Are our Gurdwaras Dysfunctional- Re-Edited New version Dr Karminder Singh Dhillon PART 2


PART TWO: The Roles and Functions of a Gurdwara.    READ PART ONE HERE

Karminder Singh Dhillon, PhD (Boston).

Editor’s Note: This is Part TWO 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. This Part 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?

The objective of this Part is to discover the original and rightful functions of Gurdwaras, as intended by our Gurus and based on the philosophy as enshrined in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.

Put together, these roles and functions would then become the raison d’ taire – the most important reasons for the existence of the Gurdwara. They would also become the Key Performance Measures for an analysis of whether our Gurdwaras are indeed dysfunctional and not achieving the intended outcomes.

No one has researched the subject as has Sikh scholar cum historian Bhai Kahn Singh Dhillon of Nabha. He lists the following seven functions..





This function was grounded into the institution of our Gurdwara by the second Master, Guru Angad ji.

The aspiration was for the Gurdwara to provide both spiritual and secular education to our children and our young. To instil the importance of this function, the Guru performed this role personally.

The ROI question raised above would thus require us to ask the following questions. Are our Gurdwaras running regular kindergarten classes for our toddlers? What about Punjabi language classes for our Youth? Do Gurdwaras run adequate classes to teach our youth how to read Gurbani?

What about instruction in computers, science and mathematics? What about teaching bani, music, kirtan, physical exercise, career guidance, public speaking, healthy eating, speed reading and other skills? The list is endless.

Also endless is the talent that exists amongst members of the sangat. We are a community of professionals. As such this function can be performed with the full involvement of our sangat and youth.

Have parbhandaks made attempts to involve the sangat and youth in such an endeavour? Getting the sangat and youth involved creates buy-in, generates a feeling of ownership of the Gurdwara, gets them all involved, and puts the process of alienation to a stop. Such involvement transforms the sangat from a passive and casual observer to an active participant.

Other relevant ROI questions include: Have Gurdwara funds been set aside for the provision of scholarships and other educational assistance such as books and school supplies to those who need such help?



This function requires a focus on Gurbani, the messages of our Gurus and their application in our daily lives. The ROI determination for this function would require us to ask the following questions.

Do our Gurdwaras have systematic and regular Guru Granth Sahib (GGS) reading classes for our sangat and youth? After all, Gurbani classes would be the next logical step for all those who wished to progress from the first function (Gurdwara as an education centre) as mentioned above.

Are there regular Gurbani study classes wherein members of the sangat are taught the meanings of Gurbani and the messages of our Gurus? Do our Gurdwaras have Gurbani study circles where members of the sangat come together to discuss Gurbani and share their knowledge and experiences?

Do our Gudwaras employ Gurbani-literate Granthis? Are they able to instill Gurmat amongst our sangats? Do Gurdwaras ensure that Ragis, Kirtanias and Parcharaks preach the right kind of Gurmat messages or are they promoting themselves or some dera?

Have our Gurdwara Parbhandaks educated themselves sufficiently on Gurmat and Maryada of Gurdwara? Are they in a position to tell their Granthis, Ragis and Parcharaks when the latter deviate from Gurmat (sing Kirtan from outside the SGGS, preach un-gurmat stuff, narrate unbelievable tall tales as Sakhis etc)?

Do our Gurdwaras have well equipped libraries or resource centres for spiritual development of the sangats?

If a Sikh or non-Sikh wanted to obtain knowledge and enlightenment about Sikh spirituality, could he or she walk into our Gurdwaras as they function today and obtain assistance? Do our Gurdwaras have the people, the literature and other resources?



This function was grounded into the institution of our Gurdwara by the fifth Master, Guru Arjun Dev ji who ran a clinic for lepers at Taran Taran. The aspiration was for the Gurdwara to provide for physical health of the sangat alongside the spiritual well-being (function two above).

The aim was also to do something meaningful for humanity: treat people (Sikhs and others) who had no means to go elsewhere and were thus shunned by society.

Do our Gurdwaras have a designated clinic where the poor, sick and elderly can come and obtain medical care?

Have Gurdwara parbhandaks made efforts to set such a clinic as a better choice of serving humanity and then obtain advice and assistance to run it from the many physicians, pharmacies, nurses and dental experts that Sikh communities produce amply?



The key word here is HUNGRY. The questions that need asking are:

Have our Gurdwaras created a conducive and welcoming environment for human beings who have no food for themselves and their families, the homeless and shelter less, and those who will have to go hungry for another night?

This was the original intent of the institution of langgar as was philosophised by Guru Nanak and institutionalized by succeeding Gurus.

Do our Gurdwaras have in place a voluntary sewa-based activity that REACHES OUT to the hungry and the homeless?

Or do our Gurdwaras act welcoming ONLY to us Sikhs – none of whom are HUNGRY in any sense of the word and all of whom have access to better meals in our homes.

Have our Gurdwaras corrupted the concept of langgar in denying it to those it was meant for?

Have our Gurdwaras relegated the concept of langgar by treating it as just another meal for all those who got hungry while attending a Gurdwara function?

Have we downgraded the Gurdwara kitchen to a place to churn out varieties of “dishes” in accordance with our status and positions?

Have we downgraded the langgar hall to just another “restaurant” where the affording classes sit in comfort to have these “dishes”?

Is it then a wonder that large quantities of langgar are either packed to be taken home by those who were well fed to begin with; or regularly wasted or washed down the drains in most Gurdwaras?



If a woman (Sikh or otherwise) were to be battered by family, or her honour and dignity in danger, or her life under threat – could she possibly walk into any of our hundreds or thousands of our modern Gurdwaras and expect to be protected, be provided shelter, or accorded social and legal support and assistance?

Do Gurdwaras have a policy on such an important matter and set aside adequate resources for it? Do parbhandaks even know that this is a primary function of the Gurdwara?

Are they aware that Sikh communities are fast becoming ones with the highest incidences of domestic violence, soaring divorce rates and crippling family disputes?

Have parbhandaks enlisted the voluntary services of advocates and solicitors as well as family counsellors and psychologists from amongst their sangats to assist in this function?

Have they set up funds to assist those women who may not have the financial resources to cover legal and court costs?

Are our Gurdwaras going to act as FORTRESSES (Bhai Khan Singh Nabha’s word) to protect these women who are in need of help? Or is the function of this fortress to ensure they are surely but firmly kept out?


How many of our Gurdwaras have created a conducive and welcoming environment for travellers in need of free transit shelter – especially for the needy and those who are unable to afford even the cheapest of commercial accommodation

Have we set aside adequate resources in the form of rooms, washrooms etc.?

Are we aware that such is a service to humanity and thus the function of a Gurdwara.

What about Guru-loving Sikhs who prefer to stay in a Gurdwara during their outstation trips so that they may be able to enjoy the evening or early morning kirtan sessions or even partake in some sewa?

Do our Gurdwaras cater for such Sikhs?.



There is a purpose in our Gurus wanting this function to be performed at a Gurdwara and there is a purpose in choosing the words “young and old.”

Such fortification of bonds would allow the older generation to pass on their spiritual and sewa based experiences as well as knowledge to the younger generation. It would also allow for the younger generation to carry on this noble practise when their turn comes.

The ROI question here is: how many of our Gurdwara activities are geared towards such fortification?

Do our parbhandaks adequately understand this concept and know what they have to do?

Do our granthis, ragis, parcharaks and kathakars even speak the language of our youth? Can they relate to the issues and lives of our youngsters?

The key words are “fortifying brotherly bonds” and “amongst the young and old.”

It goes without saying that there can be no forming of bonds of any kind if the young DO NOT COME to Gurdwara in the first place. The reality of modern day Gurdwaras is that the youth are just not coming.

The ROI questions therefore are: have our Gurdwaras set up and EMPOWERED youth wings?

Are youth adequately represented in the management of our Gurdwaras? Do we even know what they want from and within a Gurdwara?

It also goes without saying that meaningless bonds can only form if the young and old actively engage in a host of activities jointly either in the Gurdwara or outside that are organized by the Gurdwara.

Do Gurdwaras organize such activities? Do our youth have a say in this?



The Nishan Sahib is part of every Gurdwara. It is thus closely tied to the above 7 original and rightful functions, as intended by our Gurus.

The Nishan Sahib is, for all intents and purposes a sign board that stands tall and calls out for those who need spiritual guidance, protection, solace, education and want to fortify their bonds with humanity.

The Nishan is located high as a beacon of hope for any woman seeking to protect her honour, as a light house for a weary traveller seeking a place to rest, and as a welcome sign for a hungry/displaced/homeless person seeking a meal.

It is inviting them, in the name of the Guru to come to the Gurdwara and be served.

The ROI questions relating to the Nishan Sahib would be as follows. Have our Gurdwaras delivered what our “sign board” proclaims and broadcasts?

Are we aware of at least the moral and spiritual penalties of putting up a sign promising the 7 functions above but have not strived to provide them?

Are we aware that the right way to respect the Nishan sahib is NOT to wash it with milk and lassi, to metha tek, to dress it up with a chola, or do its parkarima. ?

But that meaningful respect would come when we ensure that our Gurdwaras deliver all the above 7 functions that our Nishan Sahib stands for?


Readers are welcome to make their own assessments for their own Gurdwaras based on the questions posed. You may want to pose additional questions. My assessment would be provided in the second part.

NEXT: PART THREE: The Assessment.