Devout Sikhs worship together.
Devout Sikhs worship together.

Sikhism has a few very unique attributes which distinguish it from the more widely known monotheistic faiths like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Originating from India's Punjab region, Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak in the 16th century and focused on the worship of God in an abstract form.

Basic Sikh Principles

To understand how and why Sikhs worship in the way that they do, it's important to understand the fundamental tenets of the Sikh faith. This religion focuses on doing good acts, rather than simply following a set code of religious rituals and rites. Sikhs believe that to live a good life, they must always keep God in their hearts and minds, live with honesty, be generous to the less fortunate, and serve others.

Origins of Sikh Worship

The Guru Granth Sahib, (the Sikh Holy Book), sits on an exalted pedestal in a Gurdwara.
The Guru Granth Sahib, (the Sikh Holy Book), sits on an exalted pedestal in a Gurdwara.

Even though Sikhs consider God to reside everywhere, they still gather at a place of worship equivalent to a church or synagogue. Originally known as dharamsalas, these Sikh houses of worship served places for Sikhs to gather and sing or listen to the guru speak. Guru Hargobind -- the sixth Guru of the Sikhs and the supreme spiritual and secular leader of the Sikhs from 1606 -1644, began to refer to the sites as Gudwaras, which translates as "the gateway through which the Guru can be reached." From that time forward, Sikhs took up the name change and today all Sikh houses of worship are Gudwaras. The Guru Granth Sahib, which is the Sikh holy text, is found in each Gurdwara and is used by any Sikh -- male or female, young or old, rich or ppor -- to lead the Sikh congregation in worship. This person is referred to as the Granth. But there is no priestly caste in Sikhism.

The Gurdwara: the Sikh place of Worship

When devout Sikhs come to the Gurdwara, they must take off their shoes and put on a cap, as a sign of respect. While there, they may sing hymns (Kirtan), read from the Guru Granth Sahib (Kanth), and participate in the Langar, which is the offering of a free community meal for all visitors of all faiths. The Langar meal is also held in a portion of the Gurdwara, which is also called the Langar. Many Gurdwara's also double as community centers because so much of Sikh life is focused on serving the community. But along with public worship, Sikhs are also encouraged to cultivate a rich personal worship and relationship with God in private.

Sikh Private Worship

Sikhs are encouraged to pray at any time in any place, follow the Reht Maryada (the Sikh code of conduct) and cultivate a more personal relationship with God. When a Sikh prays to God, he or she believes they are actually connecting with God. A good Sikh will rise at least three hours before the dawn, bathe and pray for at least one hour, spending time in God's immortal presence. This prayer is akin to meditation. Prayer is considered the primary way in which Sikhs connect to God. But they also never forget their duty to the Sangat, the Sikh congregation.

Worship in every part life

Since Sikhism places such an emphasis on the contemplation of God's presence and community service, worship is literally built into every facet of their lives and, ultimately, becomes about a way of life and being, rather than simply living.