I want to get this post written before I leave for Naples tomorrow [congregational presentation--always fun!], but I don't have much time--so it will be short! I had the great opportunity to worship at a Sikh gurdwara in Washington DC today, and I just wanted to share that experience. It was really wonderful--which, by the way, always has been my experience when I have visited another religious community. The people were very welcoming, answered all my questions, and were just generally warm and friendly. It was a great experience, and I look forward to going back.
The service started at 8:30 this morning, but I get the feeling there weren't many people there: the time is much less structured than a Christian service, for example. Different people sing kirtan, which is the practice of singing different verses in the Guru Granth Sahib [the holy book of the Sikhs--it is considered to be the embodiment of all the wisdom of the ten human Gurus, and is the ultimate guide for Sikh life]. Then, the priest sang, and then offered some reflections on the text--this is all in Punjabi. Then, there was kind of a break, and the served breakfast--all the while, different people in the congregation were singing; and downstairs where the food was being served, we could hear it through the speakers. I got there in time for breakfast, which was great: rice, chickpea masala, and samosas.
Then, I went upstairs with a nice woman who had introduced herself to me, and we listened to the kirtan. Here are a few photos--the top one is of the Guru Granth. It is always elevated on a podium, covered in rich cloths, and someone sits behind it, fanning it with a whisk:
Everyone covers their head--men and women, and on almost everyone I could see the steel bracelet [the kara] that is one of the marks of the Khalsa. One older man was in what looked to me like ceremonial dress: an elaborate orange turban with the mark of the Khalsa, a white uniform with a sash, and a very large sword [kirpan]. I saw another woman with a small visible kirpan, but I didn't see anyone else wearing an obvious one.
Again, the priest spoke some, and then he read from the Guru Granth itself. When that was done, everyone who had gathered [and by then, we were about 100], stood & there was communal chanting. Finally, at the end, we all sat down and received Karahprashad, which is a sweet, sticky dough-like food that functions like a sacrament of sorts. The little children ran up and passed out napkins, and then several men distributed it in balls, which we received in cupped palms.
I couldn't stay for the langar--the community vegetarian meal that is served afterword: everyone sits together on the floor, symbolizing our equality before God. Next time, I'll definitely plan for that. I look forward to my next visit!