357.The Man in Blue – The Singh Sabha Movement and Hazur Sahib

Niddar Singh Nihang has written a book about how the real Akalis left Panjab and settled in Hazur Sahib and how the Singh Sabha movement distorted the real Sikhí of these real Akalis. Going by what happens these days in Hazur Sahib I am not impressed by his argument. I met many Nihangs, both in Panjab and other states, and not just the bhang lassi types, and most of them were not dedicated followers of the Guru Granth Sahib.

If I was a schoolmaster and the Sikhs were in my school, I would have all Sikhs repeat at least a thousand times : ‘The main source of Sikhí is the Guru Granth Sahib’. The Guru Granth records the words of Gurus and Bhagats who are the ‘mukhvak’ of The One. The other source of Sikhí is the way the Gurus practiced the teachings in their lives.

I am interested in the misl period. I am interested in how at the end of the 18th century Maharaja Ranjit Singh ended the meetings off the Sarbat Khalsa. I am interested in how after the 1857 mutiny the former Sikh freedom fighters became colonial troops in the British Indian Army.

But I do not want to follow a Nihang or a group of Nihangs. A good Nihang, a good Akali should be somebody who follows the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib and the example set by the Gurus. This type of Nihang is even rarer than puran gursikhs in the general population.

The above does not mean that the Singh Sabha was all wonderful. There were of course, in good Sikh tradition, at least two factions, partly based on different ideas about the way forward, partly based on being from ‘high’ or ‘low’ background.

The Singh Sabha did very good work in getting rid of Hindu practices that had come back into Sikhí, but some members in their misguided enthusiasm even wanted to remove the bhagat bani from the Guru Granth Sahib.

The Singh Sabha tried (with some success) to make Sikhí more like a western religion, which has resulted in granthis thinking that they are priests and some dodgy fellows in Amritsar thinking they are high priests. The fixed ‘order of service’ in the Gurdwara is also a result of the wrong direction the Singh Sabha took.

The Singh Sabha’s worst crime is that they have not emphasised the love between the Sikhs and the Teacher of Teachers, the All-Pervading, The All-Powerfull, The Giver without Limit. This loving relationship between the soul-brides and the God-Groom is together with the path of righteousness  the central teaching of the Guru Granth. I prefer the Singh Sabha over Niddar Singh’s purattan Sikhí, but really I want neither of them. The Sikhí that I try to follow is Guru’s Sikhí, the Sikhí of the Guru Granth Sahib.

Published in: on January 31, 2009 at 3:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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356.The Man in Blue – A Greener Lifestyle ?

I wrote about a greener lifestyle before and will write about it again. This is because many Sikhs in the UK are less aware of green issues than the average person in the UK, and are less willing to change their lifestyle. 

This is amazing for a people guided by the Guru Granth Sahib, which teaches us that God is present in all creation and that all Creation comes from The One. You would expect that Sikhs would have respect for God’s creation.


Gurbaní teaches that God has given us enough for ever, but we are insisting to spend Her/His Gifts at a rate that is totally unsustainable. Gurbaní teaches that there is no value in amassing worldly goods, but amassing worldly goods is the first priority of many UK Sikhs.


One of the reasons why more people visit the old Southall Singh Sabha at Park Avenue than the new Havelock Road Gurdwara is that Park Avenue has more parking spaces. This in spite of the fact that many members of the sangat live within walking distance and that the Gurdwaré are served by many buses and trains. The local buses are often stuck in traffic jams caused by cars with on average no more than 1½ persons in them. Let’s get out of our cars, walk more and bus more.


There are a lot of small shops in Southall that offer very good deals, but many of us prefer to go by car to the Tesco at Bulls Bridge because ‘it is more convenient’. Why it is more convenient to go to Tesco’s once the week for the big shop, rather than just hop into your local shop when you are low on milk, low on flour or whatever else is beyond me.


The goods at Tesco’s and other similar supermarkets are usually of less quality and higher price than the equivalent in the local shop, they tend to be over-packaged (more rubbish in the bin) and they encourage you to buy larger quantities which leads to more waste. 


I get milk, cheese and a few other foods from local supermarkets like Iceland, and buy everything else from the local South Asian shops. Household utensils, coat hangers etc are also cheaper in local shops.


Shopping local ticks all the boxes, you save money on petrol and on the goods you buy, you support the local shops which makes for a better society where people know each other. And it is good for the environment.


The ‘local lifestyle’ is a more social lifestyle, a lifestyle that will make you happier. A local lifestyle will make you meet the people of all backgrounds that live in Southall. Did you know that there many friendly Somalis ? Did ever meet the sangat of the Dr Ambedkar Vihara ? And you missed those 10 p plates that one of the shops in King Street had for sale around Christmas !


Published in: on January 24, 2009 at 8:19 am  Leave a Comment  
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355.The Man in Blue – Who Runs the Gurdwara II

In my first article on ‘who runs the Gurdwara’ I discussed Guru’s teaching on ‘Guru Granth – Guru Panth’ and the lack of experience of sangats and prabandhaks with democracy and equality. This time I will try to raise some more practical points.

There are three very important issues that prabandhak committees need to address, the first is our old friend maya, the second getting to grips with the constitution and last but not least working on a new way of doing things, ‘collective raj’ instead of ‘pradhan raj’.


Maya : The money the Gurdwara has in the bank, or that is invested in the bricks & mortar of the Gurdwara belongs to the institution. Regardless of what the constitution says, the institution belongs to the sangat, not just to big donors and members, but to all who use the Gurdwara.


New prabandhaks have to come to grips with the financial situation as soon as possible. They have to realise that the land owned has real value, but that buildings like on the Southall Havelock Road have been costly to build, but have limited money value. These buildings can only be used as Gurdwaré or possibly as a place of worship for people of other religions.    


Constitution : I am convinced that within the framework of the existing laws on charities we can write constitutions that include the Guru Granth – Guru Panth principle and panj piaré as mediators. Under the new rules for charities it is not sufficient to be a religious organisation, you actually have to do good works, do seva ! That should be no problem for Sikhs, but might be a problem for some prabandhak types.


Collective Raj : One of the biggest problems that we face is the fact that many of us find it difficult to work as a team, which gives authoritarian pradhans, sant babas, jathedars without jathas and other anti-Sikh forces the chance to run the show for us.


The Guru teaches that there is One Humanity, most Sikhs believe that some are automatically better because of their heritage, education, skin colour or whatever. Guru teaches Guru Granth – Guru Panth, which means that the panth should rule itself following the guidance of the Guru Granth. We are all responsible and we should stop blaming others for our failings.


Finally, having conversations with the sangat only once a year at the AGM is not democracy as I understand it. Through websites, printed material and updates supplied after the divans, the sangat should know what the Prabandhaks plan to do, and should be asked for their opinion. If we do not treat the sangat as our partners, they will not grow in understanding. 

Published in: on January 17, 2009 at 11:27 am  Leave a Comment  
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354.the Man in Blue – Who runs the Gurdwara I

In many Gurdwaré in the UK the answer is simple: the pradhan. If the Gurdwara is of the dera type the baba will be the top man.

Most places of worship are charities and therefore come under the Charities Commission. That means that they need a constitution and that constitution determines which decisions are taken by whom. The fact that many of the bigger charities are now also limited companies does not affect this.

The charity/limited company cannot pay out any dividends, if a profit is made it has to be spend on the charitable purpose for which the charity is set up. Charities do not have to be in any way democratic. Charities are not clubs that you join, and where by their nature the members are in charge.


The Charity I work with is one of the limited company/charity combinations, and is run by a council. It does specify in the constitution that people from faith communities, from the further education sector and from government agencies are to be members of the council. None of these are elected.          


This leaves open the possibility for dera type Gurdwaré to have all trustees and whatever executive there is appointed by the baba. Because of the lack of democratic tradition amongst our sangats many people prefer this, just like many people prefer the ‘all powerful pradhan’ model, over a truly Sikh model based on Guru Granth – Guru Panth.


Just like it is possible to run a charity without any say by the receivers of the good works, it is also possible to have a membership that votes in a committee which is the ruling body of the organisation, with the Trustees having to make sure that the charity sticks to the purpose it was set up for.


The elections held in for instance the Hounslow & Southall Singh Sabhas are closer to Guru’s model of Guru Granth – Guru Panth than the pradhan or baba model. I would like to abolish party lists, and prefer the Irish voting system where you can indicate your first, second, third etc preference, but any type of democracy is preferable over dictatorship.


It is legal to build into your constitution a reference to the Guru Granth as the ‘Pope’ of the Sikhs, and to how the Gurdwara Sangat must act under its guidance. It can also include Panj Piaré as mediators in conflicts.  


Our problem is that most of our sangat comes from Panjab which has not known any democracy for at least a thousand years. Therefore neither the members of the Gurdwaré nor the elected prabandhaks are familiar with behaving in a democratic way. Our Gurus were true democrats who saw all as their equals, I found only one person sharing that view in the four years that I lived in Panjab. More on this subject next week.  

Published in: on January 10, 2009 at 8:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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353.The Man in Blue – What will 2009 have on offer ?

I know from experience that trying to plan ahead is a waste of time. For instance, when in January 1996 I went off to Panjab, I had no idea that seven months later I would be an Amritdhari Sikh and that I would stay in Panjab for four years.   

Even before I became a Sikh things happened to me that I could not control and I never really settled in the way my parents did. I have had about ten different jobs, changed career completely at 50, lived in five cities and four countries and have been married twice. My father had one job, lived in one village and one city (both in the same country) and was happily married to the same woman until she died when he was in his sixties. 


I am not complaining, even my lack of success in the marriage department does not bother me, as I am content with my relationship with God. I am the only child of my parents, in my home town we were of the wrong faith and the wrong political party and there were no family members of my age nearer than a hundred miles from where we lived. Even as a child I learned how to live alone, how to keep myself busy.


Going back to 2009, my ‘faith and cultural diversity consultancy’ has been doing well in the last four years, and therefore I have a fairly healthy bank balance. The organisations I work for do good work and get government funding, but what with the credit crunch and all that I do not know how much paid for work I can get in the 2009/2010 financial year.


I am working with a group of young Sikhs in the Hounslow Singh Sabha, but that is work for love, and if the Gurdwara was to pay me I do not work enough hours to cover my modest lifestyle. I could move to Belgium, where the St Truiden Prabandhak committee will look after me as long as I do prachar and help with work in the wider community.


Based in St Truiden I could also work in Brussel and Gent, and am not too far away from some of the Dutch and German Sikh sangats. A Sikh from a Spanish Gurdwara suggested that I should come over to Barcelona or Valencia, seeing that I do know (fairly basic) Spanish.      


I am free to do what suits me, as long as whatever I do fits into my scheme of serving the Sikh community and the communities that Sikhs live with. And of course I need some money.


Not owning a house and not having strong family ties apart from with my Sikh family, I can go wherever She/He will take me. I’ll try not to worry and leave things to God. I have never been on the dole, and I have only three more years to go before my (modest) pension. I think that it is good to save for a rainy day and I will keep lodging part of my earnings in the savings.   

Published in: on January 4, 2009 at 7:06 am  Leave a Comment