On the Proliferation of Sikh Temples

I recently came across this article, which notes that the construction on a new Sikh gurdwara in the UK is near completion. The cost for the gurdwara is a staggering 11m, all of which has been financed privately by members of the Sikh community.

The article compelled me to think about the growth of gurdwaras in my corner of the United States, where there are now five major gurdwaras within a radius of about 70 miles. It made me think, more fundamentally, about when, and if so under what circumstances, a gurdwara should be built in the West.

Clearly, there are threshold issues that factor into whether a gurdwara should be built, such as whether there is sufficient sangat to initially support the gurdwara and ensure that it is sustainable in the long-term, whether there is available land that is appropriately zoned and in a convenient location, etc. And clearly there are reasons other than a bursting sangat that are invoked to justify the construction of a new gurdwara, such as management conflicts or ideological differences with those in an existing gurdwara. My attention, however, is fixated on one necessary, but not sufficient, requirement with respect to whether a gurdwara should be built: the “staff,” for lack of a better term.

It is my humble view that a Sikh temple should not be built unless there is at least one person who has intimate knowledge of Sikhi and is able to convey that knowledge to members of the sangat in Punjabi and English. Of the five gurdwaras in my area, I generally attend only two of them. One has an individual with an amazing understanding of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji and has the uncanny ability to explain the meaning of shabads to the sangat, including to individuals such as myself who were born in America and whose primary language is English. The other, by contrast, has three raagis who perform kirtan and generally look after the welfare of the sangat, but whose knowledge of the Granth Sahib is limited to the point of being embarrassing. They have trouble explaining vaaks in Punjabi, let alone in English. If they are unable to clarify the meaning of shabads or provide individualized guidance to individuals, in my estimation they amount to singers — I hate to say it, because they are “good guys”, but truth be told they are little more than well-intentioned performers.

There is an impact on native-Punjabi speakers, but the greatest impact is on second-generation Sikhs, particularly the youth, who may want to turn to someone besides their parents for more personal and/or sophisticated lessons on our holy book. I am impressed by the use of technology, such as SikhToTheMax, which allow the youth to follow along with the shabads (a phenomenon previously discussed on TLH). But an English transcript of the shabads, however helpful, is no substitute for the knowledge that a person can provide to a young Sikh. As someone who has benefited tremendously from the information that a certain granthi has provided, I can attest to the value of having someone I can turn to when I have questions about Sikh principles.

My message to those interested in building Sikh temples in the West is quite simple — build only if you have someone capable of imparting Sikh wisdom to the sangat in Punjabi and English; otherwise, you run the very dangerous risk of creating a rather hollow, religiously-oriented concert hall, much to the detriment of the next generation of Sikhs in the West.


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42 Responses to “On the Proliferation of Sikh Temples”

  1. Narinder Singh says:

    Very important point !

    Put forward beautifully.

    Hope concerned ones listen.

    In meantime, do your best to understand things yourself, learn Gurmukhi.

    May Akaal Purakh bless you.

  2. Narinder Singh says:

    Very important point !

    Put forward beautifully.

    Hope concerned ones listen.

    In meantime, do your best to understand things yourself, learn Gurmukhi.

    May Akaal Purakh bless you.

  3. Prof. Trilochan Sing says:

    I highly appreciate the observation and valuable suggestion wrt construction of new Gudwaras in western world. It is true for India also.Unfortunately need of highly educated Granthies having sufficient knowledge of gurbani and capability to explain sikh philosophy supported by events in sikh history has not been felt by builders of Gudwaras all over world.On the contrary it is also observed that educated and enlightened granthies become victims of Gudwara politics and they start searching new pastures.Hence executive committee members also need to be open minded and tolerant and work for selfless service of society by shedding their false ego. But this is fact that new generations want explanation of gurbani on scietific lines.Merely reciting name of God (Waheguru) or Gurbani kirtan does not satisfy them.

  4. Prof. Trilochan Singh Kathpal says:

    I highly appreciate the observation and valuable suggestion wrt construction of new Gudwaras in western world. It is true for India also.Unfortunately need of highly educated Granthies having sufficient knowledge of gurbani and capability to explain sikh philosophy supported by events in sikh history has not been felt by builders of Gudwaras all over world.On the contrary it is also observed that educated and enlightened granthies become victims of Gudwara politics and they start searching new pastures.Hence executive committee members also need to be open minded and tolerant and work for selfless service of society by shedding their false ego. But this is fact that new generations want explanation of gurbani on scietific lines.Merely reciting name of God (Waheguru) or Gurbani kirtan does not satisfy them.

  5. whatsinaname says:

    I was about to comment on the article to endorse the opinion presented till I read Prof. Trilochan Singh's comment.

    I think the view that you present 'publious' is an extremely important one. I agree with your point.

    Personally I think 11 million pounds on a building is a bit insane considering there are far more deserving causes and applications for this sum. A beautiful building does not make a gurdwara a Gurdwara. At best it probably draws in sangat. But then if there's no one to teach / unite the sangat with the Guru then what's the point except that the structure becomes fancy accommodation for elaborate wedding ceremonies and the like!

    The thing in Professor sahib’s comment that made me think is…

    As ‘modern’ educated individuals… are we right to demand ‘scientific’ explanations of something which is wholly about faith? Yes we are right to request that someone explain / translate our Guru… (because we’re so far removed from the origins of the languages employed by our guru) but are we right to demand justification of relevance of Sikh philosophy to our new founded lifestyles? By knowing the ‘metaphysics’ of a religion / faith / system of spirituality will we be better practitioners of that religion?

    What happened to good old ‘faith’? What happened to the days when Gurdwaras were packed with people who believed for the sake of believing? The quest for rhyme and reason has left our Gurdwaras empty. Yet I wholly recognise the NEED to understand. I sit on the fence. And it is a slight diversion from the original topic for this I apologise.

  6. whatsinaname says:

    I was about to comment on the article to endorse the opinion presented till I read Prof. Trilochan Singh’s comment.

    I think the view that you present ‘publious’ is an extremely important one. I agree with your point.

    Personally I think 11 million pounds on a building is a bit insane considering there are far more deserving causes and applications for this sum. A beautiful building does not make a gurdwara a Gurdwara. At best it probably draws in sangat. But then if there’s no one to teach / unite the sangat with the Guru then what’s the point except that the structure becomes fancy accommodation for elaborate wedding ceremonies and the like!

    The thing in Professor sahibs comment that made me think is

    As modern educated individuals are we right to demand scientific explanations of something which is wholly about faith? Yes we are right to request that someone explain / translate our Guru (because were so far removed from the origins of the languages employed by our guru) but are we right to demand justification of relevance of Sikh philosophy to our new founded lifestyles? By knowing the metaphysics of a religion / faith / system of spirituality will we be better practitioners of that religion?

    What happened to good old faith? What happened to the days when Gurdwaras were packed with people who believed for the sake of believing? The quest for rhyme and reason has left our Gurdwaras empty. Yet I wholly recognise the NEED to understand. I sit on the fence. And it is a slight diversion from the original topic for this I apologise.

  7. Canadian Sikh says:

    I recently returned from a 2 week trip to Punjab with my kids. My previous visit was 12 years ago. The major difference I noticed was the proliferation of Gurdwaras in rural villages. Where before there was maybe one Gurdwara in a pend, there now seems to be a minimum of 4 in each pend. And they broadcast services over loudspeakers at 4 am. Some of the Gurdwaras simply put a cassette or CD in for the morning broadcast.

    I was quite sickened by this new atmosphere in Punjab. It's one thing to offer the practice of Sikhism to those wishing to pray or learn. It's another thing forcing it down your throat. If only the Sikhs of Punjab (and all over the world actually) practiced what they sit there and listen to or preach, they would be better off.

  8. Canadian Sikh says:

    Aside from the Gudwaras, the rest of Punjab seems to be neglected and deteriating fast. If only Sikhs had some pride in their pends, cities, and province (maybe 10% of the pride they have in their Gudwaras), Punjab might actually be a place Sikhs could be proud of.

    In my trip to the Golden Temple, I was left to stand barefoot in the washroom in someone else's urine, trying to urinate myself. That's when I realized that prayer without meaning or context is nothing more than a shallow exercise that is performed just for appearances. God is in your heart, he is not in every Gurdwara that Sikhs deem necessary to build.

    I whole heartedly agree with the original post here. Someone needs to teach not just the youth of today what the religion of Sikhism means and entails, but they need to teach our teachers as well.

    I left Punjab 4 days ago ashamed and embarrassed to be a Sikh.

  9. Canadian Sikh says:

    I recently returned from a 2 week trip to Punjab with my kids. My previous visit was 12 years ago. The major difference I noticed was the proliferation of Gurdwaras in rural villages. Where before there was maybe one Gurdwara in a pend, there now seems to be a minimum of 4 in each pend. And they broadcast services over loudspeakers at 4 am. Some of the Gurdwaras simply put a cassette or CD in for the morning broadcast.

    I was quite sickened by this new atmosphere in Punjab. It's one thing to offer the practice of Sikhism to those wishing to pray or learn. It's another thing forcing it down your throat. If only the Sikhs of Punjab (and all over the world actually) practiced what they sit there and listen to or preach, they would be better off.

  10. Canadian Sikh says:

    Aside from the Gudwaras, the rest of Punjab seems to be neglected and deteriating fast. If only Sikhs had some pride in their pends, cities, and province (maybe 10% of the pride they have in their Gudwaras), Punjab might actually be a place Sikhs could be proud of.

    In my trip to the Golden Temple, I was left to stand barefoot in the washroom in someone else's urine, trying to urinate myself. That's when I realized that prayer without meaning or context is nothing more than a shallow exercise that is performed just for appearances. God is in your heart, he is not in every Gurdwara that Sikhs deem necessary to build.

    I whole heartedly agree with the original post here. Someone needs to teach not just the youth of today what the religion of Sikhism means and entails, but they need to teach our teachers as well.

    I left Punjab 4 days ago ashamed and embarrassed to be a Sikh.

  11. Bahadar says:

    Far too many Sikh Temples..better have a few, with good facilities, eg Decent Punjabi teaching classes, langar halls et cetra…I have visited the Havelock Gurdwara in Southall a thousand times..considering it can have a congregation of thousands, there are only ever 40 or fifty people there!! Southall has over 50 gurdwaras! Yet none have facities for capturing the young Sikh comminuit…they have just spent millions in Gravesend building a Gurdwara just as big…it is incomplete overdue and no one in the community wants to help…as the same money coul dhave paid to help Sikhs get employment and build Punjabi Schools etc…

  12. Sewa says:

    I agree. Too many Gurdwara and a new generation who has been separated from its heritage and is less religious and certainly at loggerheads with the Freshies

  13. Sewa says:

    Yes the Gurdwara of the west are more like the marriage palaces of Punjab!!

  14. Bahadar says:

    It is doubtful that teaching Gurmukhi should be first need, as the Second Gen in Gravesend can hardly speak Punjabi…it is an irrelevant language to them…it needs to have literature of interest to the western born kids

  15. Bahadar says:

    Instead of getting Granthis from India who may be experts in Gurnabi and Punjabi, we need Granthis with the same general education as rest of society..at best they are naive folk, at worst like the Mullahs of Islam, or just in it for the cash ( As implied about Bhinderwale by Sonia Deol in her documentary, as he was educated in a school that just taught Sikhism).

    A new class of Granthi is required for the west. Highly expert in Sikhism, but highly educated all round

  16. Bahadar says:

    Far too many Sikh Temples..better have a few, with good facilities, eg Decent Punjabi teaching classes, langar halls et cetra…I have visited the Havelock Gurdwara in Southall a thousand times..considering it can have a congregation of thousands, there are only ever 40 or fifty people there!! Southall has over 50 gurdwaras! Yet none have facities for capturing the young Sikh comminuit…they have just spent millions in Gravesend building a Gurdwara just as big…it is incomplete overdue and no one in the community wants to help…as the same money coul dhave paid to help Sikhs get employment and build Punjabi Schools etc…

  17. Sewa says:

    I agree. Too many Gurdwara and a new generation who has been separated from its heritage and is less religious and certainly at loggerheads with the Freshies

  18. Sewa says:

    Yes the Gurdwara of the west are more like the marriage palaces of Punjab!!

  19. Bahadar says:

    It is doubtful that teaching Gurmukhi should be first need, as the Second Gen in Gravesend can hardly speak Punjabi…it is an irrelevant language to them…it needs to have literature of interest to the western born kids

  20. Bahadar says:

    Instead of getting Granthis from India who may be experts in Gurnabi and Punjabi, we need Granthis with the same general education as rest of society..at best they are naive folk, at worst like the Mullahs of Islam, or just in it for the cash ( As implied about Bhinderwale by Sonia Deol in her documentary, as he was educated in a school that just taught Sikhism).

    A new class of Granthi is required for the west. Highly expert in Sikhism, but highly educated all round

  21. ??? ?????? says:

    this is the reason why i have gone out of my way to make Punjabi language and literature meaningful and interesting for the British born Sikh. It has to be relevant to them, no matter how alien and strange it appears to the old school of Punjabis. The building of Gurdwaras alone means nothing.

    I have gone to the Spensor Road Gurdwara in Gravesend plenty of times, and it is sufficient for that function. Flashy Gurdwaras make us feel good, but all the youth think they are for is eating out at or weddings.

    Roop Dhillon

  22. Sewa says:

    It has been 68 weeks since Trilochan's post , and still this gurdwara in Gravesend has not opened…I'd say it will be 11 Million and then some. And to what point? I agree with Roop that the youth just see it as a place to eat and where the old folk hang out.

  23. ??? ?????? says:

    However Roop, I have said this to you before and I shall say it again. This is the wrong website for your interests. This site is in English and for only those who understand English. If you have been to Gravesend you will know that most Second Generation Sikhs ( age 50 and below now) can just about string a sentenance in Punjabi. Those below 20 only know English and a few swear words in Punjabi. None of them are capable of reading and writing the language, you have got your market wrong, if you are writing in Punjabi for your UK audience.

    Their idea of being a Sikh is drinking sharab, listening to Bhangra, taking cigerrettes and drugs and fighting Muslims ( or amongst themselves). These are not real Sikhs. They are stupid people. And you expect them to read your work?

  24. Sewa says:

    Their idea of being a Sikh is drinking sharab, listening to Bhangra, taking cigerrettes and drugs and fighting Muslims ( or amongst themselves). These are not real Sikhs. They are stupid people. And you expect them to read your work?

    Do these westerners even deserve such a Beautiful Gurdwara? In two generations times they won't be attendiing it. It will probably become a church, a cinema or club, once the Brown skinned White guys, who surely are the decendents of these prize idiots who think watching Bollywood makes you a Sikh, stop going there. Worse a Mosque!

    In short I agree with the original article.

  25. this is the reason why i have gone out of my way to make Punjabi language and literature meaningful and interesting for the British born Sikh. It has to be relevant to them, no matter how alien and strange it appears to the old school of Punjabis. The building of Gurdwaras alone means nothing.

    I have gone to the Spensor Road Gurdwara in Gravesend plenty of times, and it is sufficient for that function. Flashy Gurdwaras make us feel good, but all the youth think they are for is eating out at or weddings.

    Roop Dhillon

  26. Sewa says:

    It has been 68 weeks since Trilochan's post , and still this gurdwara in Gravesend has not opened…I'd say it will be 11 Million and then some. And to what point? I agree with Roop that the youth just see it as a place to eat and where the old folk hang out.

  27. ??? ?????? says:

    However Roop, I have said this to you before and I shall say it again. This is the wrong website for your interests. This site is in English and for only those who understand English. If you have been to Gravesend you will know that most Second Generation Sikhs ( age 50 and below now) can just about string a sentenance in Punjabi. Those below 20 only know English and a few swear words in Punjabi. None of them are capable of reading and writing the language, you have got your market wrong, if you are writing in Punjabi for your UK audience.

    Their idea of being a Sikh is drinking sharab, listening to Bhangra, taking cigerrettes and drugs and fighting Muslims ( or amongst themselves). These are not real Sikhs. They are stupid people. And you expect them to read your work?

  28. ??? ?????? says:

    However Roop, I have said this to you before and I shall say it again. This is the wrong website for your interests. This site is in English and for only those who understand English. If you have been to Gravesend you will know that most Second Generation Sikhs ( age 50 and below now) can just about string a sentenance in Punjabi. Those below 20 only know English and a few swear words in Punjabi. None of them are capable of reading and writing the language, you have got your market wrong, if you are writing in Punjabi for your UK audience.

    Their idea of being a Sikh is drinking sharab, listening to Bhangra, taking cigerrettes and drugs and fighting Muslims ( or amongst themselves). These are not real Sikhs. They are stupid people. And you expect them to read your work?

  29. However Roop, I have said this to you before and I shall say it again. This is the wrong website for your interests. This site is in English and for only those who understand English. If you have been to Gravesend you will know that most Second Generation Sikhs ( age 50 and below now) can just about string a sentenance in Punjabi. Those below 20 only know English and a few swear words in Punjabi. None of them are capable of reading and writing the language, you have got your market wrong, if you are writing in Punjabi for your UK audience.

    Their idea of being a Sikh is drinking sharab, listening to Bhangra, taking cigerrettes and drugs and fighting Muslims ( or amongst themselves). These are not real Sikhs. They are stupid people. And you expect them to read your work?

  30. Sewa says:

    Their idea of being a Sikh is drinking sharab, listening to Bhangra, taking cigerrettes and drugs and fighting Muslims ( or amongst themselves). These are not real Sikhs. They are stupid people. And you expect them to read your work?

    Do these westerners even deserve such a Beautiful Gurdwara? In two generations times they won't be attendiing it. It will probably become a church, a cinema or club, once the Brown skinned White guys, who surely are the decendents of these prize idiots who think watching Bollywood makes you a Sikh, stop going there. Worse a Mosque!

    In short I agree with the original article.

  31. Sewa says:

    Their idea of being a Sikh is drinking sharab, listening to Bhangra, taking cigerrettes and drugs and fighting Muslims ( or amongst themselves). These are not real Sikhs. They are stupid people. And you expect them to read your work?

    Do these westerners even deserve such a Beautiful Gurdwara? In two generations times they won't be attendiing it. It will probably become a church, a cinema or club, once the Brown skinned White guys, who surely are the decendents of these prize idiots who think watching Bollywood makes you a Sikh, stop going there. Worse a Mosque!

    In short I agree with the original article.

  32. Sewa says:

    Their idea of being a Sikh is drinking sharab, listening to Bhangra, taking cigerrettes and drugs and fighting Muslims ( or amongst themselves). These are not real Sikhs. They are stupid people. And you expect them to read your work?

    Do these westerners even deserve such a Beautiful Gurdwara? In two generations times they won't be attendiing it. It will probably become a church, a cinema or club, once the Brown skinned White guys, who surely are the decendents of these prize idiots who think watching Bollywood makes you a Sikh, stop going there. Worse a Mosque!

    In short I agree with the original article.

  33. Bahadar says:

    you are so wrong Sewa, Punjabi is key, and Roop is right. We also need sports activities and other functions in Gurdwaras

  34. Bahadar says:

    you are so wrong Sewa, Punjabi is key, and Roop is right. We also need sports activities and other functions in Gurdwaras