Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Gurdwara: A Place to Recite and Discuss Gurbani

Gurdwara : Guru Dwara
A Place to Recite and Discuss Gurbani


Prof. Devinder Singh Chahal, PhD


One of the outstanding characteristics of the Sikhs is that wherever they settle in the world they build a Gurdwara. Because to build a gurdwara is considered by them as their biggest achievement in their settlements.


The irony is that the term 'Gurdwara' is not understood properly by many Sikh scholars and Sikh theologians. Gurdwara is a shortened version of Guru Dwara used by Guru Nanak in his bani (words, verse). However, nowadays some Sikhs have replaced the word Guru Dwara with Guru Ghar without paying any attention to the differences in the meanings of these two words. Although both words have 'Guru' in common, replacement of 'Dwara' with 'Ghar' makes lots of differences in their meanings. When Guru Nanak used the word 'Guru Dwara' in his bani he referred 'Guru' to the Guru (the Almighty) and 'Dwara' to the gateway, thus, 'Guru Dwara' means the 'Gateway to the Guru (the Almighty)'. But when one uses Guru Ghar it means the House of the Almighty. In fact according to Gurbani, there is no gate or house wherefrom the Almighty controls the universe and the life in it:

So dar keha so gar keha jit beh sarb smalae (AGGS, Jap 27, P 6).

Thus, to call Guru Dwara or Gurdwara as Guru Ghar is not justified because one cannot confine the Almighty to one place (ghar/house). Because the Almighty pervades everywhere in the universe. Some Sikhs who have coined the word, Guru Ghar, might argue that Guru Ghar means where the Aad Guru Granth Sahib (AGGS) resides. This argument is not valid because many Sikhs keep the AGGS in their homes and such homes cannot be called Guru Ghars under any circumstances. Nevertheless, I must add here that Bhai Kahn Singh (1) has used 'Guru Dwara' and 'Guru Ghar' as interchangeable terms. I do not agree to his interchangeable use because Guru Dwara cannot be Guru Ghar according to Gurbani.

Now let us look into the word 'Guru Dwara' used by Guru Nanak:

ਸੂਹੀ ਮਹਲਾ ੧ ॥
soohee mehlaa 1.
Soohee, First Mehl:

ਭਾਂਡਾ ਹਛਾ ਸੋਇ ਜੋ ਤਿਸੁ ਭਾਵਸੀ ॥
bhaaNdaa hachhaa so-ay jo tis bhaavsee.
That vessel alone is pure, which is pleasing to Him.

ਭਾਂਡਾ ਅਤਿ ਮਲੀਣੁ ਧੋਤਾ ਹਛਾ ਨ ਹੋਇਸੀ ॥
bhaaNdaa at maleen Dhotaa hachhaa na ho-isee.
The filthiest vessel does not become pure, simply by being washed.

ਗੁਰੂ ਦੁਆਰੈ ਹੋਇ ਸੋਝੀ ਪਾਇਸੀ ॥
guroo du-aarai ho-ay sojhee paa-isee.
Through the Gurdwara, the Guru's Gate, one obtains understanding.
ਏਤੁ ਦੁਆਰੈ ਧੋਇ ਹਛਾ ਹੋਇਸੀ ॥
ayt du-aarai Dho-ay hachhaa ho-isee.
By being washed through this Gate, it becomes pure.

ਮੈਲੇ ਹਛੇ ਕਾ ਵੀਚਾਰੁ ਆਪਿ ਵਰਤਾਇਸੀ ॥
mailay hachhay kaa veechaar aap vartaa-isee.
The Lord Himself sets the standards to differentiate between the dirty and the pure.

ਮਤੁ ਕੋ ਜਾਣੈ ਜਾਇ ਅਗੈ ਪਾਇਸੀ ॥
mat ko jaanai jaa-ay agai paa-isee.
Do not think that you will automatically find a place of rest hereafter.

ਜੇਹੇ ਕਰਮ ਕਮਾਇ ਤੇਹਾ ਹੋਇਸੀ ॥
jayhay karam kamaa-ay tayhaa ho-isee.
According to the actions one has committed, so does the mortal become.
ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤੁ ਹਰਿ ਕਾ ਨਾਉ ਆਪਿ ਵਰਤਾਇਸੀ ॥
amrit har kaa naa-o aap vartaa-isee.
He Himself bestows the Ambrosial Name of the Lord.

ਚਲਿਆ ਪਤਿ ਸਿਉ ਜਨਮੁ ਸਵਾਰਿ ਵਾਜਾ ਵਾਇਸੀ ॥
chali-aa pat si-o janam savaar vaajaa vaa-isee.
Such a mortal departs with honor and renown; his life is embellished and redeemed, and the trumpets resound with his glory.

ਮਾਣਸੁ ਕਿਆ ਵੇਚਾਰਾ ਤਿਹੁ ਲੋਕ ਸੁਣਾਇਸੀ ॥
maanas ki-aa vaychaaraa tihu lok sunaa-isee.
Why speak of poor mortals? His glory shall echo throughout the three worlds.
ਨਾਨਕ ਆਪਿ ਨਿਹਾਲ ਸਭਿ ਕੁਲ ਤਾਰਸੀ ॥੧॥੪॥੬॥
naanak aap nihaal sabh kul taarsee. ||1||4||6||
O Nanak, he himself shall be enraptured, and he shall save his entire ancestry. ||1||4||6||

* 'Guru Dwara' (Gateway to the Guru) is a metaphor of the 'Teachings of the Guru'. It has also been referred so at other places in Gurbani (AGGS, M 3, P 919 and 922).

The main theme conveyed in this verse by Guru Nanak is as follows:

The polluted body (mind) cannot be cleansed by washing the body. However, it can be cleansed when one follows the "Teachings of the Guru" through which one gets wisdom to cleanse one's mind.

Now the question is how does one gets the wisdom?

When one recites the Gurbani and discusses (vichar) it with the sangat (congregation) then one finds the wisdom to get one's mind cleansed. Guru Dawara, therefore, means entering the gateway of the Guru, i. e., the understanding of the "Teachings of the Guru". Therefore, the place, where one can recite and discuss Gurbani (Teachings of the Guru) with the sangat to find out the truth, contentment and realize the Almighty, is called Guru Dwara.


A great importance of vichar (discussion/deliberation) has been given in the Gurbani at many places in the AGGS. For example:

Nanak sabd wichariae payiae guni nidhan. (AGGS, M1, P 59)

Nanak says: "By discussion/deliberation one gets the treasure of wisdom."

The vichar has been interpreted differently by different writers. At some places in Gurbani Vichar means the philosophy of the Gurus. In general the meanings of vichar in Punjabi and given by Bhai Kahn Singh (1) are: The method to find out the truth. The method to find out the truth is by discussing/deliberating the subject matters thoroughly in a group. The meanings of the word 'discuss' in English dictionaries are: To investigate by reasoning or argument; to discourse about something to arrive at the truth or to convince others of the validity of one's position (2). Thus, discussion/deliberation of Gurbani is the most important characteristic feature of Sikhism and of Gurbani. The Gurbani also advises that in case there are doubts that can be decided by discussion/deliberation while sitting together:

Hoae ikatar mil maerae bhai dubda dur karo liv lai. (AGGS, M 5, P 1185).

Get together, Oh my brothers, to remove the doubts while attuned to the Almighty.

Since so much importance is given on the vichar (discussion/deliberation) in the Gurbani then why it has not been adopted in the Gurdwara? It means the word, Gurdwara, was never understood properly before. It is never too late to amend and adopt the right path. Today, we should promise ourselves to use the Guru Dwara or Gurdwara as explained in the Gurbani. On entering the Gateway of the Guru it becomes imperative for every Sikh to vichar (discuss/deliberate) the Gurbani with the sangat to find out the truth and to achieve the contentment and ultimately to realize the Almighty.


AGGS = Aad Guru Granth Sahib. 1983 (reprint) 1430 p. Publishers: Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar. (M = Mahla, i.e., succession number of the Sikh Gurus to the House of Guru Nanak, P = Page of the AGGS).

1. Singh, (Bhai) Kahn. 1981. Mahan Kosh (Punjabi). Bhasha Vibagh, Punjab, Patiala.

2. Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. 1991. Thomas Allen & Son Ltd., Markham, Onatario


Presently the Gurdwaras are being used for reciting Akhand Paths, celebration of Gurpurbs, Barsis of different sants, sant samelans, birth days of some Bhagats, martyrdoms of Gurus and of some Sikhs mostly recent ones, solemnizing marriages, birthdays of children, and political conferences. Most recently celebration of New Year Eve has been included as one of their functions. Organization of Kabadi and other supports have been also introduced in some Gurdwaras as one of their important duties. But no gurdwara is known to me that arranges discussion of Gurbani with the Sangat (congregation) as recommended in Gurbani.


Anonymous punjaban said...

there's a typo in the last paragraph, i think the author meant to say sports and instead typed support.

I agree with the author in saying that gurdwaras don't encourage discussion and they should.

8:04 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home