Gurdwaras (Sikh houses of worship)

No. The Sikh gurus were very clear about each Sikh making her or his own journey and not depending on clergy to show them the way. Sikhs do, however, have Granthis. These are people who have studied the Sikh scriptures extensively and are available in the Gurdwaras as teachers. They often lead a congregation, but members from the congregations – both men and women – can always perform the same ceremonies.

In every Gurdwara (Sikh place of congregation and worship), the Sikhs scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, is placed at the back of the room, and everyone who enters the room, bows in front of it and touches their forehead to the ground. This is a symbol of surrendering yourself to the message of the scripture. Visitors don’t have to bow and can simply sit down with the congregation.

The Sikh Gurus always taught equality between the sexes. For instance, the Gurus decried the cultural climate that denied women access to religion and gave women equal rights as men in all spheres. Still, in Sikh congregations, men and women are asked to sit side by side—women on one side of the Guru Granth Sahib, and men on the other. There are both practical and cultural reasons for this practice. One can see this as a balance between the two sexes. In some smaller Gurdwaras, men and women may be seen sitting mixed in the congregation.

The Sikh Gurus instituted the unique Sikh practice of Langar to break down caste barriers. Langar is food that is cooked by the members of the community and served by members of the community, to all people at the Gurdwara. The idea is to demonstrate equality of all people, irrespective of caste, creed, religion, race or sex. All Gurdwaras have a common kitchen, where Langar is cooked by volunteers and open to all. Langar is communal cooking, eating and sharing and is eaten while sitting on the ground. When Sikhism was sprouting in the South Asian subcontinent, the caste system stratified society. Higher castes would sit on stools and chairs and eat, while the lowest caste were not allowed to eat even in the same room, and usually on the floor, away from sight. The Gurus wanted Sikhs to always practice egalitarianism and communal responsibility.

Langar is also free food. It is free because members of the congregation, according to their ability, make donations to the Gurdwara. Any visitor to the Gurdwara can eat there free. But Langar has an important communal aspect to it and is not just a ‘free all-youcan- eat buffet’. Calling it a “buffet” may be insulting to this tradition because of its deep spiritual significance.

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