479.The Man in Blue – Southall, Middlesex, UK

In Southall are nine Gurdwaras. In Ealing, east of Southall, is another Gurdwara, Hayes, west of Southall also has a Gurdwara and south of Southall is Hounslow with two Gurdwaras. For me all in walking distance, but I walk a lot and far. But all these Gurdwaras are within easy cycle, bus or train distance from each other.

I used to live in Portland Road, off Osterley Park Road in old Southall, within ten minutes of the Park Avenue and Havelock Southall Singh Sabha Gurdwaras. Park Avenue must be one of the most popular Gurdwaras in the UK, maybe even in Europe. Havelock Road has one of the most impressive and expensive buildings. The two Gurdwaras and the Southall Sikh school are part of one organisation.

In both Singh Sabhas the end of the afternoon early evening programme is roughly as follows : 16.15 till 17.00 kirtan ending with the So Dar of the Rahras; 17.00 till 17.30 Rahras, Ardas, Vák; 17.30 till 18.30 kirtan; 18.30 till 19.30 katha, which sometimes followed by even more kirtan.

From about 17.00 till 18.30 the texts of the shabads and the vák are almost always projected on a screen in the Park Avenue Gurdwara. This makes a big difference, and not just for people like me. Even if you are a fluent Panjabi speaker projection of the text in Gurmukhí and the English translation is helpful.

Since I moved to Southall in 2008 I almost daily attended at least part of this programme and my ability to read and understand the shabads improved greatly.

We visit the Gurdwara to be in sádh sangat and together enjoy the word of God which comes to us via Gurbaní, the shabads from the Guru Granth Sahib and from other sources that are recognised by the Sikh panth.

By listening to and signing along with the shabads we are the Sikhs, the learners that Guru wants us to be. Drinking in the shabads you will get ‘high’ on God, you will feel real joy, without any hangover the next day.

For those in charge of a Gurdwara, whether it is a democratically elected group that makes collective decision and regularly reports to the sangat, or a patriarchal or dictatorial pardhán or sant-baba, this is the most important job : present the Guru’s message to the sangat in a way that it can be digested.

Guru Nanak and Bhai Mardana sat under the village tree and sang the shabads that contained the light of God. In the UK in 2011 it rains too often and it gets too cold for open air kirtan. The size of the sangat makes microphones and speaker-boxes necessary and language drift and non-Panjabi audiences necessitate translations.

But the basic idea remains the same, the love of God, the emotion of God enters us most effectively by doing with Gurbaní what it was written for : sing, sing, sing ! Sing with conviction and emotion and share God’s light with the sádh sangat.

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