The Virtual Gurdwara and Change

Watching Gurdwara on TV 

Sometime this past week I had put the live local Gurdwara video broadcast on the television (I have a computer connected to my TV system so can listen to music on the stereo and watch live internet video broadcasts). For our family this wasn’t a very unusual thing to be able to tune into remove Gurdwaras live through the internet in our home. However, this time we happened to all be sitting on the couch relaxing and it was one of those funny moments where we were all sitting there in front of a TV screen watching the Gurdwara that was going on a few miles away, as if we were sitting there in the back of the room. There we were watching and listening, but it was kind of like a game though, as we try to guess who was in the Gurdwara sitting down, or had just walked in. When I realized what we were doing it seemed so comical. It was like we were watching some reality TV show or something.

Today I put the live broadcast on again and my Narayan and daughter Charanjeet just sat there staring at the TV watching the Gurdwara and listening to the Kirtan. When I walked in the room and saw them,  it felt like a virtual Gurdwara, and as if I should bow down towards the TV as if it were going to be “beamed” through the TV/Internet to the physical Siri Guru Granth. It was just one of those odd moments that started me thinking and wondering how things might be in the future.

 Today so much of our social interactions (including this one!) are in a virtual non-personal way (Email, web, facebook, myspace, discussion forums, mobile phone text messaging, instant messengers, chat, etc). With all the new technology there are becoming more and more ways that we interact with people and media. Already this has changed how we as Sikhs relate to Gurbani and many other things. We read the Siri Guru Granth Sahib online, on our PDAs, projected onto large screens in Gurdwaras, on phones, listen to Gurbani kirtan on our portable players and streaming live from various parts of the world. I can only imagine what someone 100 years ago might think of such a things?? It makes me wonder what things we will do in the future that we can’t even think about yet.

Just imagine that you were not able to go to a Gurdwara because of your location or some other reason and had the option of being in a true virtual Gurdwara where through some sort of immersive holographic media you would actually “sit” in a  real Gurdwara that is having kirtan going on, and be surrounded by the Gurdwara as if you were really sitting there. Obviously as with each technological advance there are questions and things that we as a Sikh community have to address to keep things respectful and sacred…but it does make me think what people will do in the future and what the possibilities are.

I just thing that in 10-20 years things might be so different from 40 years ago at a Gurdwara in a village of Punjab. We obviously have to keep our core traditions, but there is a certain amount of change that will naturally happen and should happen. Sikhi is not some static lifestyle, it rich/dynamic and evolves through the spirit and experience of the Sikhs who practice it. So as more Sikhs from different cultures, backgrounds and languages follow this lifestyle there will natural things that will change based on the background of the individuals.

Often I hear people rationalize some things as needing to stay a certain way because of the way that it might have been done hundreds of years in the past. This argument has been applied to rationalize current practices of not letting women to do kirtan/seva in Harimandir Sahib along with the practice of only allowing men to be a part of the panj piaray. I know these and many similar issues could be debated till the end of time, but the point is that people have their own perspectives and sometimes only look at things from a narrow perspective.

What I think people don’t always factor in is that during each age/time there is a certain cultural element that creates certain environments. So things done during different time periods might totally vary based on the circumstances. I can think of many things that are very different from the times of the Gurus and now, yet we try to relate to everything in “Our current world” as if it is the same as 400 years ago.

There are certain core principals of the Sikh Lifestyle that should never change and are the heart Sikhi, however there are other parts which are open to interpretation and are up to the individual to decide. We shouldn’t confuse the two, or else we risk becoming just another dogmatic religion with it’s rules and regulations and judgment of others who don’t follow Sikhi according to the “correct way”.

Well, time will tell how we will evolve. Till then…I welcome all those people who can open their minds to the beauty and diversity of Sikhi and not try to put it into some sort of “box”. As Guru Gobind Singh said….960,000,000 we will be. In what form do you think this will take? It might not be what you think. Just as Christians think “the savior” will come back and they expect him to be a certain way (Christian)…and for all they know it could be a Sikh or someone of another faith.