1. Why do we have to take off our shoes when we go into Baba jis room or Gurdwara when Christians dont, even though they too have their holy Bible placed in their church?
For us, the Guru Granth Sahib is the living spirit of the Gurus, not just a compilation of religious discourses, as the Bible is. The Bible is handled like a book by the Christians, but we respect the Guru Granth Sahib as the living spiritual Guru. Hence we offer all our respect and regard by taking off our shoes and humbly sitting crosslegged in a Gurdwara. In Eastern culture, taking off shoes and covering ones head whenever you present yourself to some holy personality is considered a way of respecting the person. We greet our friends with folded hands and a slight bow to express our respect for a senior person. In the Middle East, the Muslims too take off their shoes and cover their heads when they go to the mosque for their prayers. They do not walk with their shoes on even near graves to respect the people buried there. In the Gurdwara we take off our shoes, not only to show respect to the Guru, but also because we have to sit on the floor. We can sit more comfortably without shoes than with the shoes on. In that posture one can listen to the Kirtan attentively.
2. Why do we keep a money box before the Guru Granth Sahib? Is God greedy?
Where does that money go?
(a) Is God greedy?
A Sikh makes his offerings (money, groceries, etc.) before the Guru to express his thanks for His favors. We do not give donations or charity to God or the Guru. It is a way of expressing our love and regards for Him. One example will explain it. A professor takes great interest in his student. He loves him and helps him in his studies. The student obtains a degree and finds a good job. He brings a gift of sweets to his teacher to say, My teacher, thank you for all you did to help me through my education. It has enabled me to get a nice job. The student is not giving a charity or a donation to his teacher by offering him the sweets but expressing his love and respect to him through it. In the same way, a Sikh goes to the Gurdwara for expressing his thanks to God and to the Guru for the favors he is enjoying as a human being. Sikhs consider this life as a gift of God for singing His praises. We are not born sinners as some Christians think it to be. Further, when we give money for social cause, it again is not a charity or donation according to Sikh philosophy. This is sharing of earnings with others. A father brings some candy bars and gives them to one of his children. The child shares these with all his brothers and sisters. He is not donating or giving charity to his sisters or brothers by sharing the gifts given by their father. Similarly God is our Father. All things have been created by Him for His children who are supposed to share His gifts among themselves. This act of sharing is our responsibility. By doing so we are not obliging anyone but doing our duty assigned to us by our Father, God. God is the creator of everything. He owns everything in this universe. God does not need our money. If a child offers a glass of juice to his father or mother, he is not giving it as a charity to them. Since everything in the house belongs to his parents, his act only shows his correct behavior. Actually, by this the parents educate their children to share the things in the house with their children to share the things in the house with their relatives and friends, as a matter of good conduct and responsible behavior. God being the Owner of everything in this world, and the Giver of everything in this world, and the Giver of everything to us, the question of His being greedy does not arise.
(b) Where does the money go?
Every religious organization/center is run by the contributions of the believers of that faith. Money is needed for maintenance of the buildings and for running the organization. Such expenses are met out of the offerings made by the visitors to the Gurdwara. Money is also spent for funding the projects to educate the members and their children about the faith.
3. Why do men and women sit separately? Why is the stage always on the right side (the side of the men)?
Why do we sit on the floor? It is hard for the people with back pains. In the Gurdwara, why is it bad for a person to sit against the wall?
(a) Sitting Separately
(i) Good social behavior and manners demand that one should not be sitting very close or physically touching others spouses. It is very difficult for anyone to avoid rubbing his shoulders with a person sitting close to him/her in the Sangat. In case men and women sit together mixed up in Sangat, it becomes very difficult for them to concentrate on hymns. One has to be always cautious to avoid physical touch with a person of the other gender and hence cannot pay full attention to the Kirtan. Even inadvertent touching or rubbing of shoulders can cause a case of misdemeanor and this can lead to serious trouble. It is, therefore, considered desirable for men and women to sit separately in ones own group. (ii) No side can be reserved for men or women. It all depends upon convenience and situation. If the women are expected to be in large numbers, they sit on the side which can accommodate more persons. If there is a spill over from one side, and there is a space on the other side, men/women shift to that side. In the Gurdwaras men and women usually sit on the side where they sat on the first day just as a matter of understanding. Even in the house, family members get used to their chairs around the dining table. Though no chair is reserved for anyone, as a matter of daily routine, each member usually sits on his/her regular chair.
(iii) The stage has no fixed place either on the right or left side of the Guru Granth Sahib. It all depends on convenience for deciding the side for the Kirtan stage. Different Gurdwaras have their stages on different sides. The most common practice is that the Ragis sit on one side with the males sitting on the other side and the females sitting behind the Ragis on the same side. Sometimes, the stage is arranged in the same line as the Guru Granth Sahib, so that the whole Sangat faces the Ragis, men sitting on the side of the Ragis. The stage may or may not be raised above the floor. In case of big gatherings, the stage is usually raised so that the people sitting away from the stage can have a direct look on the Ragis doing the Kirtan.
(b) Sitting on the floor
Sitting on the floor is an expression of humility before the Guru. Furthermore, it also makes people feel equal and allows each person to choose a place suitable for him/her. While sitting on the floor, one can enjoy Kirtan with greater concentration than while sitting in chairs or on benches. It needs only a little training to be able to sit comfortably on the floor without being tired. A common problem with sitting on the floor is caused by skintight pants, which are not supposed to be worn in a Gurdwara, anyway. If a person has a medical problem and cannot sit without support for his back, there is no objection for his/her sitting by the wall of the Gurdwara. However, in practice it has been found that most of the people want to sit there for the sake of comfort and convenience, which needs to be discouraged. It is, therefore, suggested, that the people having a medical problem may be provided with a speaker in a separate room other than the Sangat hall. They may sit there with some support to overcome their medical handicap. In the Gurdwara we are supposed to be attentive and responsive as a student is supposed to be in his classroom while his teacher is teaching.
4. Why do we have to do Ardas? (At the end of the function, just read Gurbani in the holy book).
Why do we stand up for performing Ardas?
(a) A formal Sikh function, whether at home or in a Gurdwara, is complete only when, after singing His virtues, we pray (do Ardas) to God to bless us with those virtues. Ardas makes our mind feel humble and become receptive. In that state of mind, we make a promise to follow the right path and give up our ego, lust, anger, etc. That is the way to achieve peace. Hence, the Ardas is essential to serve the complete purpose of going to the Gurdwara. Ardas is followed by the reading of a passage from the Guru Granth Sahib which is regarded as the order of the day for the Sikhs. It is usually explained in simple words to the audience for their benefit.
(b) When any public service takes the oath of office he stands up and raises his right hand. Whenever we request something, we do so while standing before the authority. Hence, we say Ardas while standing with folded hands. Informal Ardas can be said in any position, sitting, lying, driving, working, etc. When a Sikh opens the door of his car, he thinks of God and requests His blessings. The mere one word Waheguru uttered by him at that time is complete Ardas. A person may pray and seek His blessings as many times as he can during the day by thinking of the Almighty without standing or folding his/her hands. On formal occasions and for congregational prayers, the Ardas is always said standing and with folded hands keeping the mind tuned to the blessing of God.
5. Why isn't there a women Granthi?
A man or a woman can perform the services of a Granthi in a Gurdwara. There is no gender bar or any kind of discrimination against any person for becoming a Granthi. Sometimes, we do see a woman sitting in the service of the Holy Guru Granth Sahib during the Diwan time. Being a Granthi is a very hard and demanding job. It is very difficult for a woman, particularly if she has children, to serve a full time Granthi. This is a responsibility which sometimes requires working during odd hours. During a function, at the house of a Sikh, a Granthi is required to go early in the morning to arrange for the function and travel alone back to the Gurdwara. Because of the nature of the duty, it is performed jointly by the husband and the wife. They share this responsibility depending upon the nature and time of the duty.
6. Why insist on suits for girls (no naked legs), when boys are allowed to wear shorts in the Gurdwara?
Good manners demand covering of legs by all people, men or women, boys or girls, Sikhs or non Sikhs visiting a Gurdwara. The reason for giving relaxation to the boys in some cases is again a question of culture. In the East (with particular reference to the Punjab) girls always wear Salwar (not even a skirt) when they reach their teens. Girls when in primary schools are permitted to wear skirts. However, with the passage of time, this is changing. Think of the veil. A Western girl is proud to wear it during her wedding. Why doesn't the male wear it at the time of his maffiage? These are only cultural differences. Incidentally, do you note that the youth, both boys and girls, go to a church for their wedding well dressed and with their legs covered? We Sikhs are expected to go to a Gurdwara always in a formal and respectful dress. Whatever the modern trend of wearing clothes, both boys and girls when in their teens, should attend Gurdwara or formal functions in formal clothes with their legs covered. This custom is not unique to Sikhs. In some ancient churches in Europe, such as St. Pauls Cathedral, visitors (both male and female) are still required to cover their legs. If they have shorts, then they are made to purchase temporary plastic pants to wear for entering the churches.
7. Why do we do matha tek (bow to touch the ground with our forehead) to the holy Sikh Bible (Guru Granth Sahib)? Is it not idol worship?
Bowing before Guru Granth Sahib is not idol worship. The answer has been discussed earlier. It is to make us feel humble and reduce our ego, the cause of our all problems. To explain it further, culture plays a very important role in the rituals of a religion. We can find such examples all over the world. There are different methods of greeting your friend in different cultures. i) Folding hands in front of your chest and bending head slightly, ii) Bending your body at the waist with your head bending downwards and hands going backwards, as with the Japanese iii) Shaking right hands, the most common international custom iv) Embracing each other, particularly Panjabi women. v) Exchange of kisses, as among the people of the middle East.
In India, bending down so as to touch the feet of an elderly holy person, is an age old custom to express respects to him/her. It is practiced even today as good manners. When the children in the Punjab go to or come from their school, they bend to touch the feet of their parents, particularly their grandparents. In the same way children in the West wish good night to their parents before going to bed. Respecting your parents by bending your parents by bending before them is not human worship. It is a ritual to pay respect. In the West, people take off their hats to respect a woman or a senior person. Similarly, Sikhs, instead of taking off their hat (with a turban they cannot do it, even if they wanted to do it just like their Western friends), do math tek before the Guru to pay their respect and regards. Bending before Guru Granth Sahib is to show ones respect and regards for the Guru; it is not idol worship. Philosophically, this means that the person who bows before Guru Granth makes a promise to himself to follow the path suggested by the Gurbani. It is something similar to taking an oath to the constitution by raising a hand. In this case, we bow the head instead of raising the hand. The act of bowing reminds a person of his or her being a Sikh and a believer in the teachings of Gurbani. It strengthens the faith in Gurbani which is essential to help us to walk on the path of the Guru.
8. Why do we do Chaur on the Guru Granth Sahib? Why do we put the Granth Sahib on a bed? Why the Chanani or canopy? This is to express our regards and our respect for the Holy Scripture, the True King. The king commanded the greatest power, hence also the maximum respect and honor, in the olden days. Guru Nanak said that the true kings are those who love God and help others to do that. They are the rulers of the hearts of the people. The political kings are temporary kings and their authority ends with their death. The Gurus are the true kings; they teach Truth and rule our hearts. The Guru Granth Sahib is the embodiment of the spirit of all the Sikh Gurus and many other holy men whose hymns are included in it. We respect them as the true kings. The king sat on throne under a canopy. He used to have a fan like structure to be waved over his head as a symbol of his royalty. The Guru Granth Sahib, being the true emperor, is provided all these regal paraphernalia in the Gurdwara. We install the scripture on a throne (called Manji Sahib) with pillows around for supporting it. A canopy (Chanani) is provided above the scripture in the same way as it was put over the head of a king while he attended his court. During the session (Diwan), a person, with Chaur in his hand, is always in attendance on the scripture installed respectfully in the hall. For maintaining due regards and respect, we carry this holy scripture to another room when the hall is to be cleaned or when the session is over for the day. Before we bring the Guru Granth Sahib in the hall, we set everything in the hall properly. This is the court of the Guru. You will understand the whole ceremony better if you bring into mind the scene of the courtroom where everything is set and made ready before a judge enters his court. The Guru Granth Sahib is the Emperor or Emperors, hence all these ceremonial decorations.
9. What is the difference between getting a name picked by the Guru Granth Sahib and by your parents? Are there any advantages in either way?
The name is always picked by the parents whether in the Gurdwara or in the home. In the Gurdwara, when the function is over, a hymn is read from the Guru Granth Sahib. The first letter of the first word of the hymn is used as the first letter of the name to be chosen. The parents discuss it with their friends and the name they decide, is announced by the Granthi Sahib. This name is agreed to by the whole Sangat with a Bole So Nihal Jaikara. The real advantage is that it builds our faith in the Guru Granth Sahib. It is good to start and live our lives with that faith. The name giving ceremony in the Gurdwara also makes the name known to all the people in the community.
10. why do we give out Parshad? I feel guilty when I don't take it, but I don't like it because of its sugar and oily content.
It is a custom all over the world to offer something good to a person who is dear to you. We visit the Gurdwara to pay respect to our Guru and listen to the praises of the Lord, God. The Guru loves us and on his behalf we are given a gift, the Parshad. It is very tasty, easily eaten, without any need of any drink to swallow it. It is prepared with equal quantities of wheat flour, sugar, and ghee (butter). If carefully prepared, it has no problem in its distribution or eating. In India, it is considered the best food and its name is used as a proverb to describe something extremely tasty and very easy to be swallowed. One needs to develop a taste for it to like it and enjoy it. Many children in the west do enjoy it and want to get a second serving of the Parshad. Of course, one can request a smaller serving if he/she so wants. It is only when it is not well prepared that it gets sticky or is oily. Once in a while, omissions do take place in its preparation. We should value the spirit behind it and ignore the omissions. We do take bitter and distasteful medicine because we know it is good for our health. Similarly taking Parshad is a part of our faith. We do it to reinforce our faith in Gurmat.
11. Why do we put kirpan in Karah Parshad?
Why do we serve Parshad to Panj Pyaras first when all are equal? Why is a small pot of Parshad kept under the Guru Granth Sahib?
kirpan in Parshad
Putting a kirpan into Karah Parshad means that it has been accepted and sanctified by the Guru for distribution in the Sangat. During the Guru period, when offerings were presented to the Guru, he received them personally by touching them with his hand. During the later days, the Guru is said to have used a kirpan or an arrow to accept the offerings. The same practice was adopted by the Sikhs to accept and sanctify Karah Parshad.
Parshad is distributed equally to all without discrimination. For distribution, one has to begin with someone sitting in the Sangat. All people cannot be given Parshad simultaneously. According to the protocol in the Gurdwara, the number one person is the Guru and the number two person is his minister, the Granthi Sahib who sits in the service of the Guru Granth Sahib during the function. Accordingly, the Panj Pyaras, who represent the Guru, are given Parshad first. Then it is given to the Granthi Sahib (Not to the Guru Granth Sahib). As he attends the Granth Sahib, he cannot take Parshad in this hands. It is placed near him in a bowl. Later on, Parshad is given to all the Sangat.
12. Does Langar always have to be Indian foods?
No. All foods are acceptable. Chapati, bread, pizza, sandwiches, doughnuts, corn flakes, potato chips, vegetables, pulses, etc., can be served in Langar. However, no meat is allowed to be served in Langar. Only vegetarian foods of any kind acceptable to the people can be served in the Langar. Use of meat is prohibited because every religion has its own method of sanctifying it or not eating it at all. Muslims prepare Halal meat; Jews prepare Kosher. Muslims don't eat pork at all and Hindus don't eat beef. Similarly, Christians and Jews are also prohibited from eating certain kinds of meat on certain days. Jews are forbidden to eat pork. Roman Catholics eat only fish on Fridays and during lent. Sikhs are not allowed to eat Halal. Some people do not eat meat at all. They are strict vegetarians all the time. Langar is meant for people of all religions and all beliefs. A particular kind of meat or a particular method of preparation will suit only a limited number of people and not all of the Sangat. Most of the people in the Sangat, therefore, will not be able to eat Langar if meat is served there. To welcome all people on all the days, only vegetarian Langar is permitted. Meat is totally prohibited from being cooked or served in the Langar. Eggs and fish are also considered a kind of meat and hence, are not allowed in Langar. There is one more condition for a Langar to be served to the Sangat. All people have to be served without any discrimination and without any obligation to anyone. All are entitled to equal distribution. Special foods cannot be reserved for influential people in the Sangat or in the organization.
13. Those who serve Langar bend constantly. It is hard to do that. They step on things, spilling food on the floor. Wouldn't it be easier to sit at tables?
Food can be served while sitting on the floor or at tables and chairs. There is no restriction how the Sangat sits to eat food. The principle involved is equality for all. If everyone cannot be provided with chairs and tables, let all enjoy together sitting on the ground. Traditionally, Sikhs have been sitting on the floor to eat Langar. This has been popular because it helps in serving a large number of people quickly and the people sitting feel humble before the Guru. The feeling of being higher than others is removed be this method. Hence, this method is prevalent even today in the West where Sikhs can provide chairs to all the people but still choose to sit on the floor. Serving Langar to the Pangat sitting on the floor looks hard only because we are not accustomed to doing that. If we go to Amritsar or Anandpur Sahib, we will see thousands of people being served Langar while sitting on the floor. We too have to learn the technique and get used to it. It gives a greater feeling of unity and equality while sitting together like that and eating Langar. In some Gurdwaras in the West, they have introduced chairs and tables for eating Langar. We cannot say that this is a wrong method. However, it is not a restaurant where eating food is the objective and chairs are needed to sit on. Partaking of Langer is a part of our religious practice of sharing food with the members. Sitting on the floor has its own charm and pleasure; it sends the proper message to visitors of being humble in the presence of the Guru.
14. When Sikhs are allowed to eat meat, why is it not served in Langar? Is it because we feed Langar to the Guru Granth Sahib.
Are Sikhs supposed to be vegetarian or not? Is it mentioned anywhere in the Guru Granth Sahib? Why do some Sikhs kill animals to eat them? Animals are things who deserve to live like us.
(i) The question has already been answered above. Books have been written on the controversy of whether Sikhs should eat meat or not. The following will help the reader to make his choice. According to the Sikh Reht, published by the Shiromani Committee, Amritsar, a Sikh is not allowed to eat Kutha (Halal meat prepared by Muslim religious rites). About other kinds of meat, the Reht booklet is silent. The silence is taken to mean that eating meat other than Halal is not prohibited. Gurbani tells us that the claim of vegetarians to be superior or holier persons than non vegetarians does not stand the test of logic. A vegetarian eats grains and all grains have life. The grains grow to multiply their species like other living beings. We drink water which is the cause of all life on this earth and contains many living organisms. Drinking of water has to be given up by those who claims that they are perfect vegetarians. People consume milk which is not a vegetarian product; it comes from animals. Therefore, such persons cannot claim to be strictly vegetarian. The futility of arguing over this issue is mentioned in Gurbani in the following words: Only a fool argues whether to eat meat or not. Who can define what is meat and what is not meat? Who knows where the sin lies, being a vegetarian or a non vegetarian? ((Guru Granth Sahib) Page 1289) (ii) Sikhs do not feed Langar to the Guru Granth Sahib as is assumed when Langar is brought in a plate and placed in front of the Guru Granth Sahib before Ardas. Bringing Langar in front of the Guru Granth Sahib and touching it with the kirpan is not approved by the Gurmat Reht. Brahmans offer food to their gods before they eat it themselves. Feeding Langar to the Guru Granth Sahib before distributing it to the Sangat is a copy of the Brahmanical ritual. it needs to be given up by those who happen to practice it out of ignorance.