Granthis and compensation: de facto clergy?

This recent article about a granthi in Leeds suing for unfair dismissal brought me back to the topic of granthis in general. Given Sikhi’s very clear edict AGAINST the institution of a clergy, I always found it distressing to see whole gurdwaras managed and oragnized by hired granthis. If a sangat (or gurdwara) was too big to function on seva, hadn’t it possibly grown beyond its equilibrium? I always felt uneasy about high-profile (and high cost!) guest granthis, specialized sermons, and other performance-based methods in the gurdwara. Not to mention really distressed that lecturing and sermonizing often extended services and, in my opinion, often drew away from time spent in reflection around kirtan.

It also seems, to me, that the formal establishment (and acceptance) of granthis as “ordained” disciples of Sikhi encourages the creation of a laity. In theory, shouldn’t all Sikhs be capable of organizing and leading their own services? Shouldn’t we encourage everyone to achieve the literacy and familiarity necessary to comfortably participate in shabad kirtan, ardaas, and the basic requirements of langar? In the U.S., we absolutely do not provide sufficient resources to ensure this across sangats (some sangats are notable exceptions, e.g., the Beavercreek, OH, sangat, which is completely volunteer-run with no granthis, despite a population of <50 Sikhs). If we wanted to help mobilize Sikhs to be able to run their own gurdwaras, what kind of resources would we need to provide?

I understand that once we employ granthis there’s an implicit contract and deferral to their “wisdom,” but to what extent are we eroding our own personal understanding and potential for discussion, debate, and growth within Sikhi and within our own sangats? I have heard some liken granthis to spiritual guides; I would argue, however, that SGGS Ji is our guide, the Rehit Maryada our manual, and the sangat our laboratory for refining our understanding.

Once we take on granthis, however, what is our responsibility to these individuals? In the sangats I’ve visited, this often includes compensating residence within the gurdwara, a small stipend/salary, and basic health care access for the granthi and (always) his family. What does this mean, and what is the difference, then, between a granthi and other devout Sikhs? What are the factors that compound and gender the population of granthis moving forward? Readers, I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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6 Responses to “Granthis and compensation: de facto clergy?”

  1. sizzle says:

    In theory, shouldn’t all Sikhs be capable of organizing and leading their own services?

    In theory, yes. In reality, yes with lots of problems along the way. Many an gurdwara infight has begun exactly here – different interpretations of how services should be conducted. While a granthi is not perfect, they often have an air of legitimacy that quells conflicts before they arise. I think it might be rare for gurdwara president or board member to contest a granthi on what is proper during services, instead focusing on the other administrative tasks, and possibly making suggestions on timing and what they'd like. This is especially true since they're likely to bring in a granthi who has similar belief and vision. He is probably delegated the power to run things and provide some semblence of a foundation, hence the appropriate compensation.

    You mention Beavercreek – it isn't without it's little problems here and there. I understand they've been good about resolving them. But, it is a very different sangat than it was just even a few years ago – I'd like to see what continues to happen as their population grows (if anyone actually moves to Dayton).

    Anywyas, while it is not officially condoned by Sikhi, I don't think the faith would really survive in this day and age without some level of organizational management or authority. As disagreeable as they may be, where would we be without the SGPC acting in their

    official capacity. A granthi provides something similar to an individual gurudwara. While many of us may not need an authoritative figure or some sort of moral figure, others do – especially recent immigrants who are used to granthis in India taking charge. Generally, this extends to the masses – the majority people don't like to or can't think for themselves. They don't have an interest in taking initiative. And they enjoy or appreciate being led by someone who appears to have some sort of moral or at least superficially religious superiority. Relating to another post about Sikhi in light of other faiths, I can't help but wonder if this tendency or dependence was influenced by the West. But, I have no idea what gurdwaras were like pre-British influence. I was thinking that perhaps Western gurdwaras were structured like this because they see the influence and success of ministers, priests, rabbis and imans, but if the gurudwaras in India have them as well, then that's probably not the case. More than anything, I think having a granthi is just efficient and effective in every regard.

    As far as guest granthis are concerned…meh. I never liked them, but then again, I never understood a word they were saying and . Guest raagis, though, they were neat.

  2. sizzle says:

    In theory, shouldnt all Sikhs be capable of organizing and leading their own services?

    In theory, yes. In reality, yes with lots of problems along the way. Many an gurdwara infight has begun exactly here – different interpretations of how services should be conducted. While a granthi is not perfect, they often have an air of legitimacy that quells conflicts before they arise. I think it might be rare for gurdwara president or board member to contest a granthi on what is proper during services, instead focusing on the other administrative tasks, and possibly making suggestions on timing and what they’d like. This is especially true since they’re likely to bring in a granthi who has similar belief and vision. He is probably delegated the power to run things and provide some semblence of a foundation, hence the appropriate compensation.

    You mention Beavercreek – it isn’t without it’s little problems here and there. I understand they’ve been good about resolving them. But, it is a very different sangat than it was just even a few years ago – I’d like to see what continues to happen as their population grows (if anyone actually moves to Dayton).

    Anywyas, while it is not officially condoned by Sikhi, I don’t think the faith would really survive in this day and age without some level of organizational management or authority. As disagreeable as they may be, where would we be without the SGPC acting in their
    official capacity. A granthi provides something similar to an individual gurudwara. While many of us may not need an authoritative figure or some sort of moral figure, others do – especially recent immigrants who are used to granthis in India taking charge. Generally, this extends to the masses – the majority people don’t like to or can’t think for themselves. They don’t have an interest in taking initiative. And they enjoy or appreciate being led by someone who appears to have some sort of moral or at least superficially religious superiority. Relating to another post about Sikhi in light of other faiths, I can’t help but wonder if this tendency or dependence was influenced by the West. But, I have no idea what gurdwaras were like pre-British influence. I was thinking that perhaps Western gurdwaras were structured like this because they see the influence and success of ministers, priests, rabbis and imans, but if the gurudwaras in India have them as well, then that’s probably not the case. More than anything, I think having a granthi is just efficient and effective in every regard.

    As far as guest granthis are concerned…meh. I never liked them, but then again, I never understood a word they were saying and . Guest raagis, though, they were neat.

  3. Camille says:

    sizzle, I think your point re: organization is fair, but why is this administration/organization so highly professionalized in the diaspora, especially the West, and increasingly in Punjab? As a faith that has a high (religious) premium and historic legacy in the empowerment of its adherents (through literacy, through direct access to SGGS Ji and to the practice of the faith without need for excessive funds), to what extend does the reification of granthis undermine our internal development? More succinctly — are we being complacent by allowing granthis to run the show (not necessarily with superior training or knowledge) and foregoing our own spiritual education?

    I think your mention of the British is really key insofar as they severely limited the free practice of Sikhi after the Anglo-Sikh Wars. Anecdotally I've heard a lot of commentary on the generations of lost knowledge and practice, and I wonder if we are experiencing a bit of a "ripple effect" that is compounded by migration.

  4. Camille says:

    sizzle, I think your point re: organization is fair, but why is this administration/organization so highly professionalized in the diaspora, especially the West, and increasingly in Punjab? As a faith that has a high (religious) premium and historic legacy in the empowerment of its adherents (through literacy, through direct access to SGGS Ji and to the practice of the faith without need for excessive funds), to what extend does the reification of granthis undermine our internal development? More succinctly — are we being complacent by allowing granthis to run the show (not necessarily with superior training or knowledge) and foregoing our own spiritual education?

    I think your mention of the British is really key insofar as they severely limited the free practice of Sikhi after the Anglo-Sikh Wars. Anecdotally I’ve heard a lot of commentary on the generations of lost knowledge and practice, and I wonder if we are experiencing a bit of a “ripple effect” that is compounded by migration.

  5. sizzle says:

    Not to sound like an elitist (thought I might be one), but I think you really are giving too much credit to the average person – the masses. What is it they call religion, “the elixir of the masses?” I think that is warranted. Organized religion (beyond the underlying dogma), historically, created the morals of most societies – what is right, what is wrong, what is acceptable behavior, what is not – without having to logically rationalize such rules. As administered, organized religion established consequence beyond anything mere man could administer. Why was this necessary? Why was this needed? How did they get away with it for so long, especially when the clergy and imams were unbelievably corrupt, exploitative and dastardly? First, because of their power. But also because the vast majority of people cannot comprehend the philosophical or consequentialist arguments to even contest them. You may note that there is an intellectual flight from religion. How many of the most brilliant minds and academics openly embrace religion as it is practiced today? For the most part, organized religion is anti-intellectual, stifling curiosity, the desire to question, the desire to rationalize and advocating an unequivocal embrace of a specific dogma without thinking twice.

    Pertaining specifically to Sikhi – therein lays the beauty. You are exactly right. Individual Sikhs should study the faith, they should understand the faith, they should revel in its wisdom and its teachings, and they are encouraged to do so without interference by the Guru Granth. It is remarkably in tune with modern scientific thought or reality; I have yet to find a significant conflict or contradiction. Sikhi doesn’t necessarily seek to explain what goes on in the world, it teaches one how to interact with the world, interact with themselves, and attain true happiness. It is a personal religion in every regard.

    But, tell me, with how many Sikhs can you intelligently discuss the concepts in the above paragraph? I can think of a few, but they’re outnumbered by far more who have no interest in such discussions or don’t really have the ability to do so. Digging in and truly understanding any religion (especially Sikhi), the intricacies, the nuance, the concepts, the formulation, the “why?” is similar to the understanding of any philosophy. And if my philosophy classes taught me anything, a lot of people can’t or don’t want do that. They either need or want someone to explain things, not have to uncover the message themselves, and thus deny themselves the opportunity to form an informed understanding. Consequently, the power is then held by the intellectual, the academic, the clergy, the granthi. To answer your question, we are not becoming complacent, WE ARE complacent. Does the professionalization of granthis exacerbate complacency? I don’t really know – it could just be meeting existing demand.

    Granthis are distinguishable from clergy in an important way, though. Sikhi itself vests in them no special status. The SGPC might only recognize them as scholars of Sikhi, those who are able to convey its teachings. While granthis may wield significant clout within a sangat, they only wield the clout that the sangat or any individual permits them to weild. And this is mostly to run the show, remind the sangat of Sikhi’s values, tell neat anecdotes and stories to illustrate points, and educate those who come to Gurdwara to socialize and maybe even be educated. Again, the rise of the granthi, as you’ve described, is facilitated by the demand for the granthi. The gurudwara I grew up attending didn’t have a granthi for at least two decades – they have one now, and from what my folks tell me, it’s because the sangat wanted one.

    Is there necessarily a conflict between internal religious development, of independent understanding, and the presence of a granthi? Not necessarily. If you study the faith and are confident, you understand it in your terms. You discuss it with fellow Sikhs. Take issue with a knowledgeable granthi’s katha? Discuss it with him. If you disagree, what is he going to do – tell you you’ll be reborn as a gnat? For those who do seek internal development and understanding, the granthi poses no risk, and may only supplement your understanding by offering another perspective. If you're concerned with others' understanding, the influence a granthi might have on a sangat…either explain your differeing interpretation, persuade a board that he's off base, or find a new gurdwara.

    In my mind, Sikhi’s only possible weakness (and I’m speaking only to the Guru Granth) is that it did not establish some sort of defined clergy, a class of properly trained clergy that would help maintain unity, maintain consistency, resist dilution and spread the message – permit for the survival of the faith. There would be a built in power structure. But then Sikhi would have been the very anathema of what it is and what it is meant to be – a personal treatise to be understood and practiced by an individual for the individual’s sake, not anyone else’s. That the Guru Granth separated this so brilliantly is only a testament to it’s true purpose – something that can’t be said about all religions. But in the end, given the average person (I'm being an elitist again), an unorganized class of granthis does far more good than bad. They bring an understanding of Sikhi to those who are in need without having any recognized ability to stifle those who are not.

  6. sizzle says:

    Not to sound like an elitist (thought I might be one), but I think you really are giving too much credit to the average person – the masses. What is it they call religion, the elixir of the masses? I think that is warranted. Organized religion (beyond the underlying dogma), historically, created the morals of most societies what is right, what is wrong, what is acceptable behavior, what is not without having to logically rationalize such rules. As administered, organized religion established consequence beyond anything mere man could administer. Why was this necessary? Why was this needed? How did they get away with it for so long, especially when the clergy and imams were unbelievably corrupt, exploitative and dastardly? First, because of their power. But also because the vast majority of people cannot comprehend the philosophical or consequentialist arguments to even contest them. You may note that there is an intellectual flight from religion. How many of the most brilliant minds and academics openly embrace religion as it is practiced today? For the most part, organized religion is anti-intellectual, stifling curiosity, the desire to question, the desire to rationalize and advocating an unequivocal embrace of a specific dogma without thinking twice.

    Pertaining specifically to Sikhi therein lays the beauty. You are exactly right. Individual Sikhs should study the faith, they should understand the faith, they should revel in its wisdom and its teachings, and they are encouraged to do so without interference by the Guru Granth. It is remarkably in tune with modern scientific thought or reality; I have yet to find a significant conflict or contradiction. Sikhi doesnt necessarily seek to explain what goes on in the world, it teaches one how to interact with the world, interact with themselves, and attain true happiness. It is a personal religion in every regard.

    But, tell me, with how many Sikhs can you intelligently discuss the concepts in the above paragraph? I can think of a few, but theyre outnumbered by far more who have no interest in such discussions or dont really have the ability to do so. Digging in and truly understanding any religion (especially Sikhi), the intricacies, the nuance, the concepts, the formulation, the why? is similar to the understanding of any philosophy. And if my philosophy classes taught me anything, a lot of people cant or dont want do that. They either need or want someone to explain things, not have to uncover the message themselves, and thus deny themselves the opportunity to form an informed understanding. Consequently, the power is then held by the intellectual, the academic, the clergy, the granthi. To answer your question, we are not becoming complacent, WE ARE complacent. Does the professionalization of granthis exacerbate complacency? I dont really know – it could just be meeting existing demand.

    Granthis are distinguishable from clergy in an important way, though. Sikhi itself vests in them no special status. The SGPC might only recognize them as scholars of Sikhi, those who are able to convey its teachings. While granthis may wield significant clout within a sangat, they only wield the clout that the sangat or any individual permits them to weild. And this is mostly to run the show, remind the sangat of Sikhis values, tell neat anecdotes and stories to illustrate points, and educate those who come to Gurdwara to socialize and maybe even be educated. Again, the rise of the granthi, as youve described, is facilitated by the demand for the granthi. The gurudwara I grew up attending didnt have a granthi for at least two decades they have one now, and from what my folks tell me, its because the sangat wanted one.

    Is there necessarily a conflict between internal religious development, of independent understanding, and the presence of a granthi? Not necessarily. If you study the faith and are confident, you understand it in your terms. You discuss it with fellow Sikhs. Take issue with a knowledgeable granthis katha? Discuss it with him. If you disagree, what is he going to do tell you youll be reborn as a gnat? For those who do seek internal development and understanding, the granthi poses no risk, and may only supplement your understanding by offering another perspective. If you’re concerned with others’ understanding, the influence a granthi might have on a sangat…either explain your differeing interpretation, persuade a board that he’s off base, or find a new gurdwara.

    In my mind, Sikhis only possible weakness (and Im speaking only to the Guru Granth) is that it did not establish some sort of defined clergy, a class of properly trained clergy that would help maintain unity, maintain consistency, resist dilution and spread the message – permit for the survival of the faith. There would be a built in power structure. But then Sikhi would have been the very anathema of what it is and what it is meant to be a personal treatise to be understood and practiced by an individual for the individuals sake, not anyone elses. That the Guru Granth separated this so brilliantly is only a testament to its true purpose something that cant be said about all religions. But in the end, given the average person (I’m being an elitist again), an unorganized class of granthis does far more good than bad. They bring an understanding of Sikhi to those who are in need without having any recognized ability to stifle those who are not.