The Gurdwaras in Concept and Practice
The word ‘Gurdwara’ is a combination of two words i.e. Guru and dwara meaning a gateway to the Guru/Almighty or an abode of the guru and the significance of it is understood as a place where guru liberates the true Sikh from darkness of vices and drags a mortal being out from the state of spiritual ignorance to that of spiritual enlightenment and showers on him compassion, love, benevolence and kindness and liberates him from the narrow selfish interests and instils in him the desire to achieve the higher goal of life and inspires him or her to work in the common interest i.e. for the humanitarian goals.
Practically, Gurdwaras are the very nucleus of the Sikh community and serve as a multi-purpose institution. For Sikhs, the Gurdwara plays an integral part throughout the life, right from cradle to the grave i.e., the ceremonies concerning from births to the solemn conduct in the event of death, are all conducted in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib,for receiving the blessings of the Guru and also for the collective blessings of the congregation assembled in the gurdwara. It is a place where the divine grace is showered upon the devotees and where they learn the right way of living and indulge in selfless living for the upliftment of the community and the society. The first Nanak in the following verse stresses on the significance of the Gurdwara
ਭਾਂਡਾ ਹਛਾ ਸੋਇ ਜੋ ਤਿਸੁ ਭਾਵਸੀ ॥ ਭਾਂਡਾ ਅਤਿ ਮਲੀਣੁ ਧੋਤਾ ਹਛਾ ਨ ਹੋਇਸੀ ॥
ਗੁਰੂ ਦੁਆਰੈ ਹੋਇ ਸੋਝੀ ਪਾਇਸੀ ॥ ਏਤੁ ਦੁਆਰੈ ਧੋਇ ਹਛਾ ਹੋਇਸੀ ॥
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 730
Bhanda refers to the body that gets impure when one is indulgent in worldly pursuits and runs after materialistic acquisitions. Thus the mind body and the soul that is extremely polluted with the vices can get cleaned and liberated not with washing of the body, it needs spiritual enlightenment that is obtained by entering into the gateway to the Almighty, Waheguru, where the hymns and shabads are recited in veneration. Gurdwaras right from their establishment have performed multi-farious roles and responsibilities, it is only the scale of the roles that has gone widened and diversified with the changing times and circumstances. The changing times have indeed made the responsibilities more arduous not because the problems are complex but it is because we the Sikhs are unable to discharge our duties with commitment and in accordance with the Sikh values and principles. The paper is an attempt to throw light on the importance of gurdwaras in the contemporary times and how the management, staff and the sangat who have an important role to play in achieving the objectives of gurudwaras (some conventional and some new) are unable to do so. In this paper, a humble attempt has been made to highlight the fact that the entire Sikh community has a role to play in upholding the values of Sikhism as preached by the ten gurus and also maintain the sanctity of a place where the holy scripture, a unique text of pure spiritual ecstasy, reflecting the unity of the Divine creator and its creation is placed in a rare cosmic togetherness. Some have the role to play as members of the management committees, some as staff members of the gurdwaras and all of us as sangat have an indispensable and well defined roles to perform towards the working of the gurdwaras. All those who claim themselves to be Sikhs have this responsibility on their shoulders
Evolution in the management of the Gurdwaras
For the larger part in the history Gurdwaras were looked after by the men who wished to dedicate their life to the prayer and the service of the community. They were generally men of high moral character and integrity and were well versed in the Sikh scriptures and dedicated their lives to reciting and expounding the teachings of the Sikh Gurus. However, with the establishment of the British rule, new settlement records had to be made. In many of these, the lands and the properties attached to the Gurdwaras were entered against the names of the Mahants. In the earlier stages these Mahants enjoyed the confidence and reverence of sangat of their areas. But gradually they failed to up keep the tradition of purity and austerity which the Sikh Gurus strictly insisted on. The Mahants who became inherited masters of the sacred shrines, gave up all the ideals of Sikhism. The malpractices by the Mahants, the pujaris and the priests were reason enough for the Singh Sabhas established in 1873 to pass resolutions and make representations to the then Government for the reform of the Sikh shrines. Although these representations and resolutions were given a deaf ear but definitely the resentment among the Sikhs grew and culminated in the rise of Gurdwara reform movement in 1920. In the course of their five year (1920-25) struggle, the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee and the Akali Dal were not only able to oust the Mahants and obtained the control over all the important Sikh shrines through peaceful agitation and passive sufferings, but also worked to strengthen the forces of nationalism in Punjab by ejecting the Mahants, the government appointed managers and other vested interests in the Sikh community. The sacrifices made by the ardent and true Gursikhs during various morchas speak volumes of their zeal, valour and commitment to the religion and concern to preserve its sanctity. The Gurdwaras were freed from the vested interests and for managing the Sikh institutions eventually, the election system was introduced into the Sikh system of governance. Since then the historic gurdwaras are managed by a central body called the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee that was constituted under the Punjab Gurdwara Act of 1925 while the community based gurdwaras or the local gurdwaras are managed by the locally elected management committees and are answerable to the local sangat that elects the committee members. Democratic system of governing the institution became apparent with the introduction of elections yet, there are many problems and issues that require attention for the efficient and smooth working of the gurdwaras
Gurdwaras in Practice
Gurdwaras, the religious institution of the Sikhs have a number of functions to perform in the present times. They are not just the place for holding regular prayers and congregations but perform the role of organising the entire Sikh community, look after their educational, social, economic and cultural needs as well and to work in the direction of augmenting the respect and dignity that the Sikhs have earned through their valour, courage, honesty, righteousness, compassion displayed at various occasions. The Gurdwaras henceforth have to be managed by sincere, devoted community members who value the Sikh principles over and above every thing. But unfortunately, over a period of time wrong practices have seeped in to the gurdwara affairs and the management, staff and the sangat have deviated from the path as shown by our gurus. The text that follows would briefly throw light on how the working of the gurdwaras are being affected by the working of incompetent and selfish leaders and the ill effects of the election system followed. In addition the need for dedicated staff and sangat for the upholding the lofty ideals has also been highlighted.
The Dearth of Ideal Leaders is Quite Worrisome
The Sikh history is replete with examples of ideal leaders like Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Baba Banda Singh Bhadur, Hari Singh Nalwa, Akali Phoola Singh who have internalized qualities of self-sovereignty, intentional servitude, integrative creativity, authentic compassion, and perhaps most significant of all, divine inspiration and have led the masses in the battle fields and the congregations. They have lived up to the high values of the Sikh religion and have exhibited those in the practical life. They have exhibited the most humanly behaviour and have encouraged the followers to over come ego and vices through self- induced courage and by reciting gurbani. They have stood for the collective interest not limiting it to the interest of the community but to the interest of the entire humanity by sacrificing their worldly comforts and luxuries. But the kind of behaviour exhibited by our present day leaders is contrary to what our Gurus have taught of selflessness, humility, compassion, tolerance as preached in Sikhism. The gurdwaras need to be run and managed by people who are capable, loyal and are men of integrity. It is distressing to a gursikh when people who flout the Sikh code of conduct claim as the propagators of Sikhism. Leaders have an immense responsibility on their shoulders to guide the followers of Sikhism and bring them under the Sikh initiation and code of conduct but the work done by them is not so encouraging. The power and prestige attached to position of managing and controlling Gurdwaras and their affiliated institutions like schools, colleges, hospitals etc is the only motivating factor behind becoming the leaders. Moreover, only a handful of resourceful individuals who have influence and personal contacts “contest for and occupy” these positions and most often than not by arm twisting, blackmailing, buying people out, spreading false rumours, and generally by involving in anti-Gurmat activities.
Another most important observation made is that the connection of the leaders with sangat is generally negligible /absent for most of their tenure. It is only during the time of elections the leaders make an attempt to renew their connection with the sangat. Rather connecting and communicating with the sangat during the tenure should be exercise undertaken by the leaders. The stage should not merely be taken for making announcements and making allegations. Sangat should be encouraged to give suggestions and those can be discussed and deliberated upon in order that a more open and democratic system is followed. Most importantly, leaders in the gurdwara premises are a part of sangat and as a moral duty they should abstain from accepting any preferential treatment. They should sit and dine with the sangat and there should be no special arrangement for their seating and dinning. By involving in such a practice they will connect with the sangat and be able to establish a rapport with them and also help them develop informal relations with the community members.
Elections Encourage Malpractices
Elections, indeed are a heart and soul of democracy. But the introduction of the election system is observed to have introduced immoral and unethical practices, making elections a wasteful exercise. The election system has encouraged the growth of political parties which unfortunately do not have a vision for the community but fight and contest Gurdwara elections with an objective to uproot and overthrow the opposing party. It is so unfortunate that kirtan darbars and the occassions like Gurpurabs are used as platforms by political leaders to spit venom for the opponent. Hardly do they talk of the Sikh values and traditions rather it would not be incorrect to mention that the leaders themselves do not practise the Sikh values and traditions. In the contemporary times the leaders instigate masses and this is in fact responsible for the factions and divisions in the community which often becomes apparent in the personal lives of people and eventually the social cohesiveness among the community members is nowhere to be seen. They should remember that if our Gurus have ever used the congregation for dissemination of their opinion about the opponents, the opponents then happened to be those who were against humanity and not for provoking masses against any rival or for dividing the community.
Incompetency and Inefficiency of the Staff: A Problem
Although, the Sikhs(sangat) are expected to voluntarily perform sewa and participate in the day to day administrative and other work of gurdwaras so that they can get connected to the fundamentals of the faith and use their skills for the betterment of the community and for augmenting its solidarity. But over a period of time the appointment of the Granthis have become the organisational necessity and they have an immense role to perform towards the up keep of gurdwaras and also the principles of Sikhism.They are expected to exhibit a high moral code of conduct and be an inspiration for others to follow. In addition to the working for monetary gains they ought to remember that they have to satisfy the spiritual needs of the community members as well. for which they should be receptive to dialogues and deliberations and hone up their capacities through continuous learning. In a nut shell, they are expected to be more of missionaries than professionals. It is on the shoulder of the ganthis and sewadars that the responsibility of guiding the misguided people of the community especially the young generation lies. But it is often observed that they themselves move astray from the path as shown by our gurus and reciting and preaching gurbani is just a lip service and no attempt is made to bring the ideals into practice. This problem can be handled to a great extent if leaders happen to be role models. Further, the regular training through workshops and seminars of the appointed staff be encouraged in order that the granthis are well-versed in gurbaani and are able to enlighten people through the divine message and wisdom and simultaneously work for the good of the community and society in general. Encouraging the granthis of their participation in inter-faith dialogues and conversations can also go a long way in the spread of the religion. There is a need that the management committees and the staff of the gurdwaras work in harmony and in co-operation and difference of opinion if any, should be settled in an amicable manner
The corruption and evil practices run from top to bottom because the fact of the matter is that if the leaders exhibit a strong moral character it encourages those occupying positions at the lower hierarchical level to follow the same. It is saddening and unfortunate to see the same kind of irresponsible unethical behaviour and approach towards sewa and good of the community among the sewadars as well.It is often observed that the monetary and material offerings (rasad/ration) that the devotees offer as a symbol of their respect to the Guru and also in accordance with with the concept of Daswandh, is sold by the sewadars. The reason behind their indulgence in this sort of activity perhaps is that they are given very low wages. It is a paradox that sewadars of a religion that places manual labour on high pedestal of honour and esteem are poorly paid that forces them to involve in unethical ways to make their both ends meet and often strict action like their dismissal or reduced wages, is taken against them which is of course not just and fair. The management needs to look into the problems of the sewadars and ensure their financial security. The sewadars need to be ethically oriented for the services they are assigned, regular training and counselling of the sewadars can be contributive in this regard. The committee members need to be watchful of daily routine of the staff, sensitive towards genuine problems of the staff and make feasible adjustments as well.
Role of Sangat is Extremely Important
Sangat has an important place in Sikhism that has become institutionalised over a period of years. Sangat literally means to be in company of worshippers or devotees having a religious bent of mind.The term ‘Sangat’ came in to usage since the time of Guru Nanak which he often used with reference to his assembled devotees and assigned a special role to it. Wherever he went on his missionary tours he left behind a legacy of sangat. Today any assembly of Sikh worshippers, large or small, is called the Sangat. However, this term Sangat has acquired a broader meaning and purpose with the Gurdwaras, which are acting as community centres as well as places of worship. Now the Sangat is regarded as a very democratic institution. Not only, do the members pray and eat together on the same floor, shedding their sense of ego or individualism, they are also expected to work democratically towards meeting the social and cultural needs of the community. Therefore, for the smooth working of the gurdwaras sangat is expected to exercise not just their freedom of expression and criticise those in authority but alongside, participate in the day to day affairs of managing the affairs of the local Gurdwaras and delibrate upon the issues concerning the functioning of Gurdwaras and the Sikh community actively and most earnestly. It is recognised world-wide that the Sikhs despite being in minority have laid their lives for the righteous cause and with their exemplary bravery and other qualities have obtained positions of eminence and honour so, the legacy has to be followed by all Sikhs in the right spirit.Uplifting one self from the selfishness, ego and personal rivalries is what the gurus have preached and the sangat is expected to perform voluntary services and display the said qualities in the collective interest.Just as aware and enlightened citizenry is important for the good governance of the state in the same way spiritually enlightened sangat determined to guard the religion from being degenerated proves to be an asset for the community and this responsibility lies on the shoulders of all Sikhs. A true Sikh is expected to develop the qualities of head and heart and inculcate the divine virtues in his personality. This would eventually play an important role in the preserving the solidarity and the cohesiveness of the community.
Thus, leaders must understand their moral responsibility towards the community and religion. Leaders lead the masses so they need to understand that their right practices would encourage others to follow their foot-steps hence they should remain morally inclined and ethically oriented. Encouraging the people for their direct involvement would not just embolden the spirit of the people but would also facilitate (the redress of the grievances) adequate, appropriate and timely. Conducting regular meetings with the sangat and their representatives should be encouraged. Two-way communication should be encouraged that would bridge the communication gap and would actually be a step in accordance with the democratic norms and principles. Monthly meetings with the representatives of the sangat on a regular basis can be initiated and encouraged. Moreover the income from various sources and expenditure on the various functions and ceremonies and other activities and routine expenses should be brought in public domain in these meetings in order to avoid the dissemination of wrong information.
The sewadars and the Bhai Sahibs/Granthis should be given appropriate remuneration for the services they perform in order that they are discouraged from indulgence in immoral and unethical conduct. The voluntary contributions made by the sangat in both cash or kind should be used for the providing facilities to the sangat and for betterment of the community. Identifying the poor and needy Sikhs is required. They can be helped through the donations and Daswandh given by the Sikhs. Treating the poor, ailing elderly and children should be the priority, arrangements to provide timely physical, financial and medical care should be there and regular monitoring of their condition can also be done by constituting a committee for such purpose in all the local gurdwaras. Langar sewa or the kar sewa among the community members should be encouraged and this is possible when the leaders themselves participate in these activities and this would also create an informal environment for the healthy interaction of the leaders and the sangat. For effective management of Gurdwaras, the management committee of the gurdwaras can be constituted considering the capabilities of the nominees and task allotted should be likewise. Above all, the gursikhs who have knowledge of Gurmat, Sikh traditions or Sikh history and also, observe the Sikh rehat should be the members of the governing committees.
There is a need to revisit challenges in the management of gurdwaras and Sikh affairs and introduce necessary changes and above all inculcate high moral conduct and abide by the values as shown by our ten gurus and stay firm in standing against those who aim to authoritatively control the Sikhs and also the Gurdwaras. The need of the hour is that the principles and practices of the Gurdwara Management are to be those espoused by Sikh faith and Gurmat tradition. The maintenance of Sikh ethos and values and preserving the sanctity of the religion is a responsibility of all of us and not of just few limited members which indeed should be our first priority so that a small community of ours continues to make its place in the present day societies and in future as well and live with pride and dignity.
Thus, not only the Sikh leaders or those paid to maintain the gurdwaras are to be dedicated rather it is expected that the entire Sikh community should be dedicated to the Sikh cause and work with the zeal of selfless service, without selfish and vested interests, in co-ordination with one another. The collaborative efforts of all are required for the smooth working of gurdwaras and for resolving the issues that the Sikhs in particular face. Following the message of the holy granth and inculacting the right practices would be a right way to offer our homage to our gurus so every word needs to be followed in both letter and spirit. So, when a Sikh bows before the holy scripture he/she needs to take the vow of keeping the sanctity of the religion intact by developing the inward discipline of love, faith, mercy and humility expressed in righteous and compassionate deeds and in the upholding of all that is true.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2017, All