Visit to Sikh Gurudwara
Bridgewater, NJ June 2013
By Jennifer Lieberman, Guest Journalist
WITH A WARM WELCOME the board members of the Monmouth Center for World Religions and Ethical Thought (MCWRET) and I entered the Gurudwara (Sikh temple ) in Bridgewater, NJ. Also known as the Garden State Sikh Association (GSSA), the Gurudwara was founded in 1973. Upon entry we were graciously provided with scarves and asked to cover our heads and remove our shoes as a sign of respect. While doing so, we could already hear the sounds of prayer throughout the temple, even as we entered the Langar (community meal) hall where we enjoyed a delicious vegetarian meal prior to joining the service. The Langar hall is open to everyone and meals are served free on a daily basis. It’s customary to sit on the floor while dining, as it represents equality, a key tenet of the Sikh religion. However, guests as well as older members of the Sikh community are welcome to sit at a few tables placed along the side.
After our meal we were invited to join the service upstairs, where members and guests can enter or leave at any point during the service. Worshippers sat on the floor as they did in the Langar hall. At the other end of the room was an altar which radiated with light. Resting high upon it was the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (the holy text of the Sikhs), which is raised to honor its sacredness.
Following the service we gathered in the community room and learned that this text whose recitation echoed throughout the Gurudwara, is a love poem to God. Comprised of music and rhymes, it is considered a living Guru (teacher or master) and is a compilation of many gurus and saints, including those of other faiths (Hindu, Islamic, Sufi). In 1708, Guru Gobind Singh declared the holy book as his symbolic successor. People who follow this teaching and regard the holy book as the only place to look for guidance, form the mainstream of the Sikh religion and are also referred to as the Khalsa (the pure) There are two other sects known as the Mandharis and Nirankaris which have living Gurus, but their number are very small (in the thousands).