Worship is an essential part of a Sikh’s life. The main purpose of worship is to praise the one, true God, referred to as Waheguru. According to Sikh belief, God is the creator of everything, is immortal and is without form.
The Mool Mantar, the opening sentence of the Guru Granth Sahib, contains Guru Nanak’s teaching about God and is recited daily in morning prayer.
Because God has no form, Sikhs do not have images of God in their place of worship, the gurdwara. Sikhs do have pictures of holy people, eg Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. However, they do not worship the Gurus. Rather, in public worship they remember the Gurus, listen to their teachings and share food, reinforcing the equality of all.
Sikhs do not have a set day for public worship but usually attend the gurdwara on Sunday in the UK. It is an important way for the sangat to worship together, support each other and socialise.
Place of worship
Worship in the gurdwara takes place in a hall called a diwan, meaning ‘court of a ruler’.
Each morning the Guru Granth Sahib is carried in procession into the diwan and placed on a takht, a raised platform with a canopy over it to show that is the ruler of the Sikhs.
The Guru Granth Sahib is covered with beautiful cloths called rumalas. An attendant waves a decorative fan, called a chauri, over it to purify the area before reading the scripture.
Sikhs remove their shoes, cover their heads and bow before the Guru Granth Sahib when they enter the room. They make an offering of money or food for the Gurdwara’s kitchen, which is known as the langar.
Everyone sits on the floor, men on one side, women on the other. Services are informal and may last a long time, so people come in and out as they wish.
Features of worship
- Kirtan is sung and there are lectures and sermons explaining the meaning of the words.
- Musicians lead singing with people joining in, prayers are said and readings from the Guru Granth Sahib are given.
- Towards the end of the service, the Ardas prayer is said. The Ardas remembers God and the Ten Gurus and asks God to bless the Sikhs and all humanity and to help them be faithful to the scriptures.
- Prayers may be said for specific individuals, for example, sick people in the community and then Karah Parshad is shared.
Following the service, a vegetarian meal is shared in the langar.
The Guru Granth Sahib is treated as a living person and has its own room in the gurdwara. The person who looks after the Guru Granth Sahib is the granthi and he may lead the morning and evening services. However, any Sikh, male or female, who is able to do so, can lead public worship.
Sewa is an important part of worship. Sikhs fulfil this duty when they help in the langar or look after the gurdwara, study the Guru Granth Sahib and teach it to others and give money or other help to people in need. This is why the langar welcomes anyone regardless of religion or background, offers free meals to visitors and some gurdwaras also provide beds for the homeless.
Elements in Worship
Sikh public worship has many symbolic elements:
- Treating the Guru Granth Sahib as a living Guru, eg by waking it in the morning and putting it to rest at night shows the belief that it has the same authority as other Gurus.
- Placing the Guru Granth Sahib on a throne under a canopy, covering it with rumalas and waving the chauri over it shows the great respect with which it is held.
- Humility is shown by people taking off their shoes, covering their hair, bowing and sitting on a lower level to the Guru Granth Sahib.
- The Ik onkar symbol is found in the gurdwara to remind Sikhs of the Mool Mantar, that there is only one God.
- Eating Karah Parshad represents the equality of all.
Art and music within worship
Sikhs use art and music to express beliefs about God. The Ik onkar symbol focuses worship on the Oneness of God.
Most of Sikh scripture is in the form of hymns with directions about how they should be played and sung. The Guru Granth Sahib is arranged into 31 major ragas, which are sequences of notes intended to bring about a particular mood in the listener.
Singing kirtan expresses devotion to Waheguru or Akal Purakh, meaning ‘the Eternal One’, a description of God used by Guru Nanak. It also creates a shared community experience.
Most Sikh homes will have pictures of the Ten Gurus, particularly of Guru Nanak. Sikh worship at home includes set prayers, meditation and reading the scriptures.
If a family owns a copy of the Guru Granth Sahib, they should keep it in a separate room and treat it with the same respect as in the gurdwara. If they do not have the Guru Granth Sahib, they may have a Gutka, a collection of hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib which they use in private worship.
Many Sikhs use set prayers three times a day; before sunrise, in the evening and at night before sleep.
Features of worship at home include:
- rising early in the morning and bathing before coming into God’s presence
- meditating on the many names of God – reciting the Japji Sahib, which contains the Mool Mantar
- in the evening and at night they repeat two sets of hymns from the Gutka
The phrase that means ‘calling God to mind’ is Nam Simran. The more a Sikh calls God to mind, the more he or she is filled with God’s presence. This helps Sikhs become more God-centred and less selfish. Some Sikhs use mala beads, repeating the word ‘Waheguru’ as the mala passes through their fingers.
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