Are our Gurdwaras Dysfunctional ? Re-Edited New Version Dr Karminder Singh PART 1


PART ONE: The Position of a Gurdwara in a Sikh’s Life.

Karminder Singh Dhillon, PhD (Boston).

Editor’s Note: This is Part One 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. The FINAL part provides a critical answer to the question “Do we need to build more Gurdwaras?

NOTHING excites a lay Sikh more than news that a new Gurdwara is to be built or an existing one renovated. After all, a vast majority of Sikhs consider the Gurdwara to be a Guru Ghar: literally the “house” of the Guru.

There is no reason therefore for the abode of the Guru to not be as magnificent and splendid as possible.

Such thinking is most likely the reason behind the assertion that there perhaps is no place on earth where a group of Sikhs reside but have not constructed a Gurdwara.

From gold plated structures, sprawling marble-adorned complexes and modern architectural constructs to a variety of humble variants in rented premises – our Gurdwaras have become the core institution of the Sikh way of life.

But thinking Sikhs – especially those who are Gurbani focussed – would agree that constructing magnificent Gurdwaras and THEN ensuring they function in accordance with their intended roles are two starkly different things.

For such Sikhs the two basic questions are “what constitutes the magnificence of a Gurdwara – its physical structure or its ability to achieve its intended objectives?

Secondly what determines the key performance measures of a Gurdwara – the number of programs and volume of attendees, or the level of Sikhi that is disseminated?

Thinking Sikhs would also agree that a Gurdwara has to do lots more than merely organize Sunday diwans that constitute kirtan by professional ragis, akhand path readings by professional pathis, the occasional katha or sermon also by a professional and conclude with the serving of langar.

In the minds of such Sikhs, these activities run on “auto pilot.” There is a fixed template for these programs that run every week, month and year. The only thing different from the previous program is the name of the sponsor. It’s on auto pilot because not much thinking goes into asking what, if any, are the outcomes of such activities.

Concerned Sikhs would argue that as an institution a Gurdwara has to be more than a place for the conduct of Anand Karajs, Antim Ardas and other functions where the sangat has no role other than staggered, passive and casual attendance.

Staggered because one could come at one’s convenience and not miss out on anything major; passive because they have no role other than being spectators and casual because there is no real outcome of the entire process.

Rarely is a Sikh heard lamenting that he or she has missed a great deal because of non- regular attendance. On the other hand, it is not uncommon to hear Sikhs say that they have to attend a Gurdwara function because it is sponsored by someone important (blood relation, wealthy, influential or high on the social ladder).

Put plainly, given the investments of money, time and our collective energies that we Sikhs have put into our Gurdwaras, do we get adequate Returns of Investments (ROI) in terms of spiritual, social, and gurmat measures?

This question becomes critical as our Gurdwaras begin to steadily empty out of Generation Y and Z Sikhs; as our youth become increasingly alienated from our Gurdwaras; and as our children begin to disconnect from Sikhi.

The same questions become even more grave as educated Sikhs begin to realize that the Gurdwara is not the place that they can count on to help them inculcate Gurbani based Sikhi into their lives and that of their children.


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