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Sikh Gurdwaras

For the benefit of the Sangat we have provided one of the largest and most comprehensive archives on Historic Sikh Gurdwaras.

Discover the Sikh Heritage by browsing through hundreds of Gurdwaras in an easily searchable and readable format. The Gurdwara section is a great resource for research or planning travel.

Sikhs are extremely proud of an amazing and distinct heritage. There are many hidden wonders to be found at these Historic Gurdwaras. The Discover Sikhism Team would encourage you to take your time investigating as many Gurdwaras as you can. You may be surprised at the discoveries you make.


Gurdwara (Gurmukhi: ਗੁਰਦੁਆਰਾ, Gurduārā or, Gurudwārā), literal translation of the term gurdwara is "the Guru's door", but it also means "the gateway to the guru". A Gurdwara is a place of worship for Sikhs; however, people of all faiths are welcomed in the Gurdwara. The gurdwara has a 'Darbar Sahib' where the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh scripture) is seen and a 'Langar' hall where people can eat free food.

A gurdwara may also have a library, nursery, and classroom. A gurdwara can be spotted from a distance by the yellow triangular flag hoisted from a pole in the compound. The flag is called the Nishan Sahib. Early Gurdwaras were known as a Dharamsala (a spiritual dwelling or religous resthouse, sanctuary).

The most well-known gurdwara is Sri Harmandir Sahib (also known as the Golden Temple) in Amritsar, Punjab, India. Please note, describing a Gurdwara as a 'Temple' is incorrect as the term is associated for places of worship with other religions.


Any place where the Guru Granth Sahib is installed and treated with due respect according to Sikh Rehat Maryada (the Sikh code of conduct and convention) can be referred to as a gurdwara, whether it is a room in one's own house or a separate building. The main functions that are carried out in all public gurdwaras on a daily basis include:

Shabad Kirtan: which is the singing of hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib. Strictly speaking only Shabads from Guru Granth Sahib can be performed within a gurdwara. It is improper to sing hymns to rhythmic folk tunes or popular film tunes.
Paath: which is religious discourse and reading of Gurbani from the Guru Granth Sahib, with its explanations. Broadly here are two types of Paath : Akhand Paath and Sadharan Paath.

Sri Guru Granth Sahib
Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji - The Sikh holy scripture, which has words written by the Sikh Gurus personally.
The above Saroop is a padd-chhed Guru Granth Sahib (split words) and is used to learn from. The authentic originals are written in larivaar (continuous writing).

A typical layout for the Darbar Sahib, inside a Gurdwara. Men and women usually sit on separate sides of the hall. Along with these main functions, the gurdwaras around the world also serve the Sikh community in many other ways including, libraries of Sikh literature, schools to teach children Gurmukhi (Sikh script), the Sikh scriptures and charitable work in the wider community on behalf of Sikhs.

There are no idols, statues, or religious pictures in a gurdwara, but the essential feature of a gurdwara is the presiding presence of the holy book and the eternal Sikh Guru, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The Sikhs hold high respect for the teachings and commandments laid down in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

Many of the historical gurdwaras associated with the lives of the Sikh Gurus have a sarovar (eco-friendly pool of water) attached for bathing.

The gurdwara is the main focal point of most of the important Sikh Festivals, with the exception of Nagar Kirtan, which is a Sikh processional singing of holy hymns throughout a community; however; it does begin and conclude at a gurdwara.

Some of the prominent Sikh gurdwaras established by the Sikh Gurus are:

Nankana Sahib, established in 1490s by first Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Nanak Sahib Ji, Punjab, Pakistan.
Sultanpur Lodhi, established in 1499 became the Sikh centre during Sri Guru Nanak Sahib Ji's time. Kapurthala District, Punjab (India).
Kartarpur Sahib, established in 1521 by the first Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Nanak Sahib Ji, near River Ravi, Narowal, Punjab, Pakistan.
Khadoor Sahib, established in 1539 by the second Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Angad Sahib Ji, near River Beas, Amritsar District, Punjab, India.
Goindwal Sahib, established in 1552 by the third Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Amar Das Ji, near River Beas, Amritsar District Punjab, India.
Sri Harmandir Sahib, established in 1577 By the fourth Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Ram Das Ji, District Amritsar, Punjab (India).
Tarn Taran Sahib, established in 1590 by the fifth Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Arjan Sahib Ji, District Tarn Taran Sahib, Punjab (India).
Kartarpur Sahib, established in 1594 by the fifth Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Arjan Sahib Ji, near river Beas, Jalandhar District, Punjab (India).
Hargobindpur Sahib, established by the fifth Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Arjan Sahib Ji, near river Beas, Gurdaspur District, Punjab (India).
Kiratpur Sahib, established in 1627 by the sixth Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji, near river Sutlej, Ropar District, Punjab, India.
Keshgarh Sahib, established in 1665 by the ninth Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji, near river Sutlej, Punjab, India.
Paonta Sahib, established in 1685 by the tenth Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji, near river Yamuna, Himachal Pradesh India.

By the early 20th century, a number of Sikh gurdwaras in British India were under the control of the Udasi mahants (clergymen). The Gurdwara Reform Movement of the 1920s resulted in Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee taking control of these gurdwaras.


Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru (divinely inspired prophet- teacher) and the founder of the Sikh religion, established the first gurdwara in the early 1490s. The Sikh Gurus established gurdwaras as places where a sangat (congregation) could come together to worship as a community by reciting and reflecting upon hymns in the Guru Granth Sahib.

Gurdwaras are not only a religious institution for the Sikhs where they can learn about their religion and pray, but is also a political institution where Sikhs can discuss important local and global issues.

Nishan Sahib

Nishan Sahib

Using the gurdwaras as the centers of activity, the Gurus built flourishing cities around them.

The gurdwaras have been a focal point of Sikh communities since the time of Guru Nanak and continue to be so even today.

Gurdwaras are found throughout the world, wherever a sizable Sikh community exists.

A Nishan Sahib, a yellow or saffron colored flag with an emblem of a double-edged sword, two other swords, and a sharp iron ring, almost always indicates the site of a gurdwara.

The first gurdwara was built in Kartarpur, on the banks of Ravi River in the Punjab region by the first Sikh guru, Sri Guru Nanak Sahib Ji in the year 1521. It now lies in the Narowal District of West Punjab (Pakistan).

The worship centres were built as a place where Sikhs could gather to hear the guru give spiritual discourse and sing religious hymns in the praise of Waheguru. As the Sikh population continued to grow, Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji, the sixth Sikh guru, introduced the word 'gurdwara'.

The etymology of the term 'Gurdwara' is from the words 'gur (ਗੁਰ)' (a reference to the Sikh Gurus) and 'dwara (ਦੁਆਰਾ)' (gateway in Gurmukhi), together meaning 'the gateway through which the guru could be reached'. Thereafter, all Sikh places of worship came to be known as gurdwaras.


The preparation of Langar at Sri Harmandir Sahib

The preparation of Langar at Sri Harmandir Sahib.

At the langar, only vegetarian food is served, to ensure that all people, regardless of their dietary restrictions, can eat as equals.

Every gurdwara provides langar, a free communal meal eaten together by everyone visiting a Gurdwara.

Started by Guru Nanak and institutionalized by the third Guru, Amar Das, langar exemplifies an important Sikh teaching: all human beings are equal regardless of their socioeconomic status.

It was designed to uphold the principle of equality between all people regardless of religion, caste, colour, creed, age, gender or social status, a revolutionary concept in the caste-ordered society of 16th-century India where Sikhism began.

For the first time in history, the Sikh Guru's designed an institution in which all people would sit on the floor together, as equals, to eat the same simple food. It is here that all people high or low, rich or poor, male or female, all sit in the same pangat (literally "row" or "line") to share and enjoy the food together.

The institution of Guru ka langar has served the community in many ways. It has ensured the participation of women and children in a task of service for mankind. Women play an important role in the preparation of meals, and the children help in serving food to the pangat. Langar also teaches the etiquette of sitting and eating in a community situation providing a welcome, secure and protected sanctuary.

100,000 Sikhs and non-Sikhs are freely fed at Sri Harmandir Sahib everyday. The whole operation is run by volunteer Sikhs.

In addition to the ideals of equality, the tradition of langar expresses the ethics of sharing, community, inclusiveness and oneness of all humankind. '...the Light of God is in all hearts.'. It was mandatory for all to partake in langar before having an audience with the Guru, so that kings and untouchables alike would sit together and eat the same meal.

Five Takhts

The word Takht (Gurmukhi: ਤਖਤ) literally means 'throne', 'royal seat' or 'seat of power' or 'throne of authority'.

There are five Takhts which represent the sovereignty of the Sikh Nation. These are;

Sri Akal Takht at Amritsar, the most supreme of all the Takhts.

Takht Sri Damdama Sahib in Talwandi Sabo, Bhatinda.

Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib at Anandpur.

Takht Sri Harmandir Sahib in Patna, Bihar District.

Takht Sri Hazur Sahib in Nanded.

Sikh Ceremonies Within The Gurdwara

Naam Karan (Baby Naming Ceremony) (No English nicknames...!)

Amrit Sanchar (Sikh Initiation Ceremony)

Anand Karaj (Marriage Ceremony)

Antam Sanskar (Funeral Ceremony) (Death is only a doorway that true Sikhs are prepared for, with readiness. It is not something to fear, or shout, and scream about.)

Other Conventions also take place within a gurdwara.

Gurdwara Architecture

Unlike the places of worship in some other religious systems, gurdwara buildings do not have to conform to any set architectural design. The only established requirements are: the installation of the Guru Granth Sahib, under a canopy or in a canopied seat, usually on a platform higher than the specific floor on which the devotees sit, and a tall Sikh pennant flag atop the building.

The buildings of the Sikh Gurdwaras are basically simple in their structure, the main requirement being that of a room in which Sri Guru Granth Sahib can be placed and some people can be seated as a congregation to listen to the readings from the holy book and to sing and recite its verses. Most of the historical gurdwaras were built first towards the end of the 18th century and in the 19th century when the Sikhs had gained political power in Punjab. That led to the construction of some impressive Gurdwaras. Some of these have been rebuilt in recent years, with an extensive use of marble for embellishment and durability.

Sri Harmandir Sahib side and rear elevations
Sri Harmandir Sahib side and rear elevations.

While among the Sikh gurdwaras, Sri Harmandir Sahib of Amritsar alone rises like an island in the midst of a large tank, the structure of this temple itself has provided a model and an inspiration to builders of other Gurdwaras. Many of them are two storied, with the main roof being common to the two floors. The first floor has a gallery in the middle, overlooking the hall below, and it is supported by four or more columns and the outer walls. On the ground floor, in the space thus marked out by the four columns, or approximately in the center, Sri Guru Granth Sahib is enshrined on a platform or a movable palanquin with a canopy above. The congregation occupies the remaining space.

On the top, a dome is always there, specially on older historical Gurdwaras. It is mostly white, and sometimes gilded, as Sri Harmandir Sahib, Tarn Taran and Sis Ganj, Delhi. Apart from the big central dome, there are often four other smaller cupolas, one on each corner. Several turrets decorate the parapet. The big domes are always ribbed or fluted and have usually an inverted lotus symbol fashioned out at the top At the bottom, one may come across floral or other artistic designs. Starting with a wide base, the domes reach the maximum circumference when they are less than half way up. On the pinnacle is a kalas, a short, straight, cylindrical construction with often some concentric circles and a very small canopy at the absolute top, pendants hanging at the outer rim.

The gurdwaras have entrance from all sides, signifying that they are open to all without any distinction whatsoever, and that God is omnipresent. Where space --shortage does not make it possible to provide entrances from all the four sides, as in Sis Ganj Delhi, the style could be different. From the first floor, generally, windows bulge out on all sides, supported on brackets, and on their top are shallow elliptical cornices.

Many gurdwaras have a deorhi through which one has to pass before reaching the gurdwara proper: They are often impressive structures with a high gate and sometimes accommodation for office and other use. From the deorhi one gets the first glimpse of the sanctum sanctorum.

Sri Harmandir Sahib Jaratkari work

Sri Harmandir Sahib jaratkari work.

In their architecture, the gurdwaras owe much to the Mughal style as the artisans of the day in Punjab were trained that way.

However, in course of time, they developed certain prominent characteristics, such as the repeated use of chhatris and ornamenting of parapets, corners, angles and other permanent projections. Over the door-ways, florid ornamentation is sometimes to be found.

In some of the gurdwaras, especially Sri Harmandir Sahib, Akal Takht and Baba Atal at Amritsar, the gurdwara at Tarn Taran and Baoli Sahib at Goindwal, artists have provided decorative embellishment through various disciplines.

One type of artistic endeavour lies in jaratkari or in-lay work studding of precious and colored stones into marble slabs.

The slabs often have florid or simple borders and sometimes flowery designs into which stones are in-laid at appropriate places. Workers in metal emboss pictures and other designs on copper or other metals.

But much of the artistic execution is by naqquashi with gach, a sort of gypsum. Beautiful designs are made on the walls with gach and then covered over with gold leaves. This work can be seen in plenty in the first story of Sri Harmandir Sahib and over Har-ki-Pori, Amritsar. Verses from the Granth Sahib have also been engraved in the same style.

Sri Harmandir Sahib Naqquashi work

Sri Harmandir Sahib naqquashi work.

In this ornamental gach work, cut glasses, colored as well as mirrored, and at times precious stones, are also set in. This is called tukri work.

Frescoes are to be found in some of the Gurdwaras and they depict generally episodes from the lives of the Gurus. Vines, plants, flowers, birds and animals also figure therein.

The largest number of such frescoes is on the first floor of Baba Atal. In a staircase in Sri Harmandir Sahib there is a fine painting of Guru Gobind Singh, riding horse and accompanied by some of his followers.

Lately, more and more gurdwaras have been having buildings imitating more or less the Sri Harimandir Sahib pattern, a synthesis of Indo-Persian and Sikh architecture.

Most of them have square halls, stand on a higher plinth, have entrances on all four sides, and have square or octagonal domed sanctums usually in the middle.

During recent decades, to meet the requirements of larger gatherings, bigger and better ventilated assembly halls, with the sanctum at one end, have become accepted style.

The location of the sanctum, more often than not, is such as to allow space for circumambulation. Sometimes, to augment the space, verandahs are built to skirt the hall. A popular model for the dome is the ribbed lotus, topped by an ornamental pinnacle. Arched copings, kiosks and solid domelets are used for exterior decorations.

Further Reading

Guide To Discover Sikhism |   Guide To Becoming A Pure Sikh|   Guide To Carrying Out Nitnem