Hinduism has its temples, Buddhism its stupas, Christianity its churches and Islam its mosques. For a religion scnptures and temples are essential. The religions without one or the other become extinct or survive only in name like the cults of great Gorakh Nath and Kabir.
Guru Nanak went cast, west, north and south, all over India. In Muslim villages he stayed near the graveyard in a Takya where Muslim faqir generally resided. A Takya was situated on the outskirts of a village. It was in charge of a local faqir who maintained himself and his family on the lands endowed to the Takya. It was his duty to provide meals to a wandering faqir either from his own house or by begging it from villagers. This was a norm which prevailed in Islamic countries all the world over.
In Hindu villages the Guru halted outside the village near a tank or pond or well or in a garden. He could not live in a temple because he was accompanied by Mardana, a Muslim. Hindus had no objection to their putting up in a dharamshala which existed in every town in India.
Guru Nanak adopted self-composed poetry and music to convey his message to the people. When he entered a new village or town he chose a suitable place for his performance. Nanak began to sing and Mardana played on his rebec. People surrounded them to listen to their sweet music. All were impressed with the Guru’s message of love, tolerance, and praise of God. They were lodged in a dharamshala. In the evening men, old women and children flocked to the dharamshala to listen to the Guru’s discourse and songs. The congregation was called sangat and their meeting place with the Guru came to be known as dharamshal. Dharamshala therefore became an auditorium, forum, classroom, temple and place of congregation to sing hymns. Here devotion of the congregation was considered of greater importance than money contribution.
Thus a dharamsal implied a meeting place of the Sikhs for the purpose of recitation of Guru’s hymns. In the beginning a religious con gregation was held at the residence of a devoted Sikh. A special room was reserved for this purpose. When the number of devotees grew larger, the assemblies were held in a dharamsal. They were constructed by philanthropic Hindus to’ provide lodging to travellers or to marriage parties. The Sikhs coming from neighbouring villages to listen to the Guru also put up in these dharamsal.
When Nanak settled at Kartarpur, a special dharamsal was erected for Sikh gatherings. It became a permanent place of worship for the Sikhs.
Guru Angad established a dharamsal at Khadur, his native village, to serve the purpose of a permanent place of worship for the Sikhs. Satta and Balwand, the celebrated singers, were employed to recite Gurbani. This attracted large gatherings and made Sikhism popular. The sangats were greatly developed and strengthened by the institution of Jangar which was personally looked after by Guru’s wife Mata Khivi. Rice boiled in milk (Khir) served in a Langar was highly praised by the two bards, Satta and Balwand, who composed a Var on it, and it was included in the Adi Granth. Guru Angad started a class in the. dharamsal to teach Gurmukhi script invented by him.
Guru Amar Das constructed a dharamsal at Goindwal. Satta and Balwand also settled there. Kirtan was held regularly in the morning and evening. Sarup Das Bhalla has given a fine account of Guru Amar Das’s activities.1 Guru Amar Das made the langar an integral part of the dharamsal.
During the first four Gurus the Sikh temple was called dharamsal. The fifth Guru Arjan named it Hari Mandar. The sixth Guru Hargobind called it gurudwara. It implied the gate through which one could reach the Guru. It served as a centre of corporate life of the Sikhs. It was a place for propagating religion. It was also used as a place for social gatherings.
Gurdwaras are of two kinds. First, there are gurdwaras erected everywhere, in every village, town, city and street to meet the religious and social needs of the local people. It may be one room hut or a big mansion. Where the holy Granth is installed, it immediately becomes a gurudwara. To the second category belong historic gurdwaras, such as at Nankana Sahib, Golden Temple at Amritsar,Keshgarh at Anandpur, Bangla Sahib, Sis Ganj and Rakab Ganj at Delhi, and also at Patna and Nader. They are associated with Gurus.1