Is Panjabi the Sikh language ? Should all Sikhs be able to speak Panjabi, should all Sikhs be Panjabis ? Is there any rule against speaking French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian or English in the Gurdwara ? The answers to these four questions are : No, No, No and No !
The language of the Guru Granth is not Panjabi, it is the language of the North West of the sub-continent of Guru’s day and was understood by most people in that corner of the subcontinent. Most would not have been familiar with Gurmukhi script, just like now people would use the Farsi or the Devnagri one and many were not able to read and write at all.
Anybody who can understand Urdu, Panjabi or Hindi will understand the Guru Granth much easier than ‘western’ Sikhs like Harjinder Singh (me). He (me) has the additional disadvantage that he came to Sikhí at the age of 50, when learning new languages is far more challenging than when you are 25.
The Guru Granth is mostly poetry, and most of the poetry is set to classical musical measures called rágs. We will never want to live by translations alone, as we would miss the beautiful poetry.
That does not mean that we should not spend time and money on excellent translations of the Guru Granth Sahib into English, and to have the Guru Granth translated in as many other languages as possible. We should also improve the quality of path and kirtan in the original language, using string instruments and in the original rágs.
I became a Sikh because in spite of using poor quality translations, Guru’s message is so powerful that it came through anyway. With better translations, more projections of original text and translations, we should bring the sangat back to the powerful teachings of our wonderful Guru.
If we want the Gurdwaré to be more than Panjabi clubs, announcements and notices should be in the local language and Panjabi, and katha should be in Panjabi some nights and in the local language on others. All katha should concentrate on the implications of Guru’s teachings on our daily life.
The first time I visited the ‘daftar’ (office) of the Park Avenue Singh Sabha I was told that I should speak in Panjabi, the other day in the same Gurdwara somebody tried to tell me something in Panjabi and I did not understand him. In spite of the fact that he could speak English he kept saying the same thing in Panjabi, and we did not get anywhere.
This is England, the language of this country is English. It is not my mother tongue either, but if I am part of what is a world religion in England, I think it would be perfectly reasonable that the local language is used as well.