If you can afford, up your offering when you matha-tekna next (ਮੱਥਾ ਟੇਕਣਾ)

The darbar sahib of Gurdwara Sahib Tanjung Rambutan in Perak, Malaysia – Photo: Asia Samachar (2022)

By Pola Singh | Opinion |

Step into the vibrant world of Sikhism, and you will encounter the profound significance of matha-tekna – a sacred act of offering before the revered Guru Granth Sahib at the gurdwara, the dwelling of the Guru.

The Sikh faith, guided by the principles of honesty, humility, integrity, and spirituality, intertwines worship into the very fabric of daily life. Sikhs strive to keep Waheguru, the divine force, ever present in their minds, ensuring that their actions remain God-centered and virtuous. As they step into the Gurdwara Sahib, their hearts are filled with reverence, for they are about to embark on a spiritual journey through matha-tekna.

The ritual unfolds as they approach the altar, where the Guru Granth Sahib rests. With hands joined together, worshippers bow before the sacred scripture, offering their sincere prayers and donations, often in the form of cash or offerings in kind. As an expression of utmost humility, they kneel down, their foreheads gently grazing the carpeted floor. Rising gracefully, they offer another prayer, refusing to turn their backs abruptly on the Guru Granth Sahib, instead gradually seeking a vacant space to sit and spend time with God.

Within this realm of devotion, two remarkable issues resonate, illuminating the essence of Sikh practice and emphasizing the pursuit of compassion and generosity.

Within the tapestry of Sikhism, a vital principle reveals itself – that the quantum of the offering be somewhat proportionate to one’s status in life. It is disheartening to witness those who belong to the esteemed top 20% of Malaysia’s population, adorned in richness and abundance, yet offering a mere ringgit during matha-tekna.

At the very least, let us extend our offerings to cover the cost of our nourishment throughout the day, encompassing cha, roti, and all that we consume. Such a gesture is the least we can do, for we should not expect others to subsidise our sustenance within the Gurdwara Sahib. Of course, those belonging to the B20 group, are understandably exempt from this expectation. B20 refers to the bottom 20% income-wise.

Generosity, a core value of Sikhism, beckons these individuals to shed their thrift and embrace the spirit of giving. Imagine the blessings that await them if their offering matched their means. Instead of expecting others to subsidise their consumption at the Gurdwara, let them donate enough to cover the costs of their nourishment, and perhaps extend a helping hand to those in need. The act of giving, after all, is not merely an obligation but a testament to the gratitude we hold for the blessings bestowed upon us.

In the grand narrative of Sikhism, we proudly proclaim the provision of free food within the langar, the community kitchen. However, we seldom pause to consider the source of this sustenance. The truth remains that the financial support required for this noble endeavour must come from somewhere. Each contribution made during matha-tekna not only supports the Gurdwara’s maintenance but also serves as a catalyst for enabling the continuous provision of nourishment to all who seek it. Let us reflect on this truth and embody the essence of selfless service, ensuring that the langar remains a beacon of compassion and unity.

Thankfully there are many generous donors who in their own quiet way make outright significant donations or offer to pay for the cost of renovations or other costs. These behind-the-scenes individuals don’t expect anything in return but are often blessed by God in his own unique way and hence although they may give a paltry sum during matha-tekna they compensate in other ways.

For instance, my late sister, Ajaib Kaur gives to the Tampin Gurdwara 20% of whatever she receives. Since it is on a sustaining basis, the Gurdwara is always assured of income, thanks to such kind individuals.


I have another observation about matha-tekna during the annual Sant Baba Sohan Singh Ji Annual Yaadghar Semagam in Melaka, a significant event in the Sikh calendar. I am one of the several sewadars [term here used to denote volunteers] who try to manage the long queues waiting to matha-tekna. As the main hall (admittedly its relatively small) often faces space constraints due to the large crowd, we try our level best to minimise the waiting time for eager worshippers. There will be three or four lines formed to speed up the matha-tekna process.

While most of the worshippers are sensitive and aware that they have to quickly matha-tekna to make way for the many others, there are a few who begin their prayers only when they stand before the altar. They don’t realise that they do hold up the queue – meaning that the line stops moving until they have finished their prayers.

What if we shift our mindset and commence our prayers as soon as we enter the House of God? The essence of prayer lies not in the physical proximity to the altar but in the spiritual connection with the divine. Let our prayers permeate every step we take, allowing our souls to be in constant communion with Waheguru. No longer need we delay our communion until we reach the front of the line, for the beauty of prayer transcends time and space.

So, as we immerse ourselves in the profound practices of Sikhism, let us remember the essence of matha-tekna ethics. May we embrace prayer as a constant companion, igniting our souls with devotion from the moment we set foot in the Gurdwara Sahib. And may our offerings mirror our means, embracing generosity as a means to uplift and support the community. Together, let us ensure the blessings flow abundantly, nourishing both body and soul, as we continue to cherish the invaluable traditions of Sikhism.

Dr Pola Singh, who retired as Maritime Institute of Malaysia director-general in 2011, is also the author of ‘Uphill — The Journey of a Sikh-Chinese Kampung Boy’


Gurdwara of the future. What do Singaporeans think? (Asia Samachar, 27 Dec 2021)

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