Feb 032013
At Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, the biggest Sikh place of worship in New Delhi, India.

At Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, the biggest Sikh place of worship in New Delhi, India.

You will like the Sikh temple we’re about to visit,” our guide, Manu, explained after our intense first hours in New Delhi, India. “Gurudwara Bangla Sahib has a great vibe to it.”

We perked up. Our teacher tour needed a good vibe after the hectic sights of India we’d gulped in all day. “Just one thing,” Manu cautioned. “You must remove your shoes for the remainder of the visit.”

The purifying water you must walk through to enter Gurudwara Bangla Sahib.

The cleansing water you must walk through to enter Gurudwara Bangla Sahib.

We yanked off our shoes and splooshed through the purifying pool at the temple’s entrance. Chilly!

“Tell us more about the Sikh religion,” we asked Manu as our toes slapped the cool marble. “All we know is that Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world, and that it originated here.”

All backgrounds of people visit Gurudwara Bangla Sahib Sikh temple.

All backgrounds of people visit Gurudwara Bangla Sahib Sikh temple.

The Sikh religion began in the 15th century— over 500 years ago!– in the Punjab state of India,” explained Manu as we placed our shoes into indoor, guarded cubbies. “It was founded by Guru Nanak Dev, and Sikhs rejected the caste system of Hindus. They believe that there is one God, and that all people are equal: men… women… different races and religions… everyone.” I smiled in happiness.

The arches at Gurudwara Bangla Sahib are lovely.

The arches at Gurudwara Bangla Sahib are lovely.

We tied bright orange cloths around our hair (how nice of the temple to provide them for guests!) and entered the dim inner sanctum of the temple.

“Sikh temples are called Gurdwaras,” Manu explained, “meaning, “Doorway to God.” See that book at the center of this room? That is a copy of the Guru Granth Sahib, which is the holy text of Sikhs, containing the teachings of their ten Gurus. This book is worshipped as the last living Guru, after the last human Guru of Sikhs passed away in 1708.” As a teacher, I was thrilled to learn of a religion that worships a book!

We walked around the whole perimeter, clockwise.

We walked around the whole temple pool perimeter, clockwise.

We emerged from the inner temple (in which no photos were allowed– sorry!) to the beautiful outer pool and arch-filled walkway. “At a Sikh temple,” Manu instructed, “you must always walk in a clockwise fashion, not anti-clockwise.” We obliged, and peeked sternly into the green waters to check if the fat orange carp were swimming the correct way. Most were.

We had to check: Were the carp in the water swimming clockwise?

We had to check: Were the carp in the water swimming clockwise?

See that tall orange flagpole next to the main temple?” Manu asked. “That is the Nishan Sahib, which is present in nearly every Sikh Gurdwara. This symbol helps people locate the temple. Just as this pole helps identify a Sikh place of worship, there are “The 5 Ks” or five signs that identify a Sikh person. These are: Long, uncut hair (wrapped by men in a turban),  a wooden comb, an iron bracelet, specific undergarments, and a small dagger. You may also know a Sikh because the men have the last name Singh.”

There were rules, but we could read none of them.

There were rules at the temple, but we could read none of them.

Manu was so right about the “vibe” of the temple. As we walked around the water, we saw people of all backgrounds mixing with devout Sikhs. How refreshing to see a religion as welcoming of all types, and so serious about equality for all! But there was an even more astounding fact to come.

People from all backgrounds mixed with ease at the Sikh temple.

The emphasis on equality in Sikhism is inspirational.

“See those people over there on the ground peeling vegetables?” Manu asked. “Every day in Sikh temples, volunteers and workers cook free vegetarian meals for anyone who wants to eat, regardless of their background. Because equality is so important in the Sikh religion, everyone who comes in eats at the same level in the dining hall. You may see a rich businessman eating beside a homeless person. In fact, many street children in India use Sikh temples to keep from starving.”

Inside the building was gorgeous, but no photos allowed. As you leave, you are given food.

Inside the building was gorgeous, but no photos allowed. As you leave, you are given food.

I looked up at the ornate ivory colored building with awe. What a generous religion to do that! And little did we know, but we were about to be fed, too. “As you exit the temple,” Manu explained, a man will scoop a sweet porridge with butter into your hand. You don’t have to take it, but if you do, please eat it or give it to me instead of throwing it out. Be polite.”

Look at all those arches!

Look at all those arches!

We approached the porridge-serving man at the exit. My brother tried to be sanitary and get it plopped into a napkin in one hand, but the man glared at him. “Take it with both hands, no napkin!” hissed Manu. David obeyed, and soon we were all munching the sweet, oat-y paste. Quite delicious, actually!

As we strode into the building to retrieve our shoes and take the bright orange cloths from our hair, we felt refreshed. Indeed, it wasn’t just the temple… the whole Sikh religion has a good vibe! 

Would you like visit Gurudwara Bangla Sahib?

Would YOU like visit Gurudwara Bangla Sahib? What are YOUR thoughts on Sikhism?


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  40 Responses to “A Sikh Temple in New Delhi, and Neat Facts on Sikhism”

  1. You should feel free to visit any Sikh Temple in the city of Boston. Most will have a service on Sunday and Friday evening. Also, you will be able to get langar (community meal) and tea! If you are able to, make sure you visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar. It is on par or even better, by account of some visitors, than the Taj Mahal. There, over 50,000 people eat for free each day, and over 100,000 on certain days. You can imagine the resources and the man power required to sustain this. Let me know if you have any questions! Your Friend in Toronto!

  2. Wonderful page, good to know a non-sikh knows a lot about sikhism. Did you travelled to golden temple also?

  3. Thanks for all of your helpful and powerful comments!

  4. Firstly, fabulous article. I am so happy to read about my Hometown Gurudwara which is as dearest to me as the Jerusalem to a Christian or Mecca to a Muslim.

    Talking about Muslim, SIKHS are ALWAYSSSSSS misunderstood as being muslims by the So-Called WESTERNERS and so called educated and first world country people, whether it is 9/11 or london bombings.
    Me living in UK has witnessed so many racial abuses in just 2 years which none of a white UK national has experienced in his life (even twice).

    It is so sad that how when some wiling whites go to India or make an effort to learn about something, that they get so SURPRISED, AMAZED and EXCITED seeing the beauty of our country or religions or ways we live there.

    But until then, they remain ignorant, racist and have hatred in their heart.

    I just have 1 message for everyone out there,,to all WHITES and Blacks….. SIKHS ARE NOT MUSLIMS…..
    and so you do NOT have to ripp off their turbans (or how ignorants call it as towel head)……It is a SIN and it hurts our self-esteem…our culture….the TURBAN is our CROWN…its our centre from where we meditate and connect to our Lord.

    If you cannot understand OUR culture…and you cannot Tolerate it….then put a BAN on immigration for the so called Towel heads and so we will not migrate to your country and WE WILL NOT SERVE YOUR PEOPLE…like how we did in First world war I and II ….Even now Gaurding the QUEEN…..fighting in IRAQ for US and British Army….as the Supreme Magistrate in the House of Lords and so on.

    Thats all.
    Thank you
    Sorry if you got offended, but understand that we are tolerating the ABUSE since centuries, not because we failed to educate the word that we are the 5th largest religion but because there are so many IGNORANT people out their in the world who just wants to learn STAR WARS or IPHONE apps….but have no time or tolerance and definitely no brains to understand non-western cultures, music, films and religions precisely.

  5. Thanks for sharing the incredible experience you had there! Just reading it felt like I was there!

    Although, literally, it appears as if Sikhs worship a book (known as Guru Granth Sahib), however, the objective is to realize God/Guru from the lessons in it, while practicing meditation (simran/remembrance) and service (seva – to humanity/needy). I said this so there’s a little correction before someone mistakenly assumes literal worshipping of book like an idol. It’s just that if something is giving you such valuable wisdom of life, you can’t let it down in any way. So there’s the worship-like service to Guru Granth Sahib.

    If you’re still in India, you should visit Khalsa Heritage Complex (closed for maintenance on Mondays) in Anandpur Sahib, along with Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple) in Amritsar! Both are a must! Both!

    Oh, and you can always request them to serve lesser porridge with a pinch gesture. 🙂

    Apologies for picking a lot of this, but Sikhism originated in Nankana Sahib, which is now in Punjab state of Pakistan, where Guru Nanak Dev were born. Amazingly, he travelled throughout the Asian continent during his lifetime, from Russia to Mecca and Tibet to Sri Lanka preaching his message of equality! Most of the Sikh historical places span between both the Punjabs though (which was divided in half during partition of India).

    Hope you enjoyed reading this, just like I enjoyed reading your experience! 🙂

  6. Thanks for a great note on Gurudwara. Loved reading it. Want to share that there are some apps out there for tourists who can read more about Gurudwara Bangla Sahib and also get a quick primer on Sikh religion as well. The app store links are given below. Hope you will find them useful –


  7. Just to give you more knowledge on Sikhism.

    Sikh means a learner, so an Idol sikh has to be selfless, egoless and helpful human being for the entore human being.
    Selfless Service is the biggest Moto of being a Sikh.

    For me Sikhism is more than a religion it is a way of life which anyone can adopt and infact everyone should adopt.
    Kirat Karna or Nam Japna( Sing Hymns in praise of god), Vand Chakhna(Make sure everyone eats) are the other principles.

    5Ks you learnt about are for the KHALSA. which means the purest one.
    One more interesting fact you would love to know is that the Unshorn hairs which sikhs keep
    are the one which they get from Mother’s Womb, which they keep uncut for their entore life.

    Treating those as a gift of God !

    As you have Gurdwaras in India, So do you have in North America,
    Any Major City in North America has a Gurdwara. You can visit them,
    If you need help in finding nearest one to your place, I can help you out.

  8. I’ve been there, but Golden Temple is at another level of magnitude!

  9. Thanks for this great post – as a Sikh myself I enjoyed the way the portrayed all the best things about my religion. Thanks for showing us in such a positive light!

  10. Nice post Lillie!!! Gurudwara Bangla Sahib is a holy place. Thousand of devotees visit Gurudwara daily. I know you was not able to read all the rules in Gurudwara because they are written in Hindi and Punjabi. But people are always ready to help you there.

  11. I would love to visit, though I don’t know if I would eat that oatmeal, given all the warnings about food in India! Am going there next month though, so I can’t wait to find out for myself. I hope I don’t get Delhi belly 😀

    • Ahh, Delhi belly… We all got it, but probably less because the food was unsafe and more because eating spicy Indian food three times a day for 12 days is intense on most tummies!

  12. Thank you so much for this, Lillie. I didn’t realize how little I knew about Sikhism. It’s amazing how woefully little we know about non-Western religions in North America!

  13. What a beautiful place! When I went to Turkey, we did a mosque day. I took off my shoes couuuuntless times!

  14. Thanks for posting! I have been to sikh temples but not (yet) in India, and would love to go again. I try to visit the religious places when I travel, I find it interesting, not just from a historical perspective but you also get a piece of the culture, as long as you listen and observe and stay respectful. It is fascinating.
    another thing that fascinates me especially about Sikhism is that sikhism in the English speaking world is (normally) considered to be the 6:th world religion, but where I come from it is considered to be a variant of other religions, or a sect, we count only 5 “world religions”. It’s pretty ignorant, I feel, from our side, that we even try and group religions like this, but I can understand it in a way, it’s only human to try and create structures.
    It does show the difference in western vs eastern thinking though, in the west we grow up with religion being a separate topic, while in the east it is an integrated part of life that you can live without as little as you can live without oxygene or the blood in your body. It is just a part of who you are.
    I have eaten at the temple as well, it is a beautiful experience. The instruction we were given before taking anything though was that whatever we take we have to finish, as someone else could have eaten it if we hadn’t. It is better to take a little first and then ask for seconds, but you do not waste food. It is a very good view on it and we would all benefit from less waste, not the least from an environmental point of view.

  15. What a great experience…I knew very little about Sikhism until now. Great stuff L…

  16. Hehe, the man giving out food wasn’t so pleased when I tried to take the porridge with a napkin. Whoops!

    Such a cool temple. And love the carp – they even fit the color scheme!

  17. your pics are amazing lillie. you are making me more and more excited about india with each passsing post. has your brother left?

    • Thanks, Gabi, and I have tons more to come, so by the end you may pop with excitement! 🙂 My brother ended up flying out the same day as us: New Years!

  18. sounds like an amazing experience

  19. Great photos! I saw this on a documentary a while ago and loved the idea of offering food to those in need. Kind of like a religious soup kitchen. 🙂

    • Just a minor correction – the food is for everyone and not just those in need. This serves two purposes (a) make sure no one goes hungry – as the first Guru said ‘you cannot thank God and remember him on an empty stomach’ and (b) it serves the most importance purpose of equality i.e. everyone, whether he/she be a billionaire or a poor homeless soul sit at the same level and eat the same food. Just thought I should add that…

  20. I wasn’t aware of the equality aspect of the Sikh religion-it must have been quite radical in a country with a caste system. The charitable aspect is admirable as well.

    One of the things I so love about travel is how it opens our eyes to things like this. 🙂

  21. Fantastic photos, thanks for sharing. It truly looks like an incredible experience.

  22. I saw a link to this on twitter and had to read it. So glad I did! I know I’m biased but the principles of Sikhism are something that all people should follow. The volunteers that make food and serve do it because of a principle called “Seva” that we are taught from childhood. In all gurdwaras you will see people doing Seva – cooking, washing dishes, literally serving others. I’m always so happy when people get to experience this first hand.

    • It’s so wonderful and unbelievable for an outsider to learn about! Much to draw inspiration from.

  23. WOW! That’s incredible. You didn’t wear slippers the whole time you were in the vicinity?

    • When touring a lot of religious sites in India we had to remove our shoes, and there often WAS an option to pay a small fee for slippers (or think ahead and bring our own), but we never did it!

    • No one wears slippers or shoes within the Gurdwara vicinity to symbolize humility. Like you drop your pride outside before entering the place where you expect an environment of equality.

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