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Gurdwaras and Sikh preachers (Granthis)

by nishaan@magazine

In his prolific writings, Dr IJ Singh has drawn attention to a very vital issue of Sikhism and re-structuring. The training, employment and wages of Granthis have been neglected for far too long.

Any type of training, more so of Granthis or Katha Vachaks, requires a professional approach, to ensure consistency of quality. This quality is achieved by building a body of knowledge, careful training of people in that knowledge and then requiring aspirants to show diligence in that knowledge.

Unfortunately, there is no widely agreed curriculum for the Sikh preachers (Granthis or Katha Vachaks); their training is brief and slipshod, criteria for passing examination non-existent. Majority of the persons opting for this cadre of Sikh preachers are educated hardly above the secondary level, having poor communication skills, lack of missionary zeal or ambitious career aspirations.

Although a number of Sikh Missionary Colleges have come up in the Punjab during the last decade, there is neither any common syllabus nor fixed duration of training nor even standard examination system. There is no minimum eligibility criterion for teachers. There is no Sikh institutional body for proper gradation of their performance.

I recollect that in the pre-partition days there were examinations conducted by the Punjab University of Lahore in Giani which was equivalent to graduation in Punjabi. There were two lower exams, Budhimani and Vidmani. No one was appointed even an assistant Granthi unless he was at least ‘Giani Pass’.

Unfortunately, things have steadily declined since then. The Shaheed Sikh Missionary College at Amritsar, established by the SGPC, came into being for training of Granthis and Kirtanias, buthas remained a neglected institution. The number of trainees and facilities has remained the same over the last eight decades. Regrettably, little attention has been paid by SGPC or its Dharm Parchar Committee towards this vital issue.

Lack of proper training and knowledge of Sikh scriptures and Sikh history of our Granthis is clearly evident. Three distinct incidents come to my mind which expose the utter inadequacy of the prevailing system of conducting the daily service in our Gurdwaras today.

First, it was the post 9/11 assemblies for prayers for the departed. One such function in Markham (Toronto) was organised by the City’s Municipal Corporation. Representatives from all the religions had been invited and asked to speak. Whereas the representatives of Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Budhists, made very impressive well prepared speeches in English followed by short few rods of prayer, our religious representatives (the Granthis) recited the typical Ardas in Punjabiwhich had no impact on the mixed audience and left no impression whatsoever.

Another perhaps typical example is about two young men, who visited their Gurdwara regularly with their parents since childhood. The boys grew up and soon joined University, necessitating their stay in hostels, coming home on some weekends. Otherwise they would stay on in their hostels, completing assignments and enjoying themselves with friends. One Sunday, when one boy came home, he told his mother “Mom we know Guru Granth Sahib is our Guru and we go to the Gurdwara only, but twice I have gone with my friends to the Mandir and have learnt something on each visit; whereas in the Gurdwara we do not learn anything”. The entire programme is in Punjabi only.

Other religions have made appropriate changes with the times. Their priests are well-educated, qualified to take questions from the audience and communicate with them in English in a rational manner.

Another incident depicts that state of our so-called Missionary Colleges. A few years ago, newspapers reported a strike in a Missionary college. The boys had complained about the poor quality of food and their being sent to people’s homes to do Akhand Paths, instead of attending classes. The money from Akhand Paths went to the college authorities.

All these incidents are self explanatory and highlight different aspects of the problem. What is the way forward ?

For good Sikh preachers (Granthi or katha vachak) today, the following should be the minimum criteria :

  •  Good basic education : this helps develop rational thinking, sharpness of mind and analytical capacity and sufficient communication skill.
  • Good knowledge of the text of Sri Guru Granth Sahib
  • A deep understanding of Sikh Theology, based on teachings enshrined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
  • A detailed knowledge of lives of Sikh Guru Sahiban.
  • Good knowledge of Sikh history.
  • Good knowledge of other world religions.
  • Good proficiency at least in one foreign language such as English, French, Spanish, Arabic for those who want to work abroad and an Indian language like Tamil, Telgu Bengali, Assamese, apart from Hindi for those working in India.
  • Proper communication skills.
  • Training in ethics, moral code and capacity to interact with other people.
  • A Granthi is also expected to be a role model for others and also a confidant of members of the sangat.

A Christian Missionary takes 8-10 years of hard study and training before he is ordained as a priest in a church. With us Sikhs, anyone can become a Granthi, without any orientation training.

When one speaks to some of them on the subject of their training, a usual answer is that he had this bent of mind since childhood, came into the sangat of so and so Baba ji and it is with  Babai ji’s blessings !

One had hoped that with the establishment of Sri Guru Granth Sahib World Sikh University (SGGSWU) at Fatehgarh Sahib, most of these adequacies would be addressed, but I was regretfully mistaken. Though the SGGSIS University is being funded solely by the SGPC,  which is in fact the Sikh Sangat itself, its functioning is just like any other Indian University.

A review of the departments at the University will prove my contention. Hereunder is the information as obtained from the website of the University. These are:

  • School of Guru Granth Sahib Studies
  • School of Basic and Applied Sciences
  • School of Engineering
  • School of Engineering Technologies
  • School of Commerce and Management
  • School of Economics
  • School of Social Sciences
  • School of performing Arts
  • School of Education and Sports

Of the nine schools, only one deals with Guru Granth Sahib Studies, the other eight departments could well as be part of any other university in the country !

Then why name it as Guru Granth Sahib International University and why is it funded by the SGPC i.e. Sikh Sangat? The university could well be named as ‘Fateh Garh Sahib University’ just like any other university of the Punjab, funded by the Government of Punjab.

In my humble opinion, SGGSIS University should have the following schools, if it is to serve the desired purpose.

School of SGGS Students

Today Ph.D. research on Sikh religion is being done by many scholars in different parts of the world. This research work is being done under teachers and evaluators who do not fully understand  the Sikh faith or the Gurbani enshrined in SGGS. This should provide an opportunity for proper research under learned scholars.

School of Sikh History Students

So much needs to be unearthed in Sikh history ! Sikh history is being distorted and misinterpreted. There is an urgent need to write an authentic history of the Sikhs. As it has been, history has either been written by rulers of the day or those who wanted to destroy Sikhs and their identity as an independent religion.  There is an urgent need for writing Sikh history based on Sikh ideology and Sikh heritage.

School of Comparative Religions

The need for comparative study of different religions, particularly by Sikh scholars and Granthis cannot be over-emphasised. If we want to establish our presence (Pehchan) in the world, our scholars have to be competent enough to take part in world religious meets and conferences and be capable of having meaningful, persuasive and convincing dialogue with all others, based on Gurbani.

School of Translation of  SGGS in all world and Indian Languages

The world is now is a global village. The message of universality, diversity and oneness of the creator and equality of human race enshrined in SGGS can only be spread if we have SGGS translated into all major languages of the world. This is a major but most essential task for missionary work. Also, to evaluate exiting English translations on an accepted theological (Bhav meaning) form is required.

School of Sikh Missionary Institutions

Firstly, there is need to have a top class Sikh Missionary college, which can meet requirements of the Sikh Faith, both in quality and quantity. The admission criteria should be at least a graduate with four years of extensive study and training programme in Sikh theology, Sikh ideology, Sikh history and pedagogy.

Secondly, a central affiliating body should be entrusted with the responsibility of coordinating the working of all existing Missionary colleges, to bring them at par with the desired knowledge base, admission criteria, duration of training, testing, evaluation and certification.

School of Languages

The school should have facilities for study of different languages. It will prove an important link with schools like that of translation and missionary training. From the time of Guru Nanak (1469 AD) to 1849 or till the time British rule was established in the Punjab, official language of Punjab was Persian. In other words all the Sikh history as recorded by court recorders or other authors is in Persian. For proper missionary activity, this school should impart multi-lingual training to the incumbents.

School of Gurdwara Management

The SGPC was created in 1925 “for efficient management of Sikh Gurdwaras and propagation of Sikh Religion”. It did a wonderful job for the first 25 years. Thereafter, it started getting politicised, to the detriment of its main charter. For the past half a century, it is being called the “mini parliament of Sikhs”. Its members are mostly budding politicians with little or no knowledge or interest in Sikhi or its well being or its propagation.

No wonder during elections to the SGPC today, various corrupt practices as prevailing in the national polity, including muscle and money power, alcohol, drugs and other conceivable unethical and immoral practices are being resorted to win elections at any cost. Candidates are selected on the basis of their “winability” rather than on the basis of a good moral character and Gurmat orientation.

Under such circumstances, most gurdwara management has gone off on a tangent : instead of being centres of Gurmat, learning they are, becoming centres of karam kinds. A good training programme for gurdwara managers and research in the field may help us reverse the situation.

School of Gurus Lives

There are too many imaginary (Man-Gharat) stories associated with lives of Guru Sahibans. It is very important is separate facts from mythological fiction. This school has its work cut out !

School of Communications and Multimedia

As mentioned earlier, communication skills are very important for an effective missionary. Media is an efficient and effective tool, use of which by Granthis must be introduced.

There can be many other ideas and suggestions. The main point is that the SGGSW University should work for the advancement of Sikh thought and theology. Merely naming the University after Sri Guru Granth Sahib does not serve any purpose.

All training bears fruit only if it is utilised, that is once those who pass out from these institutions are correctly employed. The SGPC should revert back to its practice of employing as preachers (granthis or parcharaks) from among those who have proper training and certification.

Proper career advancement, respectable wages and commensurate perks must be worked out and implemented for those joining this career.

To conclude, preparing a well-trained cadre of Sikh preachers with a sound professional training and qualification, proper placement, adequate wage structure, respectable service conditions is utmost need of the hour if we wish to have proper preaching and propagation of Sikh religion within our own community – as well as the world at large.

                                                                                              Colonel Avtar Singh (retd.),Ontario, Canada.

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Sri Guru Granth Sahib World University at Fatehgarh Sahib in the Punjab, was established under Punjab State Act 20/2008 (Sri Guru Granth Sahib World University Act).

The construction of the building was funded by the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee. The university was inaugurated formally and started its first session on 24 July 2011. Though Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia was appointed the first Vice-Chancellor of the university in 2008, he was shot and critically injured only few days after inauguration of the university. Gurnek Singh, former head of the Department of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Studies, Punjabi University was appointed acting Vice-Chancellor of the university on 9 August 2011.

A distinguishing feature of the University will be Sri Guru Granth Sahib Studies characterized by latest interpretational methodologies, Sikh Historiography with re-interpretation, in contemporary ideological perspective, of the basic sources will be given special attention.[citation needed] The new university would also focus on imparting education in most modern technologies such as nano-technology, bio-technology, information technology and business management besides comparative study of different religions. The university would also house faculties of schools of emerging technologies, basic sciences, management, social sciences, arts, languages, engineering, architecture, law and social justice.

The 400th anniversary of the compilation and first installation of Sri (Adi) Guru Granth Sahib was globally celebrated by faith-followers of Sikhism and other religions together in 2004 CE.

On this historic occasion, before a mammoth gathering of the devotees at Sri Amritsar Sahib,Sardar Parkash Singh Badal took a pledge for the setting up of Sri Guru Granth Sahib World University at Fatehgarh Sahib.

In pursuance of one of the very first major decisions after taking over as Chief Minister of Punjab, Sardar Parkash Singh Badal got a Bill passed by the Punjab Vidhan Sabha, and thus the University got statutory character in terms of Sri Guru Granth Sahib World University Act (20/2008).

Thanks to the vision of Hon’ble Sardar Parkash Singh Badal, dynamism of Hon’ble Sardar Sukhbir Singh Badal, and under inspiring leadership of the S.G.P.C President, Jathedar Avtar Singh , the dream is fast becoming reality in the form of Sri Guru Granth Sahib World University with a huge (84 acres) beautiful campus, the main building complex of which is almost complete. This would house Departments of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Studies and Sikh Historiography in the Faculty of Religious and Civilizational Studies, besides the Faculties of the Arts & Humanities, Sciences and Technologies, and Social Sciences . In the first phase, these Faculties will have a number of other Departments for over 20 Degrees with most advanced syllabi.

If on the one hand the University would focus on study / research / teaching in the areas of world religions, cultures and civilizations, and other courses under the general heads of the Arts & Humanities, Social Sciences, Pure Sciences and Applied Sciences, equal stress, on the other hand, would be laid on the emerging technologies such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology, as well as emerging disciplines like ecology, human rights, feminism, empowerment of the downtrodden, etc.
In consonance with the latest trend, subjects will be not compartmentalized into monad-like departments but would be intertwined with holistic approach for providing value-oriented knowledge. Focus on religion, culture and civilization would strengthen civil society, while emphasis on science and technology would contribute towards evolving knowledge society of the 21st century

A distinguishing feature of the University will be Sri Guru Granth Sahib Studies characterized by latest interpretational methodologies, Sikh Histrography with re-interpretation, in contemporary ideological perspective , of the basic sources will be given special attention.

Most advanced courses and studies in the Arts, Humanities, Pure Sciences and Technologies have been drafted with high quality teaching and research comparable to the best in India and abroad, under guidance of best Faculty being recruited / enlisted from Indian and foreign institutions of higher, specialized, learning.

Magnificent Campus, equipped with the state-of-the art laboratories would hopefully give an edge to the University over universities.

Extra-curricular activities in the University would be aimed at for fullest personality development.

The University would exude ambience of its own that would continue motivating and innervating the students ,here ,in their encounters with life.

Addressing the gathering after inaugurating the academic session, Badal said that the new university would be a unique institution of higher learning, disseminating the philosophy and ideology of great holy scripture to bring awareness amongst the mankind about the universal message of love, peace, oneness and communal harmony.

The university would not only undertake the research on different aspects of Guru Granth Sahib but also carry out comparative study of other religions to enable the students, researchers and theologians to have better understanding of all the religions, he added.

Badal lauded the role of of the SGPC for the conceptualization of the project.

The university campus is being developed at Fatehgarh Sahib, 60 km from Chandigarh. SGPC President and founder chancellor Avtar Singh Makkar said that the Rs.500 crore university would be a state of the art premier institutions of the country. The institution, spread in over 84 acres of land, has been funded by the SGPC.

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