I happened to visit the Gurdwara Janam Asthan located in Nankana Sahib, Punjab with my colleagues. The highly revered gurdwara is built at the birth-site of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak. The intention of our visit was to learn about Sikhism and witness the worship site of Sikhs firsthand. Upon reaching the Gurdwara, we were received by an acolyte who guided our entire tour. We were told that like Islam, Sikhism is also a monotheistic religion. Just like Muslims have their Quran, similarly Guru Granth Sahib is the Holy Book of Sikhism. It is treated as a living entity and the eleventh and the last Guru of Sikhs. This gives the word Gurdwara a meaning of ‘doorway to God’. We also learned that every Sikh performs a prayer twice a day, which is called Ardas.
We then came across a huge rectangular open pool, called Sarovar, with steps descending into the water. We were told that Sikhs performed Ishnan in it. Ishnan is a ritual ablution to wipe one’s sin and purify themselves. Moving forward, we reached the building in which Darbar Sahib, the main prayer hall, was located. Outside the building entrance was a moat - a deep, wide ditch with water running in it. We removed our shoes here and placed them on the shoe racks; stepped in the moat and entered the building while washing our feet.
We walked towards the Darbar Sahib barefooted. Once inside, men and women sit apart in the congregation, on different sides of the hall. Since we were in a co-group, we split and sat on the carpeted floor. It is customary for everyone to cover their head. The males in our group were offered a large handkerchief for the same purpose. While sitting in the Darbar Sahib, it is disrespectful to show one's back or stretch one's feet towards the Holy Granth. Therefore, everyone tried to sit cross-legged.
This visit of the Gurdwara enlightened us with the philosophy of Sikhism, which is a focus on the equality of all people. We found Sikhs to be extremely gracious in welcoming visitors and helping them to understand the Sikh religion and customs. Before departing, we were graced with an orange colored length of cloth around our necks, called Siropa, which the Sikhs bestow on someone as a mark of honor. I still have it safely kept in my room, and it will always remind me of the sacred visit to Gurdwara Janam Asthan. I believe that such education about different religions is vital to promote harmony among different faiths. Peace can only be achieved towards religious minorities if we realize that there are numerous commonalities in the teachings of both our religions.