Are our Gurdwaras dividing us?

In recent months I have witnessed the ceremonial openings of three new Gurdwaras in the Central Valley area. The number of new Gurdwaras are continually growing. Some people may applaud this action as an indicator of our success for having the ability to build million dollar Gurdwaras. But is this the right direction for our community to be heading?

gurdwara.JPGBy building more Gurdwaras, we are dispersing as a community rather than emerging as one. Growing up in the UK, all the people we knew growing up attended the one Gurdwara in our town. After some time, the space capacity was too constrained and people began complaining about not being able to sit with the Sangat. Since there was no additional space around this Gurdwara, there wasn’t any expansion work that could be performed. As a consequence, another group opened a new Gurdwara in the same town which fufilled the capacity issues, since it was almost three times larger. So slowly the Sangat at the smaller Gurdwara began to dwindle due to more and more people attending the larger Gurdwara.

Why wasn’t it possible for the community to come together and move as a “whole” to the larger Gurdwara? In the Central Valley there are so many choices of Gurdwaras to attend, but I personally feel this is dividing us. Politics and ego are at play when these associations and groups get together to begin implementing a “bigger, better, more expensive” Gurdwara.

Have any of you witnessed similar divisions happening within your communities and Gurdwaras in your area? Do any of you think this is a positive progression? Is there anything we can do as a younger generation to unite the community?


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25 Responses to “Are our Gurdwaras dividing us?”

  1. sizzle says:

    it'd be great if sangats stayed together. but often times, that's when the fights start, most of the time because of egos and politics. but why do the egos and politics gain a foothold? existing divisions in the community.

    i think when a sangat is small enough, people tend to associate and stay together because they must. once the size of sangats start to reach a certain threshhold, factions begin to form. whether these factions are based socially, professionally, religiosity, or whether they're based on how they believe a gurudwara should be run, people suddenly have those who feel similarly on which to rely or support, and the incentive to just "get along" diminishes. divisions form and people start to look to break away.

    this does cause the community to disperse, but at the same time, i think its healthier. looking to religious communities that have been in place for far longer, churches and synagogues are already split along similar lines, and it is healthier for the congregations. as far as the strength of the overall community, it is, of course, crucial that the leaders of sangats or gurdwaras coordinate to ensure that collective interests relating to the outside world are represented well.

    almost all of the acrimonious splits i've witnessed or heard about occur because of baggage that our parents' generation brings from India. there are such differences in background, i can barely imagine many of them sitting down for a cup of cha, let alone running a gurudwara. but, they did it – until they didn't have to. i can't help but wonder if the situation will change as they start to fade out of control, and our generation, which has had to fight battles externally and despite our differences, can put them aside to simply run a gurudwara…which when you think about it, isn't that difficult once egos and baggage are put aside.

  2. sizzle says:

    it’d be great if sangats stayed together. but often times, that’s when the fights start, most of the time because of egos and politics. but why do the egos and politics gain a foothold? existing divisions in the community.

    i think when a sangat is small enough, people tend to associate and stay together because they must. once the size of sangats start to reach a certain threshhold, factions begin to form. whether these factions are based socially, professionally, religiosity, or whether they’re based on how they believe a gurudwara should be run, people suddenly have those who feel similarly on which to rely or support, and the incentive to just “get along” diminishes. divisions form and people start to look to break away.

    this does cause the community to disperse, but at the same time, i think its healthier. looking to religious communities that have been in place for far longer, churches and synagogues are already split along similar lines, and it is healthier for the congregations. as far as the strength of the overall community, it is, of course, crucial that the leaders of sangats or gurdwaras coordinate to ensure that collective interests relating to the outside world are represented well.

    almost all of the acrimonious splits i’ve witnessed or heard about occur because of baggage that our parents’ generation brings from India. there are such differences in background, i can barely imagine many of them sitting down for a cup of cha, let alone running a gurudwara. but, they did it – until they didn’t have to. i can’t help but wonder if the situation will change as they start to fade out of control, and our generation, which has had to fight battles externally and despite our differences, can put them aside to simply run a gurudwara…which when you think about it, isn’t that difficult once egos and baggage are put aside.

  3. Phulkari says:

    Thanks Anandica … your post really made me think about the Door To Our Guru!

    Everyone check out the Jakara 2008 Conference on this very topic … it's taking place from June 19-22, 2008! Register NOW to bring your thoughts to face-to-face conversations with other Punjabi Sikh youth (18-30 years old) concerned about our Gurdwaras!

    Sizzle,

    Your point on our generation managing our Gurdwaras is very important.

    i can’t help but wonder if the situation will change as they start to fade out of control, and our generation, which has had to fight battles externally and despite our differences, can put them aside to simply run a gurudwara…which when you think about it, isn’t that difficult once egos and baggage are put aside.

    Yes, once these egos and baggage are put aside it should be easier, but I ask are we really any different from our parents’ generation in this regard? Is the “icing” different, but the cake is still the same? A friend once said that our parents have Gurdwaras and we have Bhangra teams.

    Maybe some of us can sit at a table and have a “nice” conversation with each other, but I wonder if fundamentally there is any difference between our egos/baggage and theirs? I have seen our generation come together and begin to do wonderful forms of seva, but I have also seen how divisive we can be. Maybe I just being too pessimistic …

  4. Phulkari says:

    Thanks Anandica … your post really made me think about the Door To Our Guru!

    Everyone check out the Jakara 2008 Conference on this very topic … it’s taking place from June 19-22, 2008! Register NOW to bring your thoughts to face-to-face conversations with other Punjabi Sikh youth (18-30 years old) concerned about our Gurdwaras!

    Sizzle,

    Your point on our generation managing our Gurdwaras is very important.

    i cant help but wonder if the situation will change as they start to fade out of control, and our generation, which has had to fight battles externally and despite our differences, can put them aside to simply run a gurudwarawhich when you think about it, isnt that difficult once egos and baggage are put aside.

    Yes, once these egos and baggage are put aside it should be easier, but I ask are we really any different from our parents generation in this regard? Is the icing different, but the cake is still the same? A friend once said that our parents have Gurdwaras and we have Bhangra teams.

    Maybe some of us can sit at a table and have a nice conversation with each other, but I wonder if fundamentally there is any difference between our egos/baggage and theirs? I have seen our generation come together and begin to do wonderful forms of seva, but I have also seen how divisive we can be. Maybe I just being too pessimistic

  5. Mewa Singh says:

    Growing up in the UK, all the people we knew growing up attended the one Gurdwara in our town. After some time, the space capacity was too constrained and people began complaining about not being able to sit with the Sangat.

    Anandica, I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments, but I wonder if even in those areas that have larger Gurdwaras, such as the UK or even the Bay Area, if something else is at play.

    I don't buy that the 'water' of Central California is different argument and thus the proliferation of Gurdwaras is something unique to the area (I know this is not what you are trying to say.)

    However, I do wonder if the phenomenon in Central California has to do with the size of the community as well as the price and abundance of relatively cheaper land. Real-estate prices and lack of the necessary land, make such proliferation untenable in the UK and the Bay Area. Maybe this is a pessimistic view, but I wonder that without these constraints if communities in the UK and the Bay would continually fragment, just like we see in Central California?

  6. Mewa Singh says:

    Growing up in the UK, all the people we knew growing up attended the one Gurdwara in our town. After some time, the space capacity was too constrained and people began complaining about not being able to sit with the Sangat.

    Anandica, I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments, but I wonder if even in those areas that have larger Gurdwaras, such as the UK or even the Bay Area, if something else is at play.

    I don’t buy that the ‘water’ of Central California is different argument and thus the proliferation of Gurdwaras is something unique to the area (I know this is not what you are trying to say.)

    However, I do wonder if the phenomenon in Central California has to do with the size of the community as well as the price and abundance of relatively cheaper land. Real-estate prices and lack of the necessary land, make such proliferation untenable in the UK and the Bay Area. Maybe this is a pessimistic view, but I wonder that without these constraints if communities in the UK and the Bay would continually fragment, just like we see in Central California?

  7. V says:

    Some Gurdwaras in the Northern California region tend to separate because of other reasons..

    1) Feuding "Commitee's" whom can't come to an agreement on certain issues

    2) Caste differences

    A Gurdwara should be caste free and anyone who wishes to attend.. can, however, this isn't always the case. Is this the case for some in the UK?

  8. V says:

    Some Gurdwaras in the Northern California region tend to separate because of other reasons..
    1) Feuding “Commitee’s” whom can’t come to an agreement on certain issues
    2) Caste differences

    A Gurdwara should be caste free and anyone who wishes to attend.. can, however, this isn’t always the case. Is this the case for some in the UK?

  9. Maestro says:

    I do wonder if the phenomenon in Central California has to do with the size of the community as well as the price and abundance of relatively cheaper land

    So, Mewa Singh, cheaper land makes it okay to build Gurdwara on top of Gurdwara?

  10. Mewa Singh says:

    Maestro,

    By no means was I trying to be prescriptive, only descriptive of the existing situation.

    I do believe that it is an unfortunate phenomenon. As I said:

    Maybe this is a pessimistic view, but I wonder that without these constraints if communities in the UK and the Bay would continually fragment, just like we see in Central California?

  11. Maestro says:

    I do wonder if the phenomenon in Central California has to do with the size of the community as well as the price and abundance of relatively cheaper land

    So, Mewa Singh, cheaper land makes it okay to build Gurdwara on top of Gurdwara?

  12. Mewa Singh says:

    Maestro,

    By no means was I trying to be prescriptive, only descriptive of the existing situation.

    I do believe that it is an unfortunate phenomenon. As I said:

    Maybe this is a pessimistic view, but I wonder that without these constraints if communities in the UK and the Bay would continually fragment, just like we see in Central California?

  13. Suki says:

    How is caste divided among punjabi's sikh in the Canada/USA.

    Only couple years ago at the age of 28, I found out that I was a jatt. I could care less that I'm a jatt, but to many others in the community that is more important to them then being a sikh I have noticed.

  14. Suki says:

    How is caste divided among punjabi’s sikh in the Canada/USA.

    Only couple years ago at the age of 28, I found out that I was a jatt. I could care less that I’m a jatt, but to many others in the community that is more important to them then being a sikh I have noticed.

  15. confused says:

    I don't know if it's important for large communities to go to the same gurdwara. What is achieved from that? Yeah you have big programs … but do people really get closer together… do they get further in their spiritual paths? In the old times, original days of the development of the Sikh community, I mean in the 1500's and 1600's, do you think there were large sangats? i don't know… perhaps only every village of a few hundred people had their own sangat.

  16. confused says:

    I don’t know if it’s important for large communities to go to the same gurdwara. What is achieved from that? Yeah you have big programs … but do people really get closer together… do they get further in their spiritual paths? In the old times, original days of the development of the Sikh community, I mean in the 1500’s and 1600’s, do you think there were large sangats? i don’t know… perhaps only every village of a few hundred people had their own sangat.

  17. Kaptaan says:

    I don't understand what you have against a group of Sikhs wanting to build a Gurdwara for any given reason. So what if one group of Sikhs wants to build a Gurdwara and not attend the same one as other people.

    This is America. People are free to do what they like within the law. More Gurdwaras the merrier as far as I'm concerned. People will have more choice of venue and convenience for going to worship or hold a religious function. If they don't like the way one is run, they can go to the other.

    Where I live, there are at least 5-6 Gurdwaras within a 20 minute driving distance. I attend at least 4 of them on any given occasion. One of them has a Gatka program that is convenient, the other has a gym, another is 2 minutes away by car or 20 minutes by foot to drop in and listen to kirtan for me or my family, and another has kirtan programs for kids and lots of halls that can be booked for any religious program that I want to hold.

    I don't really see what your problem is with people exercising their right to build a Gurdwara. The Sangat is better served if they have more choice in my opinion.

    Smaller Gurdwaras allow for people to get familiar with each more so than larger Gurdwaras as far as I'm concerned.

    Kaptaan.

  18. Kaptaan says:

    I don’t understand what you have against a group of Sikhs wanting to build a Gurdwara for any given reason. So what if one group of Sikhs wants to build a Gurdwara and not attend the same one as other people.

    This is America. People are free to do what they like within the law. More Gurdwaras the merrier as far as I’m concerned. People will have more choice of venue and convenience for going to worship or hold a religious function. If they don’t like the way one is run, they can go to the other.

    Where I live, there are at least 5-6 Gurdwaras within a 20 minute driving distance. I attend at least 4 of them on any given occasion. One of them has a Gatka program that is convenient, the other has a gym, another is 2 minutes away by car or 20 minutes by foot to drop in and listen to kirtan for me or my family, and another has kirtan programs for kids and lots of halls that can be booked for any religious program that I want to hold.

    I don’t really see what your problem is with people exercising their right to build a Gurdwara. The Sangat is better served if they have more choice in my opinion.

    Smaller Gurdwaras allow for people to get familiar with each more so than larger Gurdwaras as far as I’m concerned.

    Kaptaan.

  19. Camille says:

    Kaptaan, your post makes me wonder, what is this "right" to build a gurdwara? I'm just curious because I've never heard it framed that way; I often hear people discuss their right to a sangat, a community, to create initiatives, etc., but not to build 1000 gurdwaras.

    I guess my concern is more about resources and resource division. I remember when my sangat grew exponentially and expanded. On one hand, I think it was the "right" thing to do; however, there were immediate disagreements on what should go into an expansion, what rooms should be included/excluded, whether the gurdwara should have been relocated to a more accessible location, etc. And the "intimacy" of gurdwara was certainly lost. To preserve that feeling of closeness, I can see why people may prefer several smaller gurdwaras (with smaller sangats). I think sizzle's point — re: egos and personal disagreements, and as another commenter mentioned, caste/identity — really resonates with many of the gurdwara expansions and new buildings in the Central Valley. I do think more urban areas are somewhat cost-constrained (although this is not always to the strength or benefit of the gurdwara community).

    I don't know where this leads, but it really makes me think about where we spend our money, also. Is it worth putting in a couple million for new buildings, etc., or what if people expanded or changed existing structures and then used those funds for seva and community initiatives? Personally, I would prefer to see priorities shift towards the latter.

  20. Camille says:

    Kaptaan, your post makes me wonder, what is this “right” to build a gurdwara? I’m just curious because I’ve never heard it framed that way; I often hear people discuss their right to a sangat, a community, to create initiatives, etc., but not to build 1000 gurdwaras.

    I guess my concern is more about resources and resource division. I remember when my sangat grew exponentially and expanded. On one hand, I think it was the “right” thing to do; however, there were immediate disagreements on what should go into an expansion, what rooms should be included/excluded, whether the gurdwara should have been relocated to a more accessible location, etc. And the “intimacy” of gurdwara was certainly lost. To preserve that feeling of closeness, I can see why people may prefer several smaller gurdwaras (with smaller sangats). I think sizzle’s point — re: egos and personal disagreements, and as another commenter mentioned, caste/identity — really resonates with many of the gurdwara expansions and new buildings in the Central Valley. I do think more urban areas are somewhat cost-constrained (although this is not always to the strength or benefit of the gurdwara community).

    I don’t know where this leads, but it really makes me think about where we spend our money, also. Is it worth putting in a couple million for new buildings, etc., or what if people expanded or changed existing structures and then used those funds for seva and community initiatives? Personally, I would prefer to see priorities shift towards the latter.

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  23. justasikh says:

    It's well said that for every 5 sikhs there are 6 organizations. Gurdwaras, leadership and sangat that can't unite people are ultimately participating in division.

    Alternatively, if Gurdwaras are businesses, and we took Kaptaan's idea (and a good one at that) and let the sangat vote with their dollars, based on quality of programs, etc., could we have something? Interesting idea. We do get upset about the phony babas making all this money. No one seems to be upset about giving money to organizations that are not providing any relevant programs or services to the upcoming generation.

    If my gurdwara had a gym, I'd easily donate. Now, I don't even matha dekh a dime. But I won't tell anyone that. :) Instead I give it away to those of other backgrounds that distribute meals to the needy instead of making jolly punjabis jollier with heart disease and diabetes.

    I don't feel my Guru's work is being done there. Even in the time of Guru Gobind Singh, he dealt with the exact same issues and issued an edict for all monies to go directly to Anandpur Sahib, where he was. This is not a new problem, it's over 300 years old.

  24. justasikh says:

    It's well said that for every 5 sikhs there are 6 organizations. Gurdwaras, leadership and sangat that can't unite people are ultimately participating in division.

    Alternatively, if Gurdwaras are businesses, and we took Kaptaan's idea (and a good one at that) and let the sangat vote with their dollars, based on quality of programs, etc., could we have something? Interesting idea. We do get upset about the phony babas making all this money. No one seems to be upset about giving money to organizations that are not providing any relevant programs or services to the upcoming generation.

    If my gurdwara had a gym, I'd easily donate. Now, I don't even matha dekh a dime. But I won't tell anyone that. :) Instead I give it away to those of other backgrounds that distribute meals to the needy instead of making jolly punjabis jollier with heart disease and diabetes.

    I don't feel my Guru's work is being done there. Even in the time of Guru Gobind Singh, he dealt with the exact same issues and issued an edict for all monies to go directly to Anandpur Sahib, where he was. This is not a new problem, it's over 300 years old.