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There Is No Stranger in a Gurdwara, Part II
Janam Da Firangee,
Sikhi Mai Mangee

FATEHPAL SINGH TARNEY

 

 

 






It is always gratifying to get feedback on my columns.  I take them seriously and appreciate all of them: compliments, constructive criticism, additions and corrections.

D J Singh ji in the U.S. commented that “There are no converts. We are all in different phases of spiritual evolution.” This, of course, is consistent with our principle of Ik Oankar, that there is One Supreme Reality.

We can debate whether or not the word “convert” is useful in any discussion of religion. I think the word has its uses. Let us remember that the first Christians were considered a splinter sect within Judaism. Mohammed gained his first followers from the Jewish, Christian, and idol-worshipping communities in Arabia.  Our first three Gurus were born in Hindu families.

There is one God with many paths leading from and back to that God. My perspective is that some people find that the particular path they were born into is neither meaningful nor spiritually satisfying. Without resorting to knocking on doors claiming to save souls, there are ways we can introduce Gurbani to people.

I emphasize transformation as the essence of Sikhi. Don’t we see this, for example, in one of the original Punj Piare, Sahib Chand, who became Sahib Singh.  He was a barber who went from cutting hair to keeping hair!

In time, the neophyte can learn the Gurmukhi alphabet and slowly but surely, more and more Punjabi words become intelligible. Gurmukhi is an alphabet far easier for a Westerner to learn than the alphabets in Arabic, Farsi, Hindi or Urdu. Or English and French, for that matter.

Years ago, I focused on the English translation of shabads projected on the screen at my home gurdwara. As time went on, I found more and more of the Punjabi words meaningful and I went easily from English translations to Gurmukhi and back again.

I reiterate the important point made by the great Australian raagi, Dya Singh, on a visit to our south Florida Gadara: “Sikhi is the world’s best kept secret!” 

It does not have to remain that way.

Ajit Singh ji from New Jersey stated an obvious but important point in a comment on my last column, “The gurdwaras and their managements need to create an atmosphere of equality, fraternity and fellowship on their premises.” Hospitality to all people – Sikh and non-Sikh - is vital. There are non-Sikhs who want and need more than just a cross-cultural experience visiting a gurdwara. 

Gurbani is water that can quench spiritual thirst. We should share this water.


July 26, 2018

 

Conversation about this article

1: Virander Singh (USA), July 26, 2018, 2:58 PM.

Why do men and women sit separately in gurdwaras? Do they have to, given total equality in Sikhi?

2: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), July 26, 2018, 3:16 PM.

They don't need to ... it is a personal choice. This practice is not common to ALL gurdwaras. The reason behind the practice is purely cultural, which in this case has been distorted by the fact that we are a small minority in India and are surrounded by a humongous majority whose practices are generally antithetical to ours. My partner and I usually sit together when we go to the gurdwara because she comes from a non-Sikh background and often has questions. During recent years, I have seen at countless weddings that the sexes sit freely on either side, the catalyst being that many non-Sikhs are in attendance and feel comfortable sitting with those who can answer their questions. Never has there been a single objection or incident, either in our personal case or at the weddings I have described. Even if some good soul were to raise his/her proverbial eyebrow, it wouldn't matter - I would not let him/her deter us or anyone else. No one should, period.

3: D J Singh (USA), July 26, 2018, 4:20 PM.

The term 'convert' suggests a person who has been persuaded or lured to change his/her religious faith or other beliefs. The first three Gurus mentioned above were not persuaded to change their faith. They spiritually evolved to an alternate path. Gurbani teaches us that the purpose of human life is to pray, connect others with God, and live truthfully. "aih janam tumharey Laikhey .."

4: D J Singh (USA), July 26, 2018, 4:48 PM.

“Sahib Chand became Sahib Singh. A barber went from cutting hair to keeping hair!” Fatehpal Singh ji, the sangat will greatly appreciate your views on why Sikhs don't cut their hair?

5: Virander Singh (US), July 27, 2018, 9:01 AM.

Thanks for the response, S. T Sher Singh. If you think this practice is cultural and is a distorted practice in our community, then why are we not correcting it? I mean, what kind of example is this when we ourselves practice segregation of genders? You mention that nobody has ever objected to sitting anywhere. However, why has nobody ever objected to this practice in the first place?

6: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), July 27, 2018, 10:32 AM.

Well, Virander ji: all reform begins with each one of us, not with someone else. So, I suggest that from now on you and your family correct the situation as far as you are concerned. Then, speak to your extended family and friends, and so on. That's how reform happens. The rest will follow. This sort of thing does not need an edict from above.

7: GC Singh (USA), July 28, 2018, 9:54 AM.

Guru Maneyo Granth Gurdwara is one of UK’s largest gurdwaras; it is based in Slough. This gurdwara can be a model. It is completely run by volunteers, it has no committee. Excellent Punjabi and Sikh history classes for 500 students and vocational training for the entire local community absolutely free ... and not just for Sikhs. It has a permanent 7000 sq feet Sikh art gallery. Here is link to a short documentary about the Gurdwara. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gynZYDm5KzI

8: Fatehpal Singh Tarney (Yale, Michigan, USA), July 29, 2018, 5:31 PM.

Piarey D.J. Singh ji: I think we are in accord on spiritual development, but using different words. Many years ago, I participated for a short time in an online Sikh discussion group. I left it because there were too many people interested more in arguing and disagreeing than in exchanging ideas in a cordial, open-minded way. I hope your question about keeping Kesh is a sincere one and that you are not of that ilk – arguing simply for the sake of arguing! Answering your question is reminiscent of reinventing the wheel. Nevertheless, I’ll attempt to answer it from my very personal Western Sikh perspective. In the East, uncut hair has always been a sign of saintliness. Thus, we Sikhs are motivated to act like saints. Uncut hair keeps us united – there is a team spirit at play here. Uncut hair is indicative of commitment to Sikh principles. Kesh and the other Ks enable us to maintain our distinct identity, initially in India amidst Hindu and Muslim majorities. Moreover, our distinct identity given uncut hair enables non-Sikhs to easily recognize us and know that were they in need of assistance, we Sikhs have a moral obligation to assist to the best of our ability.

9: D J Singh (USA), July 30, 2018, 1:20 PM.

Fatehpal Singh ji, I was expecting a full essay dissecting the current status and significance of Kesh for Sikhs in the diaspora. Your unique perspective on how to handle bullying in school and discrimination in neighborhood and at work will be much appreciated.

10: Bhai Harbans Lal (Dallas, Texas, USA), July 30, 2018, 5:04 PM.

We Sikhs take a lot of pride in the universality of the message of the Gurus and in that they revealed their message for the benefit of all peoples and all communities. Our clerics and our leaders miss no opportunity to emphasize this distinction of our Guru’s message. Similarly, we speak of our gurdwaras and other congregational institutions as open to everyone in the global village. But we fail to realize that by trussing Sikh beliefs and Sikh practices in the gurdwara far too tightly with the Punjabi language, ethnicity and lifestyle, we commit the sin of falling short of welcoming non-Sikhs, particularly non-Indians to our congregations and thus fail to share our beautiful religion with the rest of the world.

11: Fatehpal Singh Tarney (Yale, Michigan, USA), July 30, 2018, 7:50 PM.

Piarey D.J. Singh ji, per your request, I am writing a separate column on Kesh in the diaspora including commentary on bullying and discrimination. Piarey Bhai Harbans Lal ji, of course I am in total accord with your comment and have written similarly for years. We must overcome our insularity and be more welcoming to non-Sikhs.

12: Arjan Singh (USA), July 30, 2018, 8:10 PM.

#10 Dr. Harbans Lal ji: So aptly put. I could not have written it better. I shake my head in frustration every time I see these self-appointed sevadars (administrators) chastising kids for not sitting still or speaking in English. The lack of smiles on most sevadars is another turn-off for a non-Sikh visitor.

13: Fatehpal Singh Tarney (Yale, Michigan, USA), July 31, 2018, 9:46 AM.

Piarey Arjan Singh ji, you wrote: "The lack of smiles on most sevadars is another turn-off for a non-Sikh visitor." So true. I wrote in a column some time ago that a smile itself is seva. Moreover, one does not have to be fluent in English to engage in this form of seva.

14: Rup Singh (Canada), July 31, 2018, 3:20 PM.

I fail to see segregation of genders when they are sitting in the same Darbar Hall. It would be segregation if there were totally separate Darbar Halls, in the way Muslims do. Or the way Hindus exclude lower castes. I think genders sitting separately in a Darbar is more of a comfort thing than a cultural one. Also, when it comes to equality of genders, shouldn't the real concern be why women are not allowed to do kirtan seva at the Darbar Sahib? Also I believe another real concern is the lack of female representation on gurdwara committees.

15: Fatehpal Singh Tarney (Yale, Michigan, USA), August 01, 2018, 5:59 AM.

Piarey Rup Singh ji, Just after my tenure as president of our south Florida Gurdwara Sahib, our committees have been predominantly female and things have run much more efficiently with women at the helm.

16: Arjan Singh (USA), August 01, 2018, 7:06 AM.

#13 Fatehpal ji: Thank you for re-affirming my statement. I am in a state of bliss when I listen to kirtan/hymns. It makes me smile. Gurdwara is one of the few places where I am not judged and feel at peace - a smile comes naturally.

17: Arjan Singh (USA), August 01, 2018, 7:09 AM.

#14 Rup ji: I agree with you that in Sikh places of worship we do not have mandatory physical separation of genders the way Muslims and Hindu congregations do. For instance, in our langar halls we do sit together. I see this more of a comfort level and cultural practice rather than segregation. I am glad you gave your opinion. To get representation women have to speak up the way you have done.

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Janam Da Firangee,
Sikhi Mai Mangee"









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