Are our Gurdwaras Dysfunctional ? Re-Edited New Version Dr Karminder Singh PART 1


PART ONE: The Position of a Gurdwara in a Sikh’s Life.

Karminder Singh Dhillon, PhD (Boston).

Editor’s Note: This is Part One of a FIVE Part Series that looks into a wide variety of issues concerning the Gurdwaras. The overall objective is to answer the question “Are our Gurdwaras serving the purpose for their existence. Part ONE establishes the position of the Gurdwara in the life of a Sikh. Part TWO outlines the intended roles and functions of our Gurdwaras and Part THREE assess them. Part FOUR Examines the root causes of Gurdwara dysfunctionality. The FINAL part provides a critical answer to the question “Do we need to build more Gurdwaras?

NOTHING excites a lay Sikh more than news that a new Gurdwara is to be built or an existing one renovated. After all, a vast majority of Sikhs consider the Gurdwara to be a Guru Ghar: literally the “house” of the Guru.

There is no reason therefore for the abode of the Guru to not be as magnificent and splendid as possible.

Such thinking is most likely the reason behind the assertion that there perhaps is no place on earth where a group of Sikhs reside but have not constructed a Gurdwara.

From gold plated structures, sprawling marble-adorned complexes and modern architectural constructs to a variety of humble variants in rented premises – our Gurdwaras have become the core institution of the Sikh way of life.

But thinking Sikhs – especially those who are Gurbani focussed – would agree that constructing magnificent Gurdwaras and THEN ensuring they function in accordance with their intended roles are two starkly different things.

For such Sikhs the two basic questions are “what constitutes the magnificence of a Gurdwara – its physical structure or its ability to achieve its intended objectives?

Secondly what determines the key performance measures of a Gurdwara – the number of programs and volume of attendees, or the level of Sikhi that is disseminated?

Thinking Sikhs would also agree that a Gurdwara has to do lots more than merely organize Sunday diwans that constitute kirtan by professional ragis, akhand path readings by professional pathis, the occasional katha or sermon also by a professional and conclude with the serving of langar.

In the minds of such Sikhs, these activities run on “auto pilot.” There is a fixed template for these programs that run every week, month and year. The only thing different from the previous program is the name of the sponsor. It’s on auto pilot because not much thinking goes into asking what, if any, are the outcomes of such activities.

Concerned Sikhs would argue that as an institution a Gurdwara has to be more than a place for the conduct of Anand Karajs, Antim Ardas and other functions where the sangat has no role other than staggered, passive and casual attendance.

Staggered because one could come at one’s convenience and not miss out on anything major; passive because they have no role other than being spectators and casual because there is no real outcome of the entire process.

Rarely is a Sikh heard lamenting that he or she has missed a great deal because of non- regular attendance. On the other hand, it is not uncommon to hear Sikhs say that they have to attend a Gurdwara function because it is sponsored by someone important (blood relation, wealthy, influential or high on the social ladder).

Put plainly, given the investments of money, time and our collective energies that we Sikhs have put into our Gurdwaras, do we get adequate Returns of Investments (ROI) in terms of spiritual, social, and gurmat measures?

This question becomes critical as our Gurdwaras begin to steadily empty out of Generation Y and Z Sikhs; as our youth become increasingly alienated from our Gurdwaras; and as our children begin to disconnect from Sikhi.

The same questions become even more grave as educated Sikhs begin to realize that the Gurdwara is not the place that they can count on to help them inculcate Gurbani based Sikhi into their lives and that of their children.





There is no shortage of Sikhs who use the term “Guru Ghar” (literally the House of the Guru) in place of the Gurdwara.

The fact is that the notion of the Guru being located at a particular location is as anti-thesis to Sikhi as is the view that the Guru indeed has a “house.” If indeed the Guru had an abode, then He would naturally be in the structure of the building; and not anywhere else.

Which is perhaps why we put up signs in Gurdwaras that read “it is illegal to enter in an intoxicated state” or “please speak the truth here” or “do not steal”. Perhaps we want to imply that it is indeed fine to be intoxicated, speak lies and steal elsewhere!!

Discussion on this issue of “Gurudwara or Guru Ghar” will be left to a subsequent part. But one point regarding dysfunctionality must be made here.

By definition, any place that is “Guru Ghar” can never be dysfunctional. If indeed it is the “house of the Guru” then everything and anything that the “Guru does” or “does not do” in his own home has to be good, again by definition.

But a Gurdwara is not a “Guru Ghar.” It is our institution – constructed by us mortals, run by us, and maintained by us – even if (righlty or wrongly) in the Guru;s name.

A Gurdwara can thus be truly dysfunctional in every sense of the word,


The word dysfunctional is used to describe an entity that is NOT operating normally or properly; the words normally and properly being the key ingredients.

It does not mean “not functioning” or “not operating.”

Entities can be operating very well indeed but still be dysfunctional. A school may operate very well if seen from the enrolment and its regular conduct of classes.

But it is dysfunctional if teaching, transfer of knowledge and the process of education does not take place. So such a school may reach or even exceed its targets of enrolment numbers, student-teacher ratio’s and infrastructure (air conditioned classes etc).

But it would be considered dysfunctional if it falls short of its objectives and outcomes – educating our youngsters, teaching them living skills and preparing them for life in the real world.

Achieving such outcomes is the point of it all. Such outcomes are the raison d’taire of a school – the very reason why it exists in the first place.

One way to describe dysfunctionality is as follows: “Achieving the Target, but Missing the Point.”

Similarly, thus, a Gurdwara may operate very well. It may have 52 Sunday programs per annum, a healthy bank balance, air-conditioned premises, floors constructed of imported marble, wealthy or influential persons on its management committee, state of the art kitchen and serve sumptuous langgar.

But it would still be dysfunctional if it failed to carry out its raison d’taire – its intended roles and functions. It would be dysfunctional if it did not meet the objectives and outcomes that are the core reasons for its existence.

It now remains for us to get a full appreciation of the intended roles and functions of our Gurdwaras; and what exactly are the objectives and outcomes of these roles. That’s in Part TWO.

Next: Part TWO: Roles and Functions of a Gurdwara.