of nam simran (inclination to meditation) as a blessing from Satgur (the true guide). Guru Nanak reminds:

       By presenting oneself at the abode of the Lord is obtained devotion to the Holy Name.

       Without master’s guidance it is not obtained.14

The spiritual benefits of attending Gurdwara has been equally emphasized by the third Guru, Amar Dass in his bani twice:

          Making resort to the master’s portal one contemplate on Lord.15

 Again Guru Amar Dass assures the spiritual significance of the Gurdwara as a place of emancipation and salvation from the worldly toils. The Guru writes:-

       To those devoted to the abode of the Lord,

       Meditating on the Divine Name, to them by the Master’s guidance is the tenth door (the inner self) is revealed16

The fifth Guru, Guru Arjun Dev clearly mentions the institution of Gurdwara as a place of performing Kirtan (singing praise of Lord):

       By listening to the Divine laudation of the Lord at the portal of the Lord,

       By contact with the holy Preceptor one uttereth the Divine laudation17

We also find synonymous terminology in Sri Guru Granth Sahib expressing the meaning and essence of the term Gurdwara. The most prominent words are Gurasthan and Harimandir.

The fourth Guru, Ram Dass defines the meaning of the term gurasthan as: 

       Master’s disciples have discovered that spot, its dust, they apply on their forehead there where the Holy Preceptor takes abode, with beauty is the spot invested).18

Guru Arjun Dev explains the importance of the gurasthan as a place of gathering or assembly of the holy, pious and virtuous persons:

       Truly lovely is the spot where holy have their abode.

        To the Almighty are they devoted.

       All evil within shattered.19

Again Guru Arjun Dev had also pronounced the aim and object of visiting the gurasthan as:

       Friends! point to me the spot,

       Where perpetually Divine laudation is performed.20

Guru Arjun Dev relates the gurasthan with the Guru. He says:

       In the holy company chant Divine laudation.

       This state by the master’s guidance is obtained.21

It is interesting to note that Guru Nanak has himself used the term Harimindir (literary meaning the temple of God) as a synonymous of term gurdwara and gurasthan. The Guru says:

       That place alone is the Lord’s Temple where Divine realization comes.22

Guru Ram Dass has also used the term Harimandir in one of his hymn repeatedly in different connotations. For example:

       For the Temple of the Lord - make search by the Light of Holy Word, 

       And contemplate on the Lord’s Name.23


       The Lords Temple is erected by the Lord.

       As and by His ordinance is decked.24


       By the Holy Word is Lord’s Temple decked –

       A limitless citadel of gold.25


       This world too is the Lord’s Temple.

       Without the Preceptor it is pitch dark.26


       In the Lord’s Temple lies treasures of the Name-

       This boon, the thoughtless unenlightened one realize not.27


       The Lord’s temple is His shop,

       With the Holy Word decked.

       The sole Name is the rein, the merchandize.28


       In the Lord’s Temple abides the Lord,

       Who pervades in all His creation.29


A Legacy of Guru Nanak

The early Sikh sources of information reveal that the institution of Gurdwara had emerged from its prototype Dharamsal (early Sikh centre of worship). In later Sikh literature, both the terms have been used synonymously. It is derived from the Sikh history that the institution of Gurdwara was established during the time of Guru Nanak. The purpose, aim, role and function of the Gurdwara were also accomplished even during the life of Guru Nanak. Only it was called Dharamsal. In fact the Dharamsal at Kartarpur was the foundation of the Gurdwara. Soon it became the role model of preaching centre of Sikhism and a centre of worship for the Sikhs. Gradually many dharamsals were established on the pattern of Kartarpur Dharamsal in various places inhabited by the followers of Guru Nanak. These dharamsals emerged as well knit centres of Sikhism and provided a cohesive force for the unity of Sikh community. In course of the development of Sikh history the Dharamsals came to be known as Gurdwaras.

The term gurdwara is the chosen connotation for the place of Sikh worship. The gurdwara is the platform for practising the fundamental doctrines and ethical norms of Sikhism. Every religion has great importance for its place of worship. The dedication and visit to religious place affirms devotees commitment to their worship. Gurdwara is the place of worship for the Sikhs. Grudwara is the basic original Sikh institution for congregations and collective worship. It provides guidance to the followers of Sikhism in spiritual, cultural, social and political spheres of life in context to the teachings of Sikh Gurus and Bhagtas. According to Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha, the author of Gurshadab Ratnakar Mahankosh, gurdwara is the place visited by Sikh Gurus or a site of historical importance for the Sikhs or a place where teachings of Sikhism are propagated in presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the scripture of the Sikhs.30 

In general terms the gurdwara is a place where religious discourses are held in the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib and a Sikh devotee presides over the congregation.31 

The term Gurdwara is derived from Punjabi language which means the doorway to the Guru, the Guru’s portal or Guru’s abode.32 The common translation of the term Gurdwara as temple is not appropriate, for Sikhism profess no rituals, sacrificial rites or customary sacraments. The Sikhs have no idols, deities, altars in their holy places. There is no hierarchical priestly order in Sikhism. The essential feature of a gurdwara is the presiding presence of Sikh scripture of Sri Guru Granth Sahib,33 edited and compiled by fifth Guru, Arjun Dev in 1604 AD. Guru Arjun Dev had earlier built Sri Harimandir Sahib in the midest of the holy tank. The Adi Granth was installed in the Harimandir the same year it was completed. The rahit maryada of the religious practices observed in the gurdwara were introduced by Guru Arjun Dev at the time of the foundation of the Harimandir.34

The Harimandir is the central shrine of the Sikhs and a beautiful monument of Sikh heritage and style of architecture. The Harimandir had set forth the distinct format of the gurdwara Architecture. The development of the institution of Gurdwara is subsequent period requires an indepth study of the Sikh history during the Guru period, post-Guru period, Sikh struggle with the Mughals, Misl period, Sikh Rule, British period and Gurdwara Reforms movement of Shiromani Gurdwara Committee in the twentieth century. (see appendix)

Feature, Functions and Role of a Gurdwara

There are some specific features and functions associated with the Gurdwara as a place of worship of the Sikhs. These characteristics mark for it a distinguished identity and a unique role to play in the Sikh community.

  1.   A gurdwara is identified by the saffron coloured triangular flag (Nishan Sahib) bearing the Sikh symbol (Khanda, a double edged sword) atop, fluttering the building or in its courtyard.

       The Sikh Institution of gurdwara is the community centre of the Sikh faith.  In its evolutionary growth, the Institution of gurdwara was consolidated with the arrangement of langar, pangat, sangat, nam simran, kirtan and seva. Its sphere of functions and role was extended according to the needs of Sikh community in historical perspective.

  2.   The main feature of the gurdwara is to provide Sikhs with a meeting place for worship in the set traditional way. In the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, sermons and discourses are delivered and an invocation to God (Waheguru) for his mercy (mehar and nadir) and the well being of every one (Sarbat da bhalla) is made. Recitation of Gurbani and ardas, prayers are held daily. In the morning Asa di var and Japuji are recited and in the evening Rehras and Kritan Sohla are read.

  3.   Atmosphere inside a gurdwara is of reverence, peace, love, humility, tolerance, equality, selfless service and a spirit of earnest desire for the welfare of the whole universe.

  4.   Meals are prepared and served in the community kitchen (langar), where free food is served to the visitors and the pilgrims after the proceedings are over, without any discrimination of caste, creed, gender, age and status. This practice helps to inculcate a notion of equality of the human beings. It is a significant social leveling at grass roots level. Guru Ka Langar is an integral part of the gurdwara. In the langar, all sit on a floor in a row in the pangat (line) and share the common meal. Food is cooked and served by the volunteers (sevadars). Only vegetarian food is served. Langar is a tradition of fundamental importance in Sikhism. 

  5.   Seva (selfless service with devotion) is closely linked to attain ethical life in Sikhism. A Gurudwara is a place to learn and practice seva to humanity. It eliminates ego (haumain) and promotes humility. Everyone is invited for seva to the prayers hall, langar and other services. Everyone is welcome to dust, wash and wipe the floor, and cook and wash utensils, do laundary and to keep the gurdwara building clean, maintenance of the Gurdwara yard, parking lot etc. Seva is considered as a pious duty by the Sikh community.

  6.   Karah Parsad (Sweet flour and oil based pudding) is offered and served to the visitors after the worship. Karah Prasad is considered holy and one has to take it in hands with reverence.

  7.   Kirtan singing of devotional hymns from Sikh scripture in set Ragas as prescribed in Sri Guru Granth Sahib is performed by the Ragi Jathas (trained musician in Sikh devotional music) or even by devotees is an integral part of the programme of a gurdwara.

  8.   Katha (sermons): reading of the Holy Scripture Sri Guru Granth Sahib and explanation of the text read is delivered by kathakar. This programme includes narration of significant annals from the Sikh history on special occasions, Gurpurbs (anniversaries of the Sikh Gurus) and other celebrations.

  9.   Dhadi Jatha (ballad singers) programme on special occasions: Some times Dhaddis are arranged to sing and narrate heroic ballad, vars from the Sikh history and Sikh martyr’s stories.

10.  Every gurdwara has a granthi who organizes the daily services and reads from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The number of Granthis depend on the requirement of the services performed at the grudwara. A granthi is not a priest but a reader and custodian of the Holy Scripture. A granthi must be fluent in reading Gurmukhi script and be properly trained in all aspects of looking after the services (seva) of the Granth Sahib. A granthi is expected to be a baptised (Amritdhari) Sikh, who lives a life that exemplifies the ideals of the Rahit maryada (code of conduct) of the Khalsa Panth. High moral character and proficiency in reading the Sikh scripture with good accent are the essential prerequisites for the job of the granthi.

11.  Ahkand Path (continuous recitation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib): As per set practice among the Sikhs, the Akhand Path of Sri Guru Granth Sahib is arranged as a regular feature or on request of the devotees.

12.  Celebration of the days of happy occasions of the Sikh community like Gurupurabs (birthdays of the Gurus) anniversaries of pontification to Guruship, death anniversaries of the Gurus are celebrated with enthusiasm. Festivals like Diwali and Baisakhi or special occasions are celebrated with illumination of deepmala (display of lights), atishbaji (fireworks), etc. Competitions in kirtan, gurbani recitation, kavi darbar and games for children and display of skill in Sikh marshal arts (gatka and nejabaji) and swordsmanship and horse riding are arranged. Processions headed by carrying Sri Granth Sahib along with the Panj Piayaras (five beloved ones commemorating the event of creation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh on the baisakhi day of the year 1699 at Sri Anandpur Sahib) are arranged.

13.  Additional programmes: The gurdwara also serves the Sikhs as a community centre along with main functions. Gurdwaras around the world also serve the Sikh community in many other ways including libraries of Sikh literature, schools to teach children Gurmukhi and Punjabi language, training in kirtan, reading of Sikh scripture and recitation of nitnem (daily prayers of the Sikhs), clinics, medical facilitates etc. Local philanthropic works and charitable works on behalf of the Sikh community during calamities like earthquake, epidemics, floods famines and any other natural crisis are arranged by the Gurdwara as a gesture of service to the suffering humanity. Additional programmes also include seminars and lectures according to the need on various occasions.

14.  Rest room (Kotha Sahib, or resting place of Sri Guru Granth Sahib): The Sikhs considers their scripture as a person. The Holy Book is treated with utmost care and devotion throughout the daily services and is put at rest during the night time. The room or a place where the Sikh scripture is placed overnight after completing the evening prayer is an integral part of the gurudwara. This room or place is also called Sacch Khand (pure domain) by the Sikhs.

15.  Various utility rooms, kitchen, washrooms, stores and bedrooms (sarai) for the visitors and devotees or travelers to stay overnight with bathroom facilities are arranged in big gurdwaras.

16.  Contributions in cash or kind are welcome in a gurdwara to help carry the expenses of Guru Ka Langar, construction and maintenance works of the building and other community works carried out by the gurdwaras. The Sikhs usually contribute 1/10 of their income called dasvandh (tithe) as a part of their religious duty to the gurdwara Dasvand is voluntary contribution on the part of a Sikh. The tradition was introduced by Guru Arjun Dev. The financial resources of the historical gurdwaras includes jagirs and endowment funds granted by the local rulers, jagirdars or influential people. Some time special campaigns are organized to collect kar-bhent (money or material) to fulfill the specific needs of the concerned gurdwaras.

17.  The gurdwara is the central place for the Sikhs to discuss religious as well as temporal matters concerning the community as well as pertinent issues and obstacles confronting the Sikh community. Gurdwara is a connecting link between the local Sikh sangat and Sri Akal Takht Sahib, the Supreme seat of Sikh Authority, built in the complex of Sri Harimandir Sahib at Amritsar.

18.  The role of gurdwara has been significantly instrumental in preserving Sikh identify, Sikh culture and Sikh heritage.

Gurdwara Protocol, Maryada (Code of Conduct) and Rules of Observances:

  1.   It is necessary that visitors to the gurdwara have to remove their shoes, wash their hands and cover their heads with a rumal (scarf) or turban (pagari) as mark of respect towards the sovereignty of Sri Guru Granth Sahib (which is the Supreme Authority for the Sikhs) before entering the Grudwara. Besides, rules in the Rahit Maryada also cover the mode of conduct of religious service and reverence due to Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

  2.   Visitors are also forbidden to go into the Grudwara while they are drunk, possessing cigarettes or tobacco or any intoxicants.

  3.   On entering the central hall (Darbar Hall), the devotees walk slowly, stop before Sri Guru Granth Sahib and then humbly bow before the Granth as mark of reverence to the Holy Scripture, say silent prayer and make offerings. Usually a cash box called golak is fixed to put in the amount. Offerings in kind, grocery or any other article of use in the Gurdwara are deposited in the office of the management of the Gurdwara. Rumalas (silk scarf) are also offered for covering the Holy Book by the devotees.

  4.   Gurdwara rules also prohibit any discrimination in the congregation (Sangat) on the basis of religion, caste, sex, social or political position as per the Sikh doctrines.

  5.   All persons following the rules of observances are allowed to visit gurdwara.

  6.   All people irrespective of their status have to sit on the floor as a sign of equality as opposed to chairs. Now in many gurdwaras chair or benches are arranged in the adjoining hall to accommodate old, handicaps and sick persons. It is normal to sit crossed legged in the gurdwara. One may enter or leave the congregation at any time according to one’s desire or urgency. Men and women generally sit together on separate sides of the hall or room. All people are expected to stand facing Sri Guru Granth Sahib when the Ardas (supplecant prayer or concluding part of the worship) is read out.

  7.   Generally, Gurdwaras are open 24 hours a day. At certain places there are set hours for the worship and services of the local Gurdwaras according to the requirement of the local sangats and strength of the staff of the Gurdwara

 Gurdwara Architecture

The Gurdwara architecture is basically derived from Sikh value system and Sikh ethos generated by the Sikh Gurus. The designing of the traditional Sikh Gurdwara architecture is indicative of the nature of Sikhism as a reformed and dissenting faith. The Sikh Gurus rejected the Hindu art of Vastu Kala and the traditional style of Hindu temple architecture which had one or two doors (confined for the Deity and the priest) and selected four door structure which opened entry to all castes and even outcastes from all directions both as a protest against dogmas, cast system, and observance of custom of untouchability. The Gurdwara is opened for everybody without any discrimination of the race, faith, nationality, sex, social or economic or political status.

Specimen of the Sikh style of gurdwara is the celebrated Golden Temple of Amritsar, which may be said to represent the Sikh architecture in all its distinctive features. The Sikh gurdwara architecture testifies to the fact that the Sikhs had acquired skill in adopting pattern and motifs suiting to their own religion, taste, philosophy and way of living. Adequate attention was paid to provide a natural atmosphere to the setting.  Tanks (sarowar), tree plantation, floriculture and horticulture are distinguish features of the historical and big gurdwaras. Sarowar for ishnan (bathing) is considered as essential for purification of the body as well as to provide a soothing and cooling atmosphere to the place of worship. Similarly plantation of trees which is an act of preservation of Nature and preventive measure to eradicate pollution considered as a religious duty for a man in Sikhism forms an integral form of a gurdwara architecture.  As idol worshipping has no place in Sikh religion, the artisans had no incentive to follow Hindu Architecture in planning the architecture of the Gurdwara. They adopted the Mughal style which had wider dimensions and vast scope of technique design, pattern and art of depiction of nature and landscape. They combined together various elements of technique, derived from different schools, made experiments and brought out a unique synthesis of Hindu Muslim style in harmonious, natural and soothing blending.

Most of the gurdwaras have square halls, stand on higher plinth, have entrance on all four sides and have square or octagonal doomed sanctums usually in the middle of the building. Unlike the places of worship of the Hindus and Muslims and other religious systems gurdwara buildings do not have to conform to any set architectural designs. The only established requirement is the installation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib under a canopy on a cot or a raised platform higher than the floor on which the devotees sit and a tall Nishan Sahib (flag) atop the building.

The construction of Harimandir Sahib at Amritsar set a popular style of Sikh architecture for the places of worship for the Sikhs. Under the patronage of the Sikh Sardars, ruling chiefs and local sangats the Sikhs have been building gurdwaras maintaining more or less the Harimandir pattern, a distinct synthesis of Indo-Persian architecture. However, as per Sikh tradition no one can built the total replica of the Harimandir Sahib as a gurdwara. Gradually a distinguished style of gurdwara architecture emerged in Punjab with specific features and allied arts of embellishments as Sikh style of architecture. The gurdwara architecture is the glorious part of the Sikh heritage.

The gurdwara architecture is characterized by aesthetic values of progressiveness, liberal attitude, exquisite intricacy, austere beauty and logical flowing lines. At the top, a Gurdwara has a central dome and smaller domes on sides. The gurdwara architecture is at once striking and attractive. It is enhanced in beauty and grandeur by the elegance of its perfect skill of applied arts and striking designs set in unique framework. The harmony of proportion, rhythm created by the alternation of structural elements viz, domes and sub-divisions into various levels in different dimensions shows perfection of conception and composition. The dominating central dome (mostly golden), embellished and ornamental panels, geometrical and floral designs, Chhatris (Kiosks) at corners and domes drawn in a line decorating the parapet which present harmonized rhythmical synthesis of the Hindu-Muslim style of architecture along with certain distinctive characteristics are the chief features of the gurdwara architecture. Popular model for the dome is the ribbed lotus topped by an ornamental pinnacle. Arched copings, kiosks and solid domelets are used for exterior decoration for symmetry and harmony for functions other than purely religious purpose. Usually a large central hall forms the interior of the gurdwara. The holy Sri Guru Granth Sahib, rests under a gorgeous canopy on a peera (cot) in the centre of the hall.

During the 20th century Sikhs have spread all over the world and have migrated to far off places in different lands. The role of the gurdwara has also widened according to the needs of the local Sikh sangats. In consideration to meet the requirements of the climate and larger gatherings, bigger and better ventilated assembly halls with the sanctum sanctuary at one end have become accepted style of the gurdwara. The location of the sanctum, more often is such as to allow space for circumambulation (parikarma). Sometime, to augment the space verandahs are built to skirt the hall. A gurdwara complex must provide provision, in the same complex or adjacent compound for Guru Ka Langar (kitchen) and dining hall and also accommodation (sarai) for lodging and boarding of the pilgrims and visitors. Many big gurdwaras with adequate resources have libraries, clinics, hospitals, training centre for kirtan, Gurbani education, and even coaching centres for needy students aspiring for competitive examinations. All the services provided by the gurdwaras are free of cost.


The process of origin, development, functions and role of the Sikh intuitions of Gurdwara is a gradual development in the course of Sikh history. Consistent-efforts have been made by Sikh community to preserve the original practices of the institution of gurdwara. Under the leadership of the Singh Sabha Movement and Akali Movement, Gurdwara Reforms Movement and the outcome of the sacrifices made by the Sikhs during Akali Morchas, reforms have been introduced and legislation of All India Sikh Gurdwara Act has been enacted in 1925 for the smooth running of the management and administration of the gurdwaras. A central Sikh body Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee elected through adult franchise has been formed for the administration of management of the Sikh historical gurdwara in India. Yet, the Sikh community has to be more active to the evils operating in the administrative set up of the grudwaras. The situation demands strict vigilance in this matter from the authorities at the helm of the affairs of the Gurdwara management. 

Today, gurdwara is a full fledged multifaceted central Sikh institution. It provides guidance to the Sikh in spiritual, cultural, social, political and economic spheres of life in context to the teachings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib and the traditions set by the Sikh Gurus.

The institution of gurdwara is a living testimony to the historical development of Sikhism and has great motivating force to inspire the Sikhs to preserve their distinct identity, progressive traditions of their religion and practices of humanitarian service for the welfare of mankind.







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