Gurdwara – General Information
Information about Gurdwara
The stage should be high appropriate to the size of the prayer hall, so that it is visible to the people sitting at the back of the gathering (usual main entrance). It should not have a back light – natural or artificial. Such a light silhouettes the people at the stage, looking towards Sangat, and makes their faces dark and indiscernible. The light should fall on the faces (front) of those on the stage.
Palki – Palanquin
It is a wooden, metal, or masonry structure, with a raised seat to place Guru Granth Sahib on it. There is a dome at the top, on its four corner pillars. It may have its own canopy under the dome, but even then the palanquin is placed under a large canopy above it. A small palanquin hinders the view and so, it has to be large enough.
Palki – palanquin, is mostly decorated with real and artificial flowers, garlands, flower vases, weapons, mini lights, beads, and ornaments, etc. Palanquin itself, and the sheet spread down in front of it (like a train) receive most of decoration. The stage and hall may also be decorated.
Chandova – Canopy
It is also called Chandani (Chanani). Fixing it above a person is the sign of authority – a highly revered personality. It is to honor the Holy Book. Next to the ceiling, a canopy of the proper size is kept spread above it. It should fully cover the platform with raised seat of Guru Granth Sahib. It also protects the Holy Book from any dirt or insects falling from the ceiling.
Chauri, Chaur or Chanwar
It is a hair-wisp. It keeps flies and insects off.
It is worked over Guru Granth Sahib. The tail-hair of Suraa-Gaae (yak – mountain ox) is used to make it. Now, the cheap varieties made of plastic strands are available. The handle may be made of sandal or any other wood, plastic, or some metal – precious or ordinary. Chauris with white-metal, or nickel-plated handles are common.
Tosha-Khana (a store for precious and selected items) above the main entrance of Harimandir Sahib – Golden Temple, Amritsar, had a Chaur made of fine sandalwood strands. It was offered by a Muslim saint from some eastern country. Perhaps, it was destroyed in attack on Harimandir Sahib in 1984 AD.
Canopy, Chauri etc. are the signs of authority and glory. The wisp is moved respectfully and gently, without making any showy movements or gestures. It should be worked calmly. Some wisps are heavy and may need both the hands to work these.
A subtle scent may be used, and even carefully applied to the cloth covers of the Holy Book. Incense is often burnt, but it should be mild, used sparsely, and should not bother the people especially on the stage. It should be carefully used to protect from fire. The candles and lamps should also be used very carefully. It is thoughtful to keep such things on the fireproof plates, and to have a fire extinguisher handy. Someone should keep a watch when such things are used. Room refreshing sprays are handy and safe. Sweet smelling flowers, and potpourris may be used.
Kumbh, Jote (Jyoti), Red Cloth
During any sort of Guru Granth recitation, may be Akhand Paath (continuous recitation), in Gurdwara or at home, a burning lamp, and a pot of water with its mouth covered with red cloth, need not be kept in front of Guru Granth Sahib. Kumbh – pot of water, represents Jall-Devta (water god); Jote – burning lamp, is Agani Devta (fire god); and red cloth denotes a Devi – goddess. Sikhs do not believe in these and other gods and goddesses.
A pitcher of water with covered mouth may be fine as a fire extinguisher. After culmination of Akhand Paath (continuous recitation of the Holy Book) some take this water as Amrit (sanctified water). They drink and distribute it as Parshad (holy water), and sprinkle it in and around their house. The left over water is given to plants, so that it does not go to a dirty drain.
A Jote – lamp, is good as an emergency light. At some Gurdwaras (Harimandir Sahib, Amritsar), a Jote is kept burning. Pure Ghee (butter oil) is used in it. Perhaps, this Jote is a memorial to someone linked to that place. A Jote represents light i.e. spirituality. Some rever such a Jote. To keep it or not is a personal choice of the local Sangat. It is not a must or essential, and is not an article of faith. Sikhs do not believe in such unnecessary items. At some places, such things keep going on as some set old time precedence even without knowing the reality. Things keep on entering and going out of a faith under the influence of environment. We have to keep a watch to stay free from superstitions etc.
Use of pictures in a Gurdwara or at home
Sikhs do not worship pictures of their Gurus or related to them. Of course, these remind the great Gurus and provide a basis for imagination. Many Gurdwaras and other holy places, or places related to the Gurus, put such pictures on the walls. It is not in a very good taste to place pictures before the Holy Granth. It is better to put them elsewhere. Bowing or bowing with folded hands to a picture of the Guru, with his reverence and greatness in mind, or placing incense or a few flowers before it, although not appreciated, is absolutely a personal and different thing from worshipping a picture. It is great if the Guru’s grandeur comes to the mind when standing before his picture, and in his honor the hands get folded and head bows down.
If the human role models are rare or not there, at least the pictures of the Gurus can influence and give a lead to the spiritual path! We should draw incentive from these, and not sit down to worship them.
Worship of a picture. – It is worship of the picture if we place incense, flowers etc. before it and bow down, sing its praise, practice other gestures of devotion before it, and make the picture a primary object of worship and supplication like the people doing to a deity – statue. Sikhs do not practice such things, and so they do not worship pictures.
Frescos etc. may be seen even inside the historical Gurdwaras. Ancient paintings of the Gurus, or scenes from their lives may also be there. Some Gurdwara walls or domes may have pressed metal work to depict scenes from the lives of the Gurus.
Gurdwaras may put up pictures in the library or in a separate gallery. It is a good idea for a Gurdwara to have its museum and to keep pictures and painting there.
Statues of the Gurus are not acceptable – the Sikh world does not worship, or approve these. The Sikhs avoid purchasing, or keeping the statues of the Gurus in their homes. Anyone preparing these as business for selling is not approved.
* Dedication – Unless, Nishan Sahib – the Sikh Flag, flutters on or at the place, it is not considered a Gurdwara. Hoisting a Nishan Sahib dedicates a place to the Guru, and to the Sangat (Khalsa Panth – the Sikh world).
* Dignity of the Khalsa – Nishan Sahib is considered holy and is revered (honored). It is dignity of the Khalsa. It represents sovereignty of the Guru and his subjects, and as well spirituality and independence – liberty of the mind and body.
* Color – This flag is saffron colored (not Gaerva – brick-red, like that of the others). Nihang Singh’s have the blue colored Sikh flag.
* Shape and Symbols – triangular in shape, and has the Sikh symbol on it. The symbol is called Ik-Oankar < With time, “Khanda-Chakkar-Kirpan” > also got introduced as a symbol. This has a central ring with double-edged sword in its center, and two curved swords on its sides. The ring is flat, sharp edged throwing weapon – quoits. Usually, both these symbols are there, one on each side of the flag. The Sikh flag has a steel Khanda – double edged sword at its top. Its pole has a cover.
* Dastar, Flag, Pompom – Between Khanda at the top and triangular flag (at their junction), is tied to the pole a Dastar – a length of narrow, blue colored cloth. To the tip of the triangular flag itself, is tied a black pompom from a short length of black string.
* Reverence – Sikhs rever their flag. At some Gurdwaras, especially in memory of Guru Gobind Singh e.g. at Paunta Sahib, the Sangat goes around Nishan Sahib singing Shabads of the Tenth Guru. They do so morning and evening to honor Nishan Sahib. There are two flags on some Gurdwaras where Guru Hargobind visited.
Nagara – Dhaunsa or Naqara
Gurdwaras keep a Dhaunsa (Naqara, Ranjit-Nagara) – kettledrum, placed on a high stand. It is a big bowl shaped drum beaten with two sticks. It makes a booming, resonant, dull, loud sound reaching great distances. This is a war-drum beaten to lead the soldiers to announce their presence, approach or attack. This sound is encouraging and raises the morale as well as stamina. As well, it scares the enemies.
In a Gurdwara, A Naqara is beaten twice a day, one time at each step of Ardas – invocation, when the congregation shouts out “Waheguru,” and continuously for some time at the end of Ardas.