2341 W Devon Ave. Chicago, IL 60659
As you enter this space please remember to cover your head. If you do not have a cover, feel free to use the scarves available at the bottom of the stairs. Also, this is a place of worship and custom dictates that you take your shoes off before you go up the stairs.
The Sikh place of worship is called a Gurdwara (literally a doorway to the Guru). This gurdwara is a good example of how upper floor spaces of older buildings along Devon Avenue are reused to accommodate social and cultural institutions of the South Asian community. A typical layout of a Sikh Gurdwara consists of a rectangular room to house the sacred scriptures called the Guru Granth Sahib. The sacred scripture is placed on a raised platform with a covering canopy. The room is usually accessible from all four sides. However, in this example the interior layout is reconfigured to work within preexisting constraints. Men and women traditionally sit in separate aisles. The central hall is designed for circumambulation around the sacred scriptures.
Sometimes (not here) a ribbed domed with ornamental toppings crowns this room and arched copings and architectural kiosks are attached to this structure. A saffron or blue flag called Nishan Sahib is also flown atop the Gurdwara to mark the sacred domain. Look for this flag hanging from a stanchion above the entrance to this building. A Gurdwara also includes a public meeting place, an educational institution, and a service space for the community and a communal kitchen (langar). The community space in this Gurdwara is located in the adjoining room.
The first Gurdwaras was established in the United States in Stockton, CA. in a small frame house in 1912. In addition to being religious spaces, twentieth century Gurdwaras along the Pacific Rim became sites of nationalist activism against British rule in India and meeting places from Indian immigrants from all religious persuasions. A new wave of Sikh immigrants came to the United States after 1965 and again in the mid-1980s. The 1970s saw a spurt in the number of Gurdwaras across the country. While many of them are housed in temporary spaces, churches, basements, preexisting buildings, and warehouses there are new extravagantly built structures like the ones in El Sobrante California (1970s), Yuba City (1969), Fremont (1978), Sacramento (1983), North Carolina (1985).
Arijit Sen, “Architecture: Asian Religions,” In Encyclopedia of Religion in America, Charles Lippy and Peter Williams (editors), (Washington DC: CQ Press, 2010).