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MEANINGS AND FUNCTIONS OF GURDWARA

Prof. Devinder Singh Chahal, PhD

S. Saran Singh wrote in an editorial, The Young & the Restless, of the Sikh Review of February 1993 that there has been a growing tendency among office bearers of Gurdwara management everywhere to play power politics. Wrangling over control of funds is not uncommon. Entrenched members consider the Gurdwara property as their fiefdom and adopt unethical practices to retain control, resulting, sometimes, in unseemly civil and criminal litigation.

Many men and women were injured during a recent fight between two groups in the Guru Nanak Gurdwara, Surrey, BC, Canada. The police had to enter into the Gurdwara with shoes and dogs to control the fight and to catch the culprits. The bloodiest scene was televised during January 1997 on national TV. The Sikhs of the whole Canada hanged their heads in shame when they watched this bloodiest scene with injured men and women and the fighting Sikhs brandishing naked swords in the Gurdwara. It is welI-known in the Sikh community of Surrey that the fight by the old executive was over the control of income (that is about a million dollars per year) of the Gurdwara on a flimsy ground of Rehit Maryada of eating langar. (For more on Langar issue please see Rehit Maryada: Code of Conduct, Anand, Langar and Sirgum )

If someone analyzes the motive of most fights one can easily find out that fighting groups are not interested in the dissemination of Sikhism in its real perspective or in the welfare of the Sikhs, rather the biggest attraction for them is to have an absolute power over the administration of Gurdwara to control the huge funds being offered by the devout Sikhs.

CONTROL OF GURDWARAS

Although most of the Gurdwaras in the Punjab are under the control of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC), still there are many that are under the control of Mahants and Sants. Outside the Punjab, e. g., in North America, UK, Europe and other countries, none of the Gurdwaras is under the control of SGPC. The Gurdwaras out of the Punjab are mostly controlled by a group of Sikhs of the particular areas under the names of different organizations. Every Gurdwara has its own rules and regulations, and code of conduct to administer the Gurdwara. The Granthis, Raagis, Kathakar, and preachers are appointed or invited of their own choice, who represent Sikhism and celebrate the barsis (anniversaries) of Sants and Mahants according to their own wishes and that of the executive of the Gurdwara.

Since the executive is not interested in the dissemination of Sikhism in its real perspective, the Mahants, Sants, Raagis, preachers and Sikh politicians, invited by them, often narrate irrelevant and unfounded stories along with the distorted and misinterpreted Gurbani that portray Sikhism as a mythical religion like the others. Readers are advised to read more about the dealings of Raagis and their deteriorating characters and their lust for money in S. Dalawari's paper (12). Unfortunately nobody from the executive or from the sangat takes courage to stop the propagation of perverted Gurbani and citation of unfounded stories. It is so because it has been implanted in the minds of the sangat that asking question to the Sants and the Raagis is not a Sikh-like. When sangat cannot ask questions to remove their doubts or misconceptions then it becomes one way communication. Thus, the subject being presented in the Gurdwara is understood wrongly and incompletely by the sangat. Until and unless a subject is presented by keeping both lines of communications open, it will not be helpful in understanding the subject.

In some Gurdwaras nobody except Amritdharis can recite the Aad Guru Granth Sahib (AGGS) and kirtan and nobody other than Amritdhari can speak from the dais or even distribute parsad or langar. However, according to Rehit Maryada of SGPC any Sikh has the right to do that. Unfortunately the definition of a Sikh given in the Rehit Maryada is not understood properly by these Amritdharis. (For more information on definition of a Sikh see reference # 10 and watch for forthcoming article: Defining a Sikh). The above action of the Amritdharis is just equivalent to brahmanism according to which only Brahmans can recite Vedas or mantras to non-Brahmans. Some Amritdharis even do not eat any thing, if prepared or served by a non-Amritdharis. It appears that such Amritdharis look at non-Amritdharis as equivalent to the sudras (low caste). They are the worst persons than the Brahmans because at least Brahmans eat sarahds or other bhojans from non-Brahmans without any hesitation. By doing so they are violating the basic principle of Sikhism, i. e., the equality for whole humankind (1-3).

Dr (Bhai) Harbans Lal (14) quoted Bhai Kahn Singh in his article about the Institution of Gurdwara as follows: "The author (Bhai Kahn Singh) sincerely offers his prayer before the Akal Purkh (God) that time may soon come when we see virtuous persons like Babba Budha, Bhai Gurdas, Saint Almust, Bhai Kanhya, Mahant Gurbaksh, and Bhai Mani Singh as custodians of Gurdwaras so that Nanak's message can reach everywhere in the world."

A NEW SIKH ORGANIZATION

Keeping in view the above situation of Gurdwaras there is a dire need of an umbrella organization of the Sikhs in Canada and other countries. This should look after proper functioning of Gurdwaras, proper uses of funds for propagation of Sikhism through seminars, television, publication of books, establishment of educational institutions and Sikh Chairs in the Universities, preaching of Sikhism in its real perspective, popularizing the Sikh heritage, etc. In fact "Taking necessary steps to bring the Sikh Gurdwaras under a single system of administration with a view to running them according to the basic Sikh forms and to pool their resources for the propagation of Sikhism on a wider and more impressive scale.", has already been recognized in the Anandpur Sahib Resolution on October 16 and 17, 1973 (17) but nothing has been done on this aspect for the last 23 years even in the Punjab.

However, an idea to formulate such a Sikh organization originated in the minds of the Sikhs of Canada during 1980s (13). The attack by the Indian Army on the Akal Takht and the carnage of the Sikhs in Delhi and other parts of India during June and November 1984, respectively, accelerated the process and many Sikh organizations mushroomed in Canada, USA, UK, and other countries. However, none of these organizations has succeeded to bring all the Gurdwaras of Canada or of any other country under one code or achieve any improvements in Gurdwaras' administration for dissemination of Sikhism in real perspective.

Recently formation of another organization, "Ontario Gurdwara Management Board" (OGMB), was proposed by the Gurdwara Reform Committee (GRC) in 1992 to put at least the Gurdwaras of Ontario under one administration (15, 19). The constitution of OGMB has been examined by the then Acting Jathedar of Akal Takht, Professor Manjit Singh and his 7-member advisory committee of scholars; Manjit Singh Calcutta, Secretary SGPC, Amritsar; and also by a dozen more scholars from India and Canada.

All the above scholars and authorities on Sikhism have accepted its constitution in general and appreciated the formation of such an organization under the control of Panj Piyare and supremacy of the Akal Takht (in ref. # 15). But nobody has given any serious thought to look into the consistency and the validity of its constitution from a legal point of view and the implications of applying Sikh Rehit Maryada (drafted by the scholars of 1930s and 40s, lacking consistency and precision) for the highly advanced and civilized Sikhs of the Space Age and Computer Age (Science Age). In fact, the present society is fast moving toward the evolution of a new civilization during the 21st century rather than going back to the way of living of the 17th century or Biblical times. Only two scholars, Dr Suba Singh of Khalsa College, Amritsar and S. Saran Singh, IAS, Editor of Sikh Review, Calcutta had courage to advise the GRC to look into the constitution legally and on the lines similar to that of SGPC (in ref. # 15).

In the constitution of OGMB absolute power has been entrusted to the Punj Piayare whose only qualifications are: to be Amritdharis at least for five years without mentioning any academic qualification, and without considering their caliber, reputation, and prestige. The other condition for them is that they should have a thorough knowledge and understanding of Sikhism without mentioning what would be the criteria to evaluate this qualification, and who could evaluate this qualification. Their selection is based on picking up the names at random - parchi system, i. e., a lottery system or a gambling system. This system of selecting a person for administration purposes in the advanced and civilized society is not acceptable, although Dr Pritam Singh and S. Gurdev Singh Sangha have written very strongly in the favor of parchi system (in ref. # 15). There is almost no freedom of speach in Gurdwaras in this constitution and every control of Gurdwara administration is in the hands of a few picked-up persons, which is against the basic principles of Sikhism and democracy.

The irony is that Mr. Manohar Singh Bal of GRC went on fast for 16 days during October 1996 to convince the executives of several Gurdwaras of Ontario to join OGMB. It is a pity that Mr. Bal, who wanted to bring reforms in Gurdwara managements, violated the basic principles of Sikhism by fasting to achieve his goal.

THE SOLUTION

The solution of the above problems lies in understanding of Sikhism in its real perspective in general (8-11) and the meanings and functioning of Gurdwara in particular.

MEANINGS AND FUNCTIONING OF GURDWARA

The term 'Gurdwara' is the most misunderstood in these days. I have tried to explain this term logically and according to Gurbani as follows:

Gurdwara is a shortened version of Guru Dwara used by Guru Nanak in his bani (words, verse). But nowadays some Sikhs have replaced the word Guru Dwara with Guru Ghar without paying any attention to the differences in the meanings of these two words. Although both words have Guru in common, replacement of Dwara with Ghar makes lots of differences in their meanings. When Guru Nanak used the word Guru Dwara in his bani he referred Guru to the Almighty and Dwara to the Gateway, thus Guru Dwara means the Gateway to the Almighty. But when one uses Guru Ghar it means the House of the Almighty. According to the bani of Guru Nanak there is no particular place in the universe for the Almighty to live in. Because according to Guru Nanak the Almighty pervades everywhere in the universe so much so that it pervades in the minds of everybody. Thus, to call Guru Dwara or Gurdwara as Guru Ghar is not justified because one cannot confine the Almighty to one place (ghar/house). However, the Sikhs who have coined the word, Guru Ghar, might argue that Guru Ghar means where the Aad Guru Granth Sahib (AGGS) resides. This argument is not valid because many Sikhs keep the AGGS in their homes and such homes cannot be called Guru Ghars under any circumstance. Nevertheless, I must add here that Bhai Kahn Singh (18) has used 'Gurdwara' and 'Guru Ghar' as interchangeable terms. I do not agree to his interchangeable use because Guru Dwara cannot be Guru Ghar according to Gurbani.

Let us look into the word Guru Dwara (Gurdwara) used by Guru Nanak:

Bhanda hacha hoey jo tiss bhaway...

AGGS, M1, p 730.

Meanings of special words:
In the above verse bhaanda means body (and the mind), Guru means the Almighty, dwara means gateway, maanis means man, amrit means elixir, agay and teh lok means the next world and three worlds, used here as similes, respectively.

  
  
  
Interpretation:
Only that body (mind) is pure that is liked by the Almighty.
The body (mind) that is extremely polluted with vices cannot be cleansed just by washing.
It is only when one enters the gateway of the Almighty, one can get wisdom ( from Gurbani to realize the Almighty).
It is this gateway where after entering one can cleanse one's polluted mind.
(When one enters this gateway) Then the Almighty Himself will make one to distinguish between the polluted and cleansed mind.
One must not understand that the verdict/judgement of deeds is declared after going to the next world.
(It is here in this world) What one sows so shall one reap.
The elixir of the life is the realization of the Almighty and He Himself will distribute the elixir to you.
Once one enters this gateway one will be honored.
Then the human will be honored everywhere (in the three worlds used as simile).
Nanak says: you yourself will be contented and will make your filial generations contented.

The main theme conveyed in this verse by Guru Nanak is as follows:

The polluted mind cannot be cleansed by washing the body. It can be cleansed only when one enters the gateway. When you enter the gateway, you find the Gurbani, i.e., AGGS. When the Gurbani, is recited, discussed (vichar) and followed properly then one's mind gets cleansed. Guru Dawara, therefore, means entering the gateway to Gurbani then understanding the Gurbani to find out the truth and contentment and ultimately to realize the Almighty so that one becomes the most contented and civilized citizen. Therefore, the place, where one can recite and discuss Gurbani with the sangat to find out the truth, contentment and realize the Almighty, is termed as Gurdwara.

IMPORTANCE OF VICHAR (DISCUSSION/DELIBERATION)

A great importance has been given to vichar in Gurbani at many places in the AGGS. The pages of a few selected verses on vichar are quoted in references # 4-6. The vichar has been interpreted differently by different writers. But according to the general meanings of vichar in Punjabi and the meaning given by Bhai Kahn Singh (18) are: The method to find out the truth. The method to find out the truth is by discussing/deliberating the subject matters thoroughly in a group. The meanings of the word 'discuss' in English dictionaries are: To investigate by reasoning or argument; to discourse about something to arrive at the truth or to convince others of the validity of one's position (20). Thus, discussion/deliberation of Gurbani is the most important characteristic feature of Sikhism and of Gurbani. The Gurbani also advises that in case there are doubts then that can be clarified by discussion/deliberation while sitting together (7).

When the revealed Gurbani was compiled into a Granth by Guru Arjun, he mentioned vichar as the whole philosophy of Sikhism and the importance of vichar as discussion/deliberation of the subject matters (wastu) as final instructions to the Sikhs at the end of the AGGS under the heading of Mundawani (seal, conclusions) as follows:

Thal which tinn vastu Paio...

AGGS, M 5, p 1429.

Mundawani (Seal, Conclusion) The Fifth Nanak
In the platter (The Granth) are found three subject matters - truth, contentment and the vichar (philosophy of Sikhism).
The elixir from the Almighty is also there, for which everybody has the desire to have it.
Whosoever adopts (khavé) it and practices (bhunché) it, is saved. (i. e., Whosoever discusses/deliberates and practises it, is saved.)
These subject matters (truth, contentment, vichar) in no way can be ignored or discorded, keep them all the time in mind.
The sea of darkness can be crossed by following the instructions (charan lag) (recorded in the Granth).
Nanak says: The Almighty pervades everywhere
Suggestions to be Pondered Upon

SUGGESTIONS TO BE PONDERED UPON

1.

Now it is easy for me to sum up the whole discussion that Guru Dwara or Gurdwara is a gateway on entering it one finds the Gurbani that has been enshrined in the Aad Guru Granth Sahib by Guru Arjun and Guru Gobind Singh, the fifth and tenth Guru, respectively, who succeeded to the House of Nanak. Then after entering the gateway it becomes the most important duty of the Sikh to vichar (discuss/deliberate) the Gurbani with the sangat to find out the truth and to achieve the contentment ultimately to realize the Almighty to become the most contented and civilized citizen.

When so much importance is given on the vichar (discussion/deliberation) in the Gurbani then why it has not been adopted in the Gurdwara? It means the word, Gurdwara, was never understood properly before. It is never too late to amend and adopt the right path. The executive of every Gurdwara should immediately adopt the following procedure to achieve the above objectives:

a.

Raagi should recite Gurbani in the form of a kirtan with right explanation (vichar). After the kirtan 15-20 minutes should be devoted for discussion of the topic of the kirtan. The discussion should be lead by the stage secretary himself to encourage the sangat to ask questions and explanations. The first question should be asked by the secretary to initiate the vichar (discussion). Every member of the sangat has the right to ask questions and to give his/her opinion on that particular topic of the kirtan. A word of caution: Maintenance of scrupulosity is most important aspect of the discussion.

b. Similar method should be followed for the Sants, preachers, kathakars or the Sikh politicians when they are lecturing on some topics. After their talks, again it is the duty of the stage secretary to reserve 15-20 minutes for discussion and also to initiate the discussion as explained above (# a).

By this method a poorly prepared and unqualified Raagi or Sant or preacher or politician will not be able to face the sangat next time and will be automatically eliminated from this easy-money collecting business. By adopting this method better Raagis, Sants, preachers and politicians will be produced, who could represent Sikhism in its real perspective. Consequently, the sangat and the executive would become more aware of Sikhism in its real perspective and there will be no more fights in the Gurdwaras. The ultimate goal is that kirtan, katha, and discussion should be done by the Sangat in the Gurdwara.

There would be some Sikhs under the disguise of Amritdharis who would object to the discussion/deliberation of Gurbani because they are not interested that the Sikhs should know Sikhism in its real perspective. But we have to decide ourselves whether we have to obey the Gurbani to vichar to find out the truth and to achieve contentment or we have to follow those certain Sikhs, who object to discussion, to remain in the darkness as before.

2.

Finally formation of a new organization, International Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee (ISGPC) each for Canada, USA, UK, and others countries, constituting members of high caliber, reputation, and prestige; a legally valid constitution; and a scientifically and logically sound Rehit Maryada based on Gurbani, is needed immediately. Such an organization could take care of proper functioning of Gurdwaras and the presentation of Sikhism in its real perspective during the 21st century.

Such an organization should constitute eminent Sikh theologians, having some knowledge of science; eminent Sikh scientists of various fields, having some knowledge of Gurbani; and eminent historians and linguists having some knowledge of both Gurbani and science, under the command of the highest authorities of the Sikhs, The Akal Takht and the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhik Committee. I had put an emphasis on the knowledge of science for all the members of the committee because we are living in the Space Age and Computer Age (Science Age) where precision and consistency are the rule of success to control any organization or the Gurdwara, the holiest place and the hub of the activities of Sikhism.

REFERENCES:

    AGGS = Aad Guru Granth Sahib. 1983 (reprint) 1430 p. Publishers: Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar. (M = Mahla, i.e., succession number of the Sikh Gurus to the House of Guru Nanak, P = Page of the AGGS).
  1. AGGS, Jap -29, p 6: Aa-ee panthi sagal jamatti.
  2. AGGS, Jap -33, p 7: Nanak uttam neach na koey.
  3. AGGS, M1, p 62 : Sabh ko ucha akhiay neach na deesay koey.
  4. AGGS, M 1, p 54, 59, 229.
  5. AGGS, M 3, p 28, 29, 128, 157-158, 229, 362.
  6. AGGS, M 5, p 52, 611.
  7. AGGS, M 5, p 1185 : Hoey ikattar milahu mere bhai dubida door kareh live laey.
  8. Chahal, D. S. 1992. Philosophy: Scientific interpretation of the Sikh scriptures. The Sikh Review, Vol. 40 (July): 5-20.
  9. Chahal, D. S. 1993. Debate: Scientific interpretation of Gurbani. The Sikh Review, Vol. 41 (December): 23-35.
  10. Chahal, D. S. 1994. Religion: Who is a Sikh? Search for a definition. The Sikh Review. Vol. 42 (May): 21-33.
  11. Chahal, D. S. 1994. Scientific interpretation of Gurbani. Proceedings of Second Sikh Educational Conference, Toronto, July 24-25, 1993.
  12. Dalawari, B. S. 1992. The Raagi jatha racket. The Sikh Review. Vol. 40 (September): 40-43.
  13. Federation of Sikh Societies in Canada, Ottawa, Ontario (S. Gurcharan Singh Bal).
  14. Lal, Bhai (Dr) Harbans. 1993. Institution of Gurdwara. The Sikh Review. Vol. 41 (January): 20-22.
  15. Ontario Gurdwara Management Board. 1995. Gurdwara Reform Committee, Etobicoke, Ontario (S. Manohar Singh Bal).
  16. Reader's Digest History of Man: The Last Two Million Years. The Reader's Digest Assoc., Montreal, 1973.
  17. Singh, Harbans (Ed.). 1992. The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism. (Anadpur Sahib Resolution).Punjabi University, Patiala.
  18. Singh, (Bhai) Kahn. 1981. (edition). Mahan Kosh (Punjabi). Bhasha Vibagh, Punjab, Patiala.
  19. Singh, Sutantar. 1993. Gurdwara reform in Canada: A challenge to the community. The Sikh Review. Vol. 41 (April): 38-40.
  20. Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. 1991. Thomas Allen & Son Ltd., Markham, Onatario