The Gurudwara Experience – Spring Cleaning Part 3
May 18, 2012 § Leave a comment
Guru Piarey Jio,
When we look around at our local Gurdwaras, we ask ourselves this question, “What will change in one year?” Nothing…maybe a famous kirtani or two will come and go, a nagar kirtan or two, (crowded masses jostling for space feeling Gurpurbs have been ‘celebrated’.
One thing will have changed. The 10 year old is now off to secondary school, the 17 year old is now off to university. The 21 year old is now off to work. Basically, whole lives are changing but the western Gurdwaras continue failing to fulfil even the basics it’s supposed to provide, Sangat and Pangat.
Pangat: It’s food for the fed. Its not designed for the poor and homeless. You will not get offered a bed, nor a shower and clean clothes. If you have problems and want some counselling, you’re on your own.
Sangat: If you’re interested in Sikhi, there is no introductory course to learn the basics, no leaflets to take home, little or few regular Punjabi/santhya classes, no videos you can watch, no regular youth darbar with English katha (discourse). If you want to learn Kirtan, there are no full time teachers, no Raag ustaads, no tabla maestros, nothing to get you to become part of the renaissance in Sikh music happening around the world.
Sangat for the future (Youth): Kirtan programmes (if they exist) are shunted to the periphery after the normal Sangat leaves. The Gurdwara committee will require all projectors, leaflets etc to be provided for by the youth, but insist that all ‘bheta’ (donations) will go the Gurdwara fund.
Current Gurdwara experience
If you’re born into an average Punjabi Sikh family, this is roughly what your Gurdwara experience is like. Go in, Matha tek to something you’ve never read or looked at, listen to music you dont understand whilst sitting and eating tasty parshad and checking who else is in the Sangat that you know. Sit mainly still whilst texting, playing on the phone or whispering to your cousins until the parents decide they’ve sat for long enough and then it’s time to go to the Langar hall. This bit is fun, langar always tastes good plus depends who’s sponsored it this time. You long since learnt to ignore the paintings hanging around the langar hall as they seem brutal and no one ever explained them to you. Once you’ve had langar and enjoyed the sweet pudding of that day, you can chat to your cousins, play with nephews and nieces and wait until the parents decide enough time has been spent doing the family religious obligations and it’s to head home. During this time, if you’re lucky, you may have wondered, what is the music being sung or paat being read, and perhaps even about what is the philosophy of Sikhi, but mostly you’ve stopped asking that because no one answers those questions and as far as you know, just be a good person and be proud of your Punjabi warrior past.
We often wonder what Guru Nanak or Guru Arjan would think if they walked into a Gurudwara nowadays. Most of all, I think they would be appalled that we never even had a vision of what the Gurudwara is meant to be. Here is our vision of what Gurdwara could be like.
Gurudwara Vision and Ideas
Imagine a Gurudwara where before you even enter, outside the Gurdwara are some large posters with some beautifully presented quotes of gurbani translation, like “Why do you call woman low, from whom kings are born”, or “The best religion of all is pure actions and meditating on Gods name”, “Listen everyone one, I speak the truth, only those who love will get to God”. Then when you go inside the Gurudwara, you see an information desk, where you can take a number of leaflets free of charge, you can ask for a tour of the gurudwara. If you wish, there is a TC and headphones to view a short video introduction to the Gurudwara and also to Sikhi. You’re already surprised, then you go upstairs to darbar hall and you hear beautiful raag kirtan, on stringed instruments with mesmerising tabla beats. The sound is so so amazing and the atmosphere so peaceful and blissful, you feel like you’re in a small part of heaven. The sangat is singing the words and you can see the translations above. The kirtanees don’t look like a professional jatha, just local sangat and you can see they are doing this purely from love. Then another layperson explains the deep meaning of the shabad in English and Punjabi, and then she says that today, right now, through this raag kirtan and sangat, you are meant to have a spiritual experience and awaken your soul. You feel excited and a little scared, but the music starts and you start singing with it and soon those glorious words of love begin to feel real and you can feel the love around you and there…the bliss and joy and love start pouring through you, you eyes start to weep, you feel so blessed, you feel like a huge part of you that you never knew existed has suddenly come to life and its so beautiful. Then the kirtan ends and everyone does ardaas. The person leading the ardaas tells everyone that this is the time to ask for Guru’s guidance and that the hukamnama that will come after will contain Guruji’s answer. You beg for some guidance and wisdom in your life and then when they read out the hukamnama, its explained in English as well and you can see that your Guru heard your pleas and he blessed you. You feel full of tears and hopes and love and bliss. Suddenly Guru Granth Sahib ji feels like your Guru and it can respond to you. When you bow to Guru Granth sahib ji now, you feel so thankful, so blessed and when your forehead touches the ground, you feel a profound desire to throw yourself at your Guru’s feet, to give yourself to Guru. A relationship of servant and master, of teacher and disciples has just been born.
When you go downstairs to langar, you pop into the library and see lots of books on Sikh spirituality, and posters for courses in Punjabi, in kirtan, tabla, and also an introductory course in Sikhi. You sign up for those times that fit, wanting to learn more and then you’re told there is also a Sunday darbar and a longer monthly darbar where there will be such kirtan and katha. You borrow a book for the course. You then see that there is a big seva board up. You can see that there are langar runs to the homeless, an actual homeless shelter that the Gurdwara runs, drug counselling, a small medical centre, women’s shelter, volunteers places abroad with charities, education for people to improve IT and English skills, opportunities if you want to help kids study in evenings and also classes on self-defence at the Gurdwara gym where you can work out too. You can see so many people getting involved with the Gurdwara, doing seva of society. You can feel the buzz in the Gurdwara and it’s infectious, you can see so many non-punjabis who are involved in learning about Sikhi and doing Seva. You don’t know where you are, you feel like you’ve just been transported to planet SachKhand. Through the Guru’s door you walked, not knowing what joy you were to receive…..”
Guru Piarey jio, if the vision above inspired you, ask yourself why isn’t every Gurdwara like this? Our next post will be our most ambitious. May Vaheguru bless the panth and the panth sing of Vaheguru.