One Sunday morning earlier this year a group of OLLI members drove to Durham to the Sikh Gurudwara excited to be able to participate in the weekly service. We were met by Kulpreet Singh who grew up in Durham. He introduced members of OLLI to the Sikh faith in a lively and interesting lecture in our classroom at NC State University prior to our visit to the Gurudwara of North Carolina.
One of the most poignant things for me as a first time visitor was the Durham County Sheriff stationed outside the building. I also noticed there was a sign on the fence which prohibits meat or eggs from being taken inside.
Upon entering the Gurudwara, visitors and members removed shoes and placed them on shelves. Women’s heads must be covered with scarves so we all went prepared. Hats or caps are not allowed in lieu of scarves. Men sit on the left side of the sanctuary and women sit on the right side. Children are allowed to move freely throughout the sanctuary during the time of worship. This was not disruptive. Even the smallest child had a scarf or small hat covering her/his head. The women wore exquisite, brilliant saris. The colors bathed the otherwise unadorned space.
During the worship, four men played musical instruments and sung Punjabi songs. The words were translated on two white screens. After the men finished singing and playing instruments, four women followed providing music and songs. The priest waved a bouquet of white feathers above the Guru which is the Holy Book of Naanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, as a cleansing ritual. Following the music performances the priest read from the Guru. Although the service was conducted in the Punjabi language there were translations on large screens that explained to us the messages of the faith, a cleansing through righteous living and attention to the guru.
After the service we were invited to the langar. This is a meal prepared by volunteers and served to the congregation. It signifies the equality of all humans since all comers to the Gurudwara, regardless of their status, sit at the same level and eat the same food from the same kitchen prepared by the same people. We enjoyed a delicious meal of lentil stew, Basmati rice which grows in the Punjab region of India, an eggplant stew, a piece of flat wheat bread, some pickled onions with green chilies and water to drink. Creamy natural yogurt was available to reduce the spiciness. We were delighted to be able to dine with members of the Sikh community.
For me, the clearest theme as a visitor was the enormous amount of hospitality extended to all visitors regardless of religious persuasion, food was offered freely. Kulpreet is always happy to talk about his faith and gave us a great amount of information regarding Sikh symbols – the dagger, the bracelet, and the holy place reserved for the guru in the Sikh home. For example the dagger is used to cut away any enmity to the person or to his/her faith and we learned that the holy room housing the guru is established in the Sikh home before any other room is decorated.
We were all so grateful that we took advantage of the opportunity to visit the Durham Gurudwara and deepen our understanding and appreciation of the Sikh faith. Visitors are welcome to any of the regular services.
Barbara Turner Harvey