No Evolution without Change

No Evolution without Change

It occurred to me that there must be people who stand for the recitation of Ardas in Gurdwara, but who do not understand what is being said. Do you understand the meaning of the Ardas that is recited during Gurdwaras? I know there are many like myself who have grown up in Western culture where Punjabi is not our first language and and who don’t understand Punjabi well.

I remember a time when I was so proud of myself for being able to recite the Ardas in Punjabi really nicely. However now I feel like I would rather say Ardas in English since that is what I understand. The Ardas is a prayer, and true prayer comes only from the heart, not from the head. It is the common prayer of the entire Sangat present at that moment. It is a reminder of all the sacrifices that Sikhs made before us so we could stand here before our Guru. It is a reminder of the courage of those Sikhs who stood steadfast and enabled us to live this lifestyle today. If I don’t understand what is being said then it’s not much of a reminder is it?


With more people from non-Punjabi cultural backgrounds adopting the Sikh lifestyle, along with the Sikh youth growing up without understanding Punjabi, I feel that some things have to change to best serve the times. When a majority of the Sangat do not understand the meaning of the things we are doing then they become nothing more than a ritual performed by rote. The meaning, purpose and experience is what is important. I personally try not to do things without understanding the purpose of it. What is the value of being a robot, and doing things mechanically rather than consciously? When our practices as Sikhs lose their meaning then they become empty rituals.

Have you ever had that feeling where the days feel like the same thing over and over and over again in an endless boring loop? When I feel like that I long for something more meaningful and for a change in my life. So when Sikhs feel like the things they do don’t give them any value, or see the reasons for them, then it’s no wonder that people start doing something else! I mean, why go through the hassle of standing out as a Sikh without getting some value, right? The depth of the experience of living this Sikh lifestyle and the understanding of it, and the direct experience it brings are what give meaning and richness to our lives.

Have you ever heard the Ardas recited in English at your Gurdwara? How often do you hear non-Punjabi language used when Sikhi or Gurbani is explained? How often do you hear of a friend or family member saying they want to be a Gyani or Ragi when they grow up? Probably not very often. So when you mix the two cultures, Older Gyanis/Ragis with Western English speaking Sikhs, there is a gap in understanding.

Many older Sikhs go to Gurdwara partly because it is a social place to connect in this "western world", but for the younger generation there is a big gap. We can’t expect the older management of Gurdwaras to understand the needs of this new generation. Things can’t stay the same as the times and the environment evolve. At some point each community must take a leadership role in their Gurdwara to help create the change necessary to meet the needs of this new generation of Sikhs. This of course takes a much more active involvement in the Gurdwara than many are willing to give, and it requires community members to brainstorm what new things could be done at the Gurdwara to give more value and meaning to the experience.

Most Gurdwaras are not kid friendly. You often see the mothers in the back of the Gurdwara trying their best to keep their child quiet and well-behaved while the "ceremonies" are done. Or there are the Western-born Sikhs who don’t understand Punjabi and who just sit there because they are supposed to, without fully understanding or relating to what is going on.

Kids GurdwaraWhen I was a kid we used to have a special kid Gurdwara program that was separate from the regular Gurdwara. This was great because it provided a more kid friendly environment for us, and at the same time involved the kids in all aspects of the Gurdwara.We were told stories of the Gurus, we played and listened to kirtan, we sat behind the Guru, we did Ardas, we all took hukams, served parshad…etc..etc.  There was no separation from the Guru created by adults doing everything while we just sat. We all felt excited to be a part of everything. This usually took place at the same time as the "Adult Gurdwara". We would then have a snack and move over to the "Adult Gurdwara" and be a part of that Gurdwara too. So the small "kids Gurdwara" was like a training ground to involve and teach us as kids. It helped us all to feel really connected to what happened in Gurdwara.

Another thing we do near the end of Gurdwara is the "The Children’s Program". Everyone looks forward to it. It’s where the kids lead the Sangat, rather than being led by it. All the kids get up together in front of the Sangat and sing various inspirational songs related to the Gurus (in English/Gurbani) while they coordinate their hand motions with the words. This gives them a fun part of Gurdwara and also gives them confidence as leaders and the courage needed to be in front of everyone. (It’s not easy giving a speech to a crowd!)

Kids Program

I sometimes get emails from new Sikhs or people who are learning about the Sikh lifestyle who visit a Gurdwara and they feel lost. Because of the cultural and language differences they find it very difficult to fit in and relate. In order to accommodate the new "Sikhers" who are not from Punjabi backgrounds and the young Sikhs who are growing up in western society we have to make adjustments.

Children get so much more meaning out of Gurdwara and being a Sikh when they get to learn and participate in Gurdwara. There are many creative ideas that individual Sangats can come up with to suit the needs of their own community (not just for kids!) Take a moment to think about this. Let’s not be limited by what "has always been done." Change is important. It’s how we grow and evolve.