Are our Gurdwaras Dysfunctional?

PART FIVE: Do we need to build more Gurdwaras?

Karminder Singh Dhillon, PhD (Boston).

Editor’s Note: This is the Final Part of a FIVE Part Series that looks into a wide variety of issues concerning the Gurdwaras. The overall objective is to answer the question “Are our Gurdwaras serving the purpose for their existence. Part ONE establishes the position of the Gurdwara in the life of a Sikh. Part TWO outlines the intended roles and functions of our Gurdwaras and Part THREE assess them. Part FOUR Examines the root causes of Gurdwara dysfunctionality. This FINAL part provides a critical answer to the question “Do we need to build more Gurdwaras?



There is no denying that the dysfunctionality of our Gurdwaras is deeply entrenched and widespread.

As painful as it may sound to many lay Sikhs, the answer to the question “Do we need to build more Gurdwaras” is a resounding NO.

When an institution is dysfunctional, not performing according to its objectives and the not resulting in the intended outcomes – building MORE of such institutions is not the logical thing to do. It is also not the morally right thing to do. It would NOT resolve the problem.

Continuing building more dysfunctional Gurdwaras may instead create dangerous consequences and ramifications. Three can be listed out right away.

First we would be denying that our Gurdwaras are dysfunctional. It’s an ostrich mentality. We are saying our dysfunctional Gurdwaras are doing great. Let’s build more and bigger and more comfortable ones.

We are also saying that the dysfunctionality can carry on; become worse even. It won’t affect us. What we need is numbers. Not so much what goes on inside them.

Second, knowing that a great number of Gurdwaras in Malaysia (especially those close to each other in terms of distance) were built by parbhandaks who were ousted from their posts by rival parbhandaks or could not take control of the existing Gurdwaras due to insufficient support – we are sanctioning such divisive and un-Gurmat actions.

We are saying it is all right to build a new Gurdwara simply because a group wants to have the opportunity to be parbhandakhs.

We are thus condoning what one could call “Gurdwaras that are conceived in rivalry and born out of conflict and self-serving interests.”

Even if we say a new Gurdwara should be built in our neighbourhood on grounds of convenience, we are placing personal expediency above all- but at what cost?

What we would eventually have is another dysfunctional Gurdwara that is closer to home.

Third, we may never get around to turning our dysfunctional Gurdwaras around. How and when would we do this if all our energy and resources were poured into building new Gurdwaras and renovating and expanding existing ones.




The obsession or excitement amongst lay Sikhs to build new Gurdwaras and contribute to their construction lies in misplaced pride – something that needs serious re-aligning with Gurbani.

The average Sikh is of the view that he or she is contributing towards the construction of a Guru Ghar; a house for the Guru, a place of abode for the Guru. A Sikh must thus contribute to the fullest extent.

A Sikh must ensure that even if his or her own house is just a hut, the “house of the Guru” must be made of gold and diamonds.

While the pride and faith is praiseworthy, it is misplaced because the concept of Guru Ghar as being built out of material is not provided for in Sikhi.

The word Ghar (literally house) appears numerous times in the SGGS; and it always refers to the HUMAN MIND. The actual abode for the Guru is our mind. The place of stay of the Guru is our mind.

Confining the Guru (even as an idea) to a structure of brick and wood is ant-thesis to Gurmat. The Guru is Shabd, or more accurately the message within the Shabd. This can only reside in our minds and in our actions.

The command of the Guru is to make OURSELVES into a abode of the the Guru – by enshrining Shabad within our minds and actions. The verse is Ghar Ghar Ander Dhramsaal…. Every Sikh ought to be a walking, living breathing abode of the Shabd Guru.

The proper term for our place of congregation is Gurdwara. It is a compound word that is amalgamated from two words – Guru and Duara. A loose translation would be “via the Guru, through the Guru, or facilitated by the Guru.

A second translation of Duara is door or doorway.

The verse from the SGGS is Guru Duarey Hoey Sojhee Payesee. Enlightenment is the outcome of a spirituality that is undertaken via the Guru, through the Guru, or facilitated by the Guru. And the Guru is the Shabd. Enlightenment is thus an outcome that results from walking through the doorway of the Shabd.

The Gurdwara is thus OUR spiritual abode. For us MORTALS. It’s a place run by us. We human Sikhs are responsible for working it. We have the responsibility of ALLOWING the place to create enlightenment that is undertaken via the Guru, through the Guru, or facilitated by the Guru.

It our human responsibility to make the Gurdwara a doorway for the Guru to come reside WITHIN OUR MINDS.

The Gurdwara thus functions to create GURU GHARs in our MINDS. Each of us Gurdwara goer should become a Guru Ghar.

As such it is a GURDWARA; Not a Guru Ghar. The Guru Ghar is within our minds and actions. The Guru will come and reside within the minds and actions of ALL GURDWARA going Sikhs; PROVIDED the Gurdwaras PERFORM this function right.

Any Gurdwara which DOES NOT do that or cannot do that is dysfunctional. It is you and me who made the Gurdwara dysfunctional.

It is thus you and me again who will decide if we will go on building more and more dysfunctional Gurdwaras; or stop, take a deep breath, and check ourselves and say – wait a minute. A vast majority of the Gurdwaras we ALREADY have are dysfunctional, broken and NOT acting as doorways for the Guru to come reside in our hearts and minds.

Shouldn’t we be thinking of repairing what is BROKEN instead of building more and more BROKEN Gurdwaras?

Or are we going to delude ourselves that our dysfunctional and broken Gurdwaras are “Guru Ghars” and that a Guru Ghar can never be dysfunctional, and that we should go on building more “Guru Ghars” of brick and wood. When will this misplaced sense based on our delusion end?


If building more and more is in in our DNA. If we will somehow perish from the face of the earth if we did not build more and newer Gurdwaras.

Then why not build an old folks home? After all there are plenty of elderly Sikhs and non-Sikhs that require such a home.

Why not build a school?

Why not build an orphanage?

Why not build an animal shelter?

Why not build a shelter for the homeless?

Why not build a funeral home? More and more Sikhs in urban areas chose to live in apartments and high rises where the performance of last rites can be problematic.

Why not build a Training Centre? A Youth Centre? A Sports Centre?

Because there will be NO Guru in any of the above? That’s because we have not read Gurbani and understood the verses where the Guru tells us exactly where His presence will be found.

The Guru always stands amongst the needy, the poor, the dispossessed, the down trodden, the oppressed. The verse frdom the SGGS is Neechan Ander Neech Jaat, Neechi Hu Att Neech. Nanak Tin Key Sang Saath, Vadeya Sion Kya Rees.

The Guru’s presence is not to be found in dysfunctional Gurdwaras. They are Gurdwaras in name only: serving lots of peripheral and ritualistic functions and feeding our misplaced pride – but not the 7 CORE ones. So why build more?

Why not focus our energies on turning around our dysfunctional Gurdwaras so that they become functional and hence relevant to our communities, especially our youth? What indeed would be the point if we gained in terms of numbers of Gurdwaras, but lost our youth?