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The Golden Edifices

Gajindar Singh

The gold-washed shining cupolas and marble-laid pavilions of our gurdwaras beckon the faithful to enter therein with a sense of pride and belonging, which is, indeed, their objective, to create and sustain among the faithful, a confidence and optimism along with devotion. Much has been written in criticism of the construction-Babas for using resources of the community for erection of massive edifices. The common devotee does feel satisfaction and elation that his place of worship is in no way less attractive and glamorous than others'. It reinforces his relationship with the Guru. To understand this phenomenon, you may detect as much pride as dedication, if not more so, in those who escort their relatives and friends to the shimmering beauty of the Durbar Sahib at Amritsar and other equally magnificent prayer halls. The display of huge posters of various shrines across the world with their typical Sikh architecture gives a sense of identity and security to the ordinary Sikh, which has been achieved by the kar-seva rendered by the construction-Babas, one after the other. Of course the Babas could have done it more meaningfully, without inflicting damage to the nation's heritage values, had they been adequately counselled by those who allowed them rather a free hand. Nevertheless, the aesthetics of a place of worship does create an atmosphere of serenity and meditation.

The trend of the construction activity is not a recent occurrence. Our revered Gurus embarked on an ambitious project to create huge complexes at Goindwal, Tarn Taran, Amritsar and Anandpur Sahib, to mention a few. Many other centers mushroomed with the flourishing of the Sikh movement. During the Sikh rule, not only were superb buildings erected but provided large endowments for their upkeep. Splendid buildings were created at Sri Amritsar, Nankana Sahib, Hazur Sahib, Punja Sahib, Patna Sahib, Tarn Taran and many other locations.

To expect the construction Babas to diversify their energies to more vital sectors of religious training and spiritual upliftment of the sangat, or in the educational field and technical research projects, hospitals and health programs is not fair. Their expertise is confined to construction activity only. There are the education-wala Babas and medical Babas and kirtan Babas who do service according to their chosen field. Their vision is, of course, blurred according to their limited education and revelation. And those who scream at the top of their voices may rather explain why the Babas were not strictly checked in the initial stages on their distorting the approved code of conduct, the Panthic Rehat Maryada and why more competent agencies were not activated to take up the vital welfare programs for which funds are no constraint. What is required is the will and honest devotion to serve the Guru.

There is rampant lethargy and indolence for which we are all responsible. Our Gurdwara management committees should have had exhaustive plans to use massive funds at their disposal for such activities. We are losing opportunities and sliding backwards in comparison to other communities by our lack of initiative and drive. Not only are we losing on vision but our congregations are comparing it with the voluntary efforts of other communities, providing avenues of opportunities and are evaluating our concern (or lack of it) with others. The impact on the simple minded man-in-the-street is quick and lasting, evident in Punjab today. Every other day, there are unsolicited copies of the Bible, well printed and illustrated, Hanuman Chalisia and other Vedic or Yogic literature pushed into one's mail box. The Sikh literature, though more to the point and soul stirring, is very seldom available in that spirit, in spite of people desiring to know about Sikhism. By a massive effort, the Mahants have been got rid of, but the human weakness for converting our gurdwaras into fast-buck-making institutions is keenly alive!

Like the Hebrew nation, the Sikhs have suffered constantly at the hands of aggressive regimes. The Jews learnt their lesson to withstand the resentment of the gentiles, but steadily built the infrastructure for the new generations, in education to excel not only in Sciences, Technology, Economics and Finance, but in creating a harmonized model, equally surpassing in the Fine Arts and Ethics with deep devotion to their national cause. Their intense sensitivity to the repeated holocausts continues to be conveyed to coming generations, to be self-dependent and keep them aware of the fact that there are no permanent friends or foes. Each one has to fend for oneself. It was revealed centuries ago to the Sikhs by their revered Gurus in the maxim: Frighten none; Fear none. Our blood soaked history is repeated each time in our Ardas but the youth need more waking jolts.

Likewise, instead of heeding to all counsels, the Sikhs have ignored the signs of stiff competition and grossly neglected developing the caliber of the youth to counter-match it. In their stark carelessness and ignorance, they prefer consumerism and spending on material comforts. They have not built a defensive mechanism and the coming generations will float to greener pastures and emigrate to make their fortunes. We are already beset with a deep crisis of very few eligible grooms with high education and growth prospects for the aspirations of our better qualified girls who have little choice within the community and drift to alternatives beyond, to marry and settle in life. Conversely, the few well placed young men have a field day to choose their brides, according to their fancy and whims. Divorces and separations are increasing, spreading misery in families due to incompatibility. Many a time one stops by a group of youngsters to ask about their ambitions and objective in life and what the future holds for them. Usually they look sheepish, uninformed, without a clue or set priorities about the dark future in which they have no place or active part to play. Equipping them to face stiff competition in the market is a far cry. For one thing, the transition from the simple agrarian farm life or traditional small scale family business routine to the present day cut-throat competitive scenario is rather too fast a change unless adjustments are made and requisite training imparted to qualify for the struggle ahead. They get no direction from their elders or peers. We have not provided any mechanism to impart guidance and assistance to the youth on mundane as well as spiritual plane.

Our gurdwaras were not mooted as mere prayer halls but were developed as centers to provide advice and support, shelter and food, first aid and meditation to the needy. But these have gradually become dens of meaningless rituals and superstitions. Our Gurus guided the Sikhs to modify their trades and professions to more profitable sources, by which the Vanjaras and other entrepreneurs prospered until the caravan system of communication lasted in peaceful and orderly civic order.

Now our gurdwaras are deficient in all spheres. The priests do not study the scriptures and have no solutions to the problems of their inquisitive and more enquiring congregations. Their sermons are confined to the borrowed puranic themes which have mostly no relevance or bearing to the present dilemma faced by the people around. That source of knowledge which could inspire and aspire to higher achievements is bunged by the incompetence of the Bhaiji, eternally busy with akhand paths of a superstitious crowd, which have become their main lucrative source of income. What is needed is to change the attitude of the custodians of our gurdwaras to play a constructive role. For that, the priest has to be alert and efficient, properly educated, knowledgeable and competent to assume the role of a guide and philosopher to his community and command respect, which at present he totally lacks. He survives on the meager allowance grudgingly paid by those who enjoin undue hardihood and crude lifestyle as the seeming virtues and the destiny of a priest. In fact, the need is for better facilities and emoluments to those who volunteer for that role. Till then, the devotees throng for that ill-service to the ill-trained, semi-literate Babas, who exploit simple folks with immature sermons and plant more superstitions.

That is a typical scenario which requires remedial action as quickly as possible. Such elements only spell narrow mindedness for the revolutionary religion of Guru Nanak who erased ambiguous and pointless traditions and rituals. The Tenth Master foresaw this very virus of Bipran-ki-reet in his famous caution to the Sikhs. Sikhism has roots with Hindu background as much as it imbibed from the Islamic culture and took a decisive turn on its own axis. In the present scenario, however, we are leaning heavily on Hindu roots in total abandonment of the equally rich Islamic extraction.

Instead of the blame game for this decay, for which the young parents of the new generation Sikhs are equally accountable along with the community leadership, let there be remedial spiritual reconstruction. The young parents are themselves incapable of transmitting the spirit of Sikhi to the children and the main prop of an efficient gurdwara system is sorely missing. The entire gamut of information and practice of Sikhi has to be revamped. At the cost of repetition, the onus must be placed on the Gurdwara managements, which should identify the weaknesses in our system and strengthen the failings at the earliest. Despite modern educational facilities, the urge for more research and deeper understanding of the accomplished youth to explain gursikhi, the Sikh spirit is ebbing, their strength of conviction is fading and the unique upbeat, optimistic nature of the Eighteenth Century warriors is missing. The present-day Sikh is wanting in the mystique of Guru Nanak’s total discipline of ‘Hukm.’ After Guru Nanak, the charisma of Hukm was practiced by all succeeding Masters till Guru Gobind Singh invoked the whole and unquestioning obedience of the Sikh, all over again. The modern educated youth has little value for history. He takes Hukm as blind faith. He calls it fundamentalism in copy of other religious disciplines. He also fiddles with reinterpretation of Gurbani to suit himself. Guru Nanak built the edifice of Sikhi on Hukm. That charm and strength of total dedication and whole hearted restraint and never-say-die is gone from his character which brought the Sikhs laurels in the battlefield as well as in the agrarian and business ventures and entrepreneurial skills based on that confidence which comes with faith. Without the discipline of Hukm, even a marginal entrepreneur finds it hard to progress.

The Gurus always appointed worthy persons to disseminate the cause and source of Sikhi to the congregations. Such an efficient religious pivot is the need of the hour. While we claim the disbandment of professional priesthood in Sikhism, our ill-paid granthis are a pitiable lot. It should not weaken our guidance about the buoyant Sikh angle of its philosophy to our lay members. Let us work out a role model of the true representative of Sikhi in each Gurdwara for a uniform spread of the Gur-sabd and healthy traditions as our bid for the coming generations.


ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2009, All rights reserved.