Every year in England English Heritage run an open buildings weekend when many buildings or parts of buildings normally not open to the public are opened up for guided tours. Most are of historic interest like Victorian pumping stations or cathedral crypts or power station engine rooms etc. But there are also others where the owners want to take part and offer guided tours. There are hundreds to choose from or more if you want to travel further afield.
Every September thousands of volunteers across England organise events to celebrate our fantastic history and culture. It's your chance to see hidden places and try out new experiences – all of which are FREE to explore.
This was how I came to do a guided tour of the Gurdwara Sahib in Leamington in 2010. The Gurdwara Sahib Leamington and Warwick is a Sikh Gurdwara that primarily serves the community around Leamington, Warwick and Kenilworth. It is one of the largest buildings associated with Sikhism in the United Kingdom.
For me it was an interest in the building and background to it's design and layout that led me to go and explore. Growing up in India, Sikhism was familiar to me and is a religion that I have always found intriguing from a cultural and historic point of view. All the background information is gathered from Wikipedia.
Plans for a large temple to service the 4,000 local Sikhs were made in 2000, and £1,000,000 was pledged by local residents towards the project. Further donations were made during the planning stages, bringing the eventual total to £11,000,000. The greater budget allowed plans to be expanded from a modest four-storey building into a 4,280 sq m structure.
The project was handled primarily by local contractors. Plans for the temple were drawn up by the Kenilworth-based architectural firm MPC Partnership, and construction itself was handled by Leamington-based contractors AC Lloyd. Construction began in 2008, and was completed on Friday 18 September 2009 with a ceremonial handing-over of the keys to members of the Sikh congregation. Services began a month later, on Sunday 25 October 2009, following a procession by local faithful through the town and a consecration service on the temple grounds. It is widely believed to be the largest Sikh Temple outside of India.
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that originated in the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent around the end of the 15th century CE. Sikhism is one of the youngest of the major religions and the world's fifth-largest organized religion, with about 25 million Sikhs as of the early-21st century.
Sikhism developed from the spiritual teachings of Guru Nanak, the first Guru (1469–1539),and of the nine Sikh gurus who succeeded him. The tenth guru, Gobind Singh (1676-1708), named the Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib as his successor, bringing to a close the line of human gurus and establishing the scripture as the eternal, religious spiritual guide for Sikhs. Guru Nanak taught that living an "active, creative, and practical life" of "truthfulness, fidelity, self-control and purity" is above the metaphysical truth, and that the ideal man "establishes union with God, knows His Will, and carries out that Will".
The core beliefs of Sikhism, articulated in the Guru Granth Sahib, include faith and meditation on the name of the one creator; divine unity and equality of all humankind; engaging in seva ('selfless service'); striving for justice for the benefit and prosperity of all; and honest conduct and livelihood while living a householder's life. Following this standard, Sikhism rejects claims that any particular religious tradition has a monopoly on Absolute Truth.
The Nishan Sahib is a Sikh triangular flag made of cotton or silk cloth, with a tassel at its end. The word, Nishan Sahib means exalted ensign, and the flag is hoisted on a tall flagpole, outside most Gurdwaras. The flagpole itself, covered with fabric, ends with a two-edged dagger (khanda) on top. The emblem on the flag is also known as Khanda, which depicts a double-edged sword called a khanda (☬) in the centre, a chakkar which is circular, and flanked by two single-edged swords, or kirpans. In the centre of the insignia is the two-edged sword which symbolises the Creative Power of God that controls the destiny of the whole universe. It is the Sovereign Power over life and death. One edge of the Sword symbolises divine justice, which chastises and punishes the wicked oppressors; the other edge symbolises Freedom, and Authority governed by moral and spiritual values.
The persecution of Sikhs by the Moghuls, triggered the founding of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699 as an order to protect the freedom of conscience and religion. Upon initiation, a Khalsa Sikh was given the titles of Singh (male) meaning lion and Kaur (female) meaning princess. The rules of life, included a behavioural code (Rahit, such as no tobacco, no alcohol, no adultery, no halal meat), and a dress code (Five Ks). Guru Gobind Singh initiated the Five K's tradition of the Khalsa.
Kesh: uncut hair.
Kangha: a wooden comb.
Kara: an iron or steel bracelet worn on the wrist.
Kirpan: a sword.
Kachera: short breeches.
The co-initiation of men and women from different castes into the ranks of Khalsa also institutionalized the principle of equality in Sikhism regardless of one's caste or gender.
The khanda is the symbol of the Sikh faith, that attained its current form around the first decade of the 20th century. It is a modern symbol/logo that was not used at the time of any Sikh Gurus. It started to become common as an "unofficial symbol" during the British Empire, and it is possible that the British Empire had some influence over the creation of the Sikh symbol/logo. The modern Sikh symbol/logo is never written on or in any copy of the Guru Granth Sahib.
The Guru Granth Sahib is the central religious scripture of Sikhism, regarded by Sikhs as the final, sovereign and eternal living Guru following the lineage of the ten human gurus of the religion. The Adi Granth, its first rendition, was compiled by the fifth guru, Guru Arjan (1564–1606). Its compilation was completed on 29 August 1604 and first installed inside Darbar Sahib in Amritsar on 1 September 1604.
The text consists of 1,430 angs (pages) and 5,894 śabads (line compositions), which are poetically rendered and set to a rhythmic ancient north Indian classical form of music. The bulk of the scripture is divided into sixty rāgas, with each Granth rāga subdivided according to length and author. The hymns in the scripture are arranged primarily by the rāgas in which they are read.
The vision in the Guru Granth Sahib is of a society based on divine justice without oppression of any kind. While the Granth acknowledges and respects the scriptures of Hinduism and Islam, it does not imply a moral reconciliation with either of these religions. It is installed in a Sikh gurdwara (temple). A Sikh typically bows or prostrates before it on entering such a temple. The Granth is revered as eternal and the spiritual authority in Sikhism.
No one can change or alter any of the writings of the Sikh gurus written in the Guru Granth Sahib. This includes sentences, words, structure, grammar, and meanings.
The Guru Granth Sahib is always the focal point in any gurdwara, seated on a raised platform known as a Takht (throne), while the congregation of devotees sits on the floor and bows before the guru as a sign of respect. The Guru Granth Sahib is given the greatest respect and honour. Sikhs cover their heads and remove their shoes while in the presence of this sacred scripture, their eternal living guru. The Guru Granth Sahib is normally carried on the head and as a sign of respect, never touched with unwashed hands or put on the floor. It is attended with all signs of royalty, with a canopy placed over it. A chaur (fan whisk) is waved above the Guru Granth Sahib.
The Guru Granth Sahib is taken care of by a Granthi, who is responsible for reciting from the sacred hymns and leading Sikh prayers. The Granthi also acts as caretaker for the Guru Granth Sahib, keeping the scripture covered in clean cloths, known as rumala, to protect from heat and dust. The Guru Granth Sahib rests on a manji sahib under a rumala until brought out again.
In Sikhism, a langar is the community kitchen of a gurdwara, which serves meals free of charge to all visitors—without making a distinction of religion, caste, gender, economic status or ethnicity. The concept of langar—which was designed to be upheld among all people, regardless of religion, caste, colour, creed, age, gender, or social status—was an innovative system of charity and a symbol of equality introduced by the Hindu King Chandragupta Maurya in the early 4th century (also called Bhandara in Hinduism). Later on the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, around 1500 CE influenced by this tradition continued this practice in the North Indian state of Punjab.
People sit and eat together, and the kitchen is maintained and serviced by Sikh community volunteers. Moreover, the meals are always vegetarian.
My visit to the Gurdwara was hugely interesting and I am very grateful for the welcome and hospitality I received. On entering the Gurdwara it is expected to remove footwear and I also had to don an orange headscarf as the head is covered out of respect. Other than those two formalities my overall impression was one of informality and community, having far more of an atmosphere you would expect from a community centre than that of a place of religion. Everybody was very open and enthusiastic about our visit and there was absolutely no inhibition regarding the taking of photos. I was really surprised that even in the prayer room during the reading of the scriptures it was not only permissible to take photos but even encouraged. In addition we were invited to partake of a wonderful meal which was not put on especially for us but was a normal feature of the daily routine. It was interesting to me that you were just as likely to see a woman reading the scripture as to see a man working in the kitchen. It should be added that this is not a modern adaptation to Western moves toward gender equality but deeply rooted in the culture.