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Gurdwara : Guru Dwara
A Place to Recite and Discuss Gurbani

Prof. Devinder Singh Chahal, PhD

INTRODUCTION

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. Today we have gathered here for the clod-breaking ceremony for a new building of Gurdwara Sahib in Lasalle, Quebec, Canada.

WHAT IS A GURDWARA?

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:

Bhanda hacha hoey jo tiss bhaway...

AGGS, M1, p 730.

Interpretation:

Only that body (mind) is pure that is liked by the Almighty.
The body (mind) that is extremely polluted (with vices) cannot be cleansed just by washing.
It is only when one enters the Gateway to the Guru* (the Almighty), one can get wisdom.
It is this gateway where after entering one gets cleansed.
(When one enters this gateway) Then it will make the one aware to
distinguish between the polluted and the cleansed minds.

One must not understand that the verdict/judgement of deeds
is declared after going to the next world.
(It is here in this world) What one sows so shall one reap.
The elixir of the life is distributed by the Almighty.
Once one enters this gateway one will be honored everywhere .
Nanak says: you yourself will be contented and will make your filial generations contented.


* '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.

HOW IS THE GURBANI UNDERSTOOD?

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.

REFERENCES:

    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

OBSERVATIONS:

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.

Speech delivered at the time of Clod-breaking Ceremony
of a new Gurdwara Sahib at Lasalle, Quebec, Canada
Sunday, the 20th July, 1997.