Sikh Worship at a Gurdwara

I want to get this post written before I leave for Naples tomorrow [congregational presentation–always fun!], but I don’t have much time–so it will be short!  I had the great opportunity to worship at a Sikh gurdwara in Washington DC today, and I just wanted to share that experience.  It was really wonderful–which, by the way, always has been my experience when I have visited another religious community.  The people were very welcoming, answered all my questions, and were just generally warm and friendly.  It was a great experience, and I look forward to going back.

The service started at 8:30 this morning, but I get the feeling there weren’t many people there:  the time is much less structured than a Christian service, for example.  Different people sing kirtan, which is the practice of singing different verses in the Guru Granth Sahib [the holy book of the Sikhs–it is considered to be the embodiment of all the wisdom of the ten human Gurus, and is the ultimate guide for Sikh life].  Then, the priest sang, and then offered some reflections on the text–this is all in Punjabi.  Then, there was kind of a break, and the served breakfast–all the while, different people in the congregation were singing; and downstairs where the food was being served, we could hear it through the speakers.  I got there in time for breakfast, which was great:  rice, chickpea masala, and samosas.  

Then, I went upstairs with a nice woman who had introduced herself to me, and we listened to the kirtan.  Here are a few photos–the top one is of the Guru Granth.  It is always elevated on a podium, covered in rich cloths, and someone sits behind it, fanning it with a whisk:

Everyone covers their head–men and women, and on almost everyone I could see the steel bracelet [the kara] that is one of the marks of the Khalsa.  One older man was in what looked to me like ceremonial dress:  an elaborate orange turban with the mark of the Khalsa, a white uniform with a sash, and a very large sword [kirpan].  I saw another woman with a small visible kirpan, but I didn’t see anyone else wearing an obvious one.  

Again, the priest spoke some, and then he read from the Guru Granth itself.  When that was done, everyone who had gathered [and by then, we were about 100], stood & there was communal chanting.  Finally, at the end, we all sat down and received Karahprashad, which is a sweet, sticky dough-like food that functions like a sacrament of sorts.  The little children ran up and passed out napkins, and then several men distributed it in balls, which we received in cupped palms.

I couldn’t stay for the langar–the community vegetarian meal that is served afterword:  everyone sits together on the floor, symbolizing our equality before God.  Next time, I’ll definitely plan for that.  I look forward to my next visit!

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