GOLAK or GURŪ KĪ GOLAK (the Gurū's own till). Golak (Sanskrit golak; Persian gholak) means, in Punjabi, a till, cash-box or any other container used for keeping money especially one used for receiving contributions for charitable purposes. It is a time-honoured Indian custom to carry an offering when going to make obeisance to one's deity. In gurdwārās, i.e. Sikh places of worship, a receptacle, golak, is usually kept in front of the sanctum into which the devotees drop their cash-offerings. Besides, the Sikhs are enjoined to keep apart for communal sharing one-tenth of their earnings. This is called dasvandh, lit. tithe or a tenth part. Rahitnāmās advise every Sikh householder to maintain a golak to collect his savings towards dasvandh. All these receipts, dasvandh as well as routine offerings, go to build up Gurū kī Golak -- a common fund used for communal or charitable purposes. It is not essential for this pool to be physically collected at one place. Any charities dispensed in the Gurū's name, individually or collectively, are contributions to Gurū kī Golak. Gharīb kī rasnā, Gurū kī golak, goes a Sikh saying: feeding a poor man is tantamount to contributing to the Gurū's golak.
Gurū kī Golak has a religious as well as an historical meaning in the Sikh tradition. The founder, Gurū Nānak (1469-1539), had himself set up the institutions of saṅgat (holy fellowship) and paṅgat (commensality). The latter, a practical step towards the eradication of untouchability and caste prejudices, implied a common kitchen and refectory, laṅgar in Punjabi. Laṅgar needed resources; hence the golak. At the same time, whatever the Sikhs possessed was considered God's gift or the Gurū's. Gurū Nānak said, "One who offers his body, mind and material possessions at the feet of the Lord tastes the precious elixir [of nām] " (GG, 918). Laṅgar for the Sikhs became, therefore, Gurū kā Laṅgar and the golak Gurū kī Golak.
Gurū kā Laṅgar was a necessary adjunct of Sikh dharamsālās and gurdwārās. But there was other social and philanthropic activity inaugurated by the Gurūs such as construction works, maintenance of orphanages, asylums, dispensaries, educational institutions, etc., which were also provided for by drawing upon Gurū kī Golak. As their following increased and their activities expanded, the Gurūs strengthened the structural aspect of the community. Mañjīs or preaching centres were established and masands or Gurū's representatives were appointed to propagate the faith and also to collect the offerings and dasvandh from the Sikhs and send these on to the central pool, Gurū kī Golak. The system worked effectively for some time, but by and by malpractices crept in. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh (1666-1708) abolished the system of masands and brought the Sikh saṅgats in direct touch with himself. The Sikhs continued to maintain the golak in which they deposited their contributions in the name of the Gurū. These were despatched to the Gurū as saṅgats went to visit him on festivals or other occasions. As the Gurū Granth Sāhib was invested Gurū, the dasvandh could be deposited at any gurdwārā or allied charitable institution. Separate golaks in Sikh homes became redundant. Since the Gurdwārā Reform movement of the 1920's control of a large number of gurdwārās, especially the historical ones, has passed on to a statutory body, the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee. Most of the other gurdwārās are managed by committees of the local saṅgats. Sealed golaks are maintained in most of them to receive the daily cash-offerings of the devotees. Offerings in kind are used in the Gurū kā Laṅgar attached to the gurdwārā.
Prītam Siṅgh Gill