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Gur Panth Parkash

Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh

 

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GURDWARAS  AND SIKH PREACHERS (GRANTHIS)

Col Avtar Singh

Dr. I.J. Singh has drawn attention (Sikh Review Dec 2012)  to a very vital issue of Sikhism and its re-structuring. The training, employment and wages, of Granthis have been neglected for too long.

Any type of training, more so of Granthis / Katha Vachaks, requires a professional model , to ensure consistency of quality. This quality is achieved by building a body of knowledge, carefully training people in that knowledge and then requiring aspirants to show expertise in that knowledge.

Unfortunately, there is no widely agreed curriculum for the Sikh preachers (Granthis /Katha Vachaks); their training is brief and slipshod, criteria for passing examination non-existent. Majority of the persons opting for this cadre of Sikh preachers are hardly educated above the secondary level with very poor communication skills, lack of missionary zeal and ambitious career aspirations.

Although a number of Sikh Missionary Colleges have sprung up in Punjab during the last decade, but there is neither any common  syllabus nor fixed duration of training nor even standard examination system. There is no minimum eligibility criterion for teachers. There is no Sikh institutional body for proper gradation of their performance.

I recollect, in the pre partition days there were examinations conducted by the Punjab University of Lahore in Giani which was equivalent to graduation in Punjabi. There were two lower exams, Budhimani and Vidmani. No one was appointed even an assistant Granthi unless he was at least Giani Pass.

Things have changed for the worse since then. The Shaheed Sikh Missionary College at Amritsar, established by the SGPC came into being for training of Granthis and Kirtanias, has remained a neglected institution. The number of trainees and facilities has remained the same in the last eight decades. Unfortunately, no attention has been paid by SGPC or its Dharam Parchar Committee towards this vital issue.

Lack of proper training and knowledge of Sikh scriptures and Sikh history of our Granthis is clearly evident today.

Three distinct incidents come to my mind which expose the utter inadequacy of the prevailing system of conducting the daily service in our Gurdwaras today.

First, it was the post 9/11 assemblies for prayers for the departed. One such function in Markham (Toronto) was organised by the Municipal Corporation. Representatives from all the religions had been invited and asked to speak. Whereas the representatives of Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Budhists, made very impressive well prepared speeches in English followed by short few words of prayer; our religious representatives (the Granthis) recited the typical Ardas in Punjabi only. It left a very poor impression about our religion on the assembly.

Second incident is about two young men, who were attending the Gurdwara with their parents since their childhood regularly. The boys grew up and joined the University necessitating their stay in the hostel. They came home on some week ends. Other weekends they stayed in the hostel only, completing assignments and having fun with their friends. One Sunday, when the boy came home, he told his mother ”Mom we know Guru Granth Sahib is our Guru and we go to the Gurdwara only, but twice I have gone with my friends to the Mandir and have learnt something on each visit; whereas in the Gurdwara we visit but do not learn any thing”. The whole program is in Punjabi alone.

This is because all other religions have made appropriate changes. Their priests are well-educated, qualified to take questions from the audience and communicate back with them in English in a rational manner.

Third incident depicts the state of our so called Missionary Colleges. A few years ago, the News papers reported about a strike in a Missionary college. The boys complained about the poor quality of food and their being sent to people’s homes to do Akhand Paths, instead of attending classes. The money from Akhand Paths went to the college authorities.

All the three incidents are self explanatory and highlight different aspects of the same grave problem.

For a good Sikh preachers (Granthi /katha vachak) of today, the following should be the minimum requirements:

1.   Good basic education. It helps develop rational thinking, sharpness of mind and analytical capacity. and sufficient communication skill.
2.   Good knowledge of the text of Shri Guru Granth Sahib
3.   A deep understanding of Sikh Theology, based on teachings enshrined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
4.   A detailed knowledge of lives of  Sikh Guru Sahiban .
5.   Good knowledge of Sikh history.
6.   Good knowledge of other world religions.
7.   Good proficiency atleast in one foreign language like English, French, Spanish, Arabic for those who want to work abroad and an Indian language like Tamil, Telgu Bengali, Assamese, Hindi for those working in India.
8.   Proper communication skills
9.   Training in Ethics, moral code and capacity to interact with other people.
10.  A Granthi is also expected to be a role model for others and be also a confidant of members of the sangat.

A Christian Missionary takes 8-10 years of hard study and training before he is ordained as a Padri in a church. In Sikh system, any one can become a Granthi without any training.

When one speaks to some of them on the subject of their training, usual answer is that he had this bent of mind since childhood, came into the sangat of so and so Baba ji and it is Baba ji’sblessings.

One thought that with the establishment of Shri Guru Granth Sahib World Sikh University (SGGSWU) at Fathegarh Sahib, most of these inadequacies would be addressed. But I was sadly mistaken. Though the SGGSIS University is being funded solely by the SGPC, i.e., Sikh Sangat,  its functioning is just like any other Indian University of the country.

A look at the departments of the University sill prove my contention. Here is the information as obtained from the web site of the University. These are:

1. School of Guru Granth Sahib  Studies
2. School of Basic and Applied Sciences
3. School of Engineering
4. School of Emerging Technologies
5. School of commerce and Management
6. School of Economics
7. School of Social Sciences
8. School of performing Arts
9. School of Education and Sports

Out of a total of nine schools, only one school deals with Guru Granth Sahib studies. The other eight departments could as well be part of any other university in the country.

Why name it as Guru Granth Sahib International University and Why fund it by the SGPC i.e. Sikh Sangat? The university could as well be Fateh Garh Sahib University just like any other university of Punjab, funded by the Government of Punjab.

In my humble opinion, SGGSIS University should have the following schools, if it is to serve the desired purpose.

1. School of SGGS studies
Today Ph.D. research on Sikh religion is being done by many scholars in different parts of the world. This research work is being done under guides and evaluators who do not understand fully the Sikh faith or the Gurbani enshrined in SGGS. This should provide an opportunity for proper research under learned scholars.

2. School of Sikh History studies
So much needs to be unearthed in Sikh History. Sikh history is being distorted and misinterpreted. There is an urgent need to write an authentic Sikh history. As it is, it was either written by the rulers of the day or those who wanted to destroy us and our identity as an independent religion. There is an urgent need for writing Sikh history based on Sikh ideology and Sikh heritage.

3. School of Comparative Religions.
Need for comparative study of different religions, particularly by Sikh scholars and Granthis cannot be overemphasised. If we want to establish our presence (Pehchan) in the world, our scholars have to be competent enough to take part in world religious meets and conferences and be capable of having meaningful, persuasive and convincing dialogue with all others, based on Gurbani.

4. School of Translation of SGGS in all World and Indian Languages.
The world today is a global village. The message of universality, diversity and oneness of  the creator and equality of human race enshrined in SGGS can only be spread, if we have SGGS translated into all major languages of the world. This is a major but most essential task for missionary work. Also, to evaluate existing English translations on an accepted theological (Bhav meaning) form is required.

5. School of Sikh Missionary Institutions
Firstly, there is need to have a top class Sikh Missionary college, which can meet the requirements of the Sikh Faith, both in quality and quantity. The admission criteria should be at least a graduate with four years of extensive study and training program in Sikh theology, Sikh ideology, Sikh history and pedagogy.

Secondly, a central affiliating body should be entrusted the responsibility of coordinating the working of all existing Missionary colleges, to bring them at par with the desired knowledge base, admission criteria, duration of training, testing , evaluation and certification.

6. School of Languages
The school should have facilities for study of different languages. It will prove an important link with schools like that of translation and missionary training.  From the time of Guru Nanak (1469 AD) to 1849 till the time  British rule was established in Punjab, the official language of Punjab was Persian. In other words all the Sikh history as recorded by court recorders or other authors is in Persian. For proper missionary activity. This school should impart multi-lingual training to the incumbents.

7. School of  Gurdwara Management
SGPC was created in 1925 for efficient management of Sikh Gurdwaras and propagation of Sikh Religion.. It did a wonderful job for the first 25 years. Then onwards, it started getting politicised, to the detriment of its main charter. For the past half a century, it is being called the mini parliament of Sikhs. Its members are mostly budding politicians with no knowledge or interest in Sikhi or its well being and propagation.

No wonder in the elections to SGPC today, all known corrupt practices like muscle and money power, alcohol, drugs and other conceivable unethical and immoral practices are being resorted to win elections. Candidates are selected on the basis of their winability rather than on the basis of a good moral character and Gurmat orientation.

Under such a body, gurdwara management has taken a beating. Gurdwaras instead of being centres of gurmat learning are becoming centres of karam kands.

A good training program for gurdwara managers and research in the field may help us reverse the situation.

8. School of Gurus lives
There are too many imaginary (Man-Gharat)  stories associated with lives of Guru Sahibans.  It is very important to separate facts from mythological  fiction. This school has its work cut out.

9. School of Communications and Multimedia.
As mentioned earlier, communication skills are very important for an effective missionary.  Media is an efficient and effective tool, use of which by Granthis must be introduced.

There can be many other ideas and suggestions.  The main point is that the SGGSW University should work for the advancement of Sikh thought and theology. Mere naming the University on Sri Guru Granth Sahib does not serve any purpose.

Any training can bear fruit only if the training is utilised, i.e., the pass outs from these institutions are employed. SGPC should revert back to its practice of employing as preachers (granthis/parcharaks)  from among those who have a proper training and certification.

Proper career advancement, respectable wages and commensurate perks must be worked out and implemented for those joining this career.

To conclude, preparing a well-trained cadre of Sikh preachers with a sound professional training and qualification, proper placement, adequate wage structure, respectable service conditions is the utmost need of the hour if we wish a proper preaching and propagation of Sikh religion within our own community as well as the world at large.

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