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.


7 Responses to “No Evolution without Change”

  1. Ravinder says:

    This is a good topic, it is important to know the meaning of ardas and it has a very powerful meaning. I am a Punjabi Sikh who grew up in Canada and I can relate to many of the comments you made about not understanding ardas. In Canada, some gurdwaras have sort of become a social gathering for the community, a lot of times I see people just talking and gossiping with one another, while the kids run around and play foot hockey or tag in the large halls. But many gurdwaras these days have projection screens that show translations in English when kirtan is being sung. This really helps and at my local gurdwara, a homeless man from a non-Punjabi background became interested in Sikhism and he sits down with the sangat and just listens to kirtan while he reads the meanings. Also, he really likes the langar, or "free kitchen" as it may be referred to, my point is, since we live in North America, English being used in the gurdwaras definitely helps non-Punjabis feel more welcomed, no matter what their background is, gurdwaras become more welcoming to anyone. This homeless man is a very nice guy and it makes me happy that a gurdwara has become a place where he can feel some enlightenment, as well as eat food and escape from the harsh realities of living on the streets, especially during cold Canadian winters. Seeing him at the gurdwara regularly and even doing seva makes me realize how beautiful the gurdwara can be where you are always welcomed, can eat for free, and most importantly, hear the beautiful gurbani.

  2. singh says:

    Just so that people are aware, there are numerous resources that are now being made available in the English language. I'll post a list for you:

    1) The oldest source of Guru Nanak Dev ji's life, Sri Nanak Prakash is being translated into English –

    2) Sikh sakhis –

    3) English translation of Gyani Thakur Singh ji's katha on Japji sahib and his katha on Atam Gian (knowledge of the soul) – This is the deepest resource in the English language on this.

    4) Numerous Free hardcopy books from Sant Scholar Naranjan Singh ji's katha –

    5) IF anyone is serious about the spiritual search, I highly recommend the numerous English language books from Sant Waryam Singh ji of Ratwara Sahib. He was a student of the famous Sant Isher Singh ji of Rara Sahib. Atam Marg magazine is also an exceptional resource and contains gyan that I haven't found in print anywhere else. It has parts printed in English.

    6) There is a deep English language explanation of the bani Raagmala available at cost price from DTF books:….

    7) Another scholar, Tirath Singh Nirmala, has made an English translation of Bhavrasamrit Teeka which includes discussion of sadhna, yam niyam etc. He also has written Vivek Pardipika, which is a translation of Bibeksar. Bibeksar is a spiritual question and answer session between Bhai Addan Shah and Bhai Daya Ram Sevpanthi. It is very deep in spiritual knowledge.

    8) Many translations of Sant Singh Maskeen ji's katha, including his katha on Chritropakhyan and Dasam Granth Sahib ji are available on

    Also, as we speak many youth are training to do katha in the English language.

  3. Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh ji, It is understandable for a non-punjabi person to have problems understanding Punjabi. And English is excellent bridge to make you understand. But it doesn't mean that we should bring things here to do this side. We have to cross over to Guru, and if we have to evolve, we have to evolve from non-punjabi people to Puran Sikhs, which also needs love for Gurmukhi. Remember Sikhi is more like a school, and we cannot join a school and ask it to change the curriculum. Moreover we as humans have the required intelligence to learn multiple languages.____Furhter more the ardas has first para constituted with the Baani of Guru Gobind Singh. Putting english translation is showing disrespect to His Baani.____

  4. Similarly relying and repeating English translation of Baani will help you, but not benefit you 100% because the Baani as written and spoken by Guru, in Gurmukhi is the Sachchi Baani. We will never recover what shall get lost in translation. The Baani in English will also lose its Raags.____Do you know that Onkar in form of ? has symbolic representation of Endless Greatness of Guru in the upper curvature of font while writing. Where is it in Onkar?____I agree with you that we have to involve. But not by diluting Guru's teachings and gifts. We have to evolve by walking towards the Guru, not pulling him towards us.____Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, waheguru ji ki Fateh ji

    • mrsikhnet says:

      I think you are mis-understanding my post. The main point was not about Ardas/gurbani specifically, it was that this new generation of Sikhs (from Punjabi families AND other cultural backgrounds) doesn't relate as much to the way things are being done. Some of this is cultural and some language. The current environment is not conducive to teaching in a way that these generations can actually learn and understand. It's one thing to say you should learn "our curriculum" it's another thing to actually be able to teach it and make them understand. That was the point that we have to adjust how we teach and practice so that more people can learn and understand the meaning behind living this lifestyle.

      • I know the purpose behind this sounds perfectly right. But it depends a lot how things work out. May Guru's blessings and wisdom be with all of us. Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh ji

  5. Guest says:

    As a white American who has recently found a spiritual connection with Sikhism, I have twice attended a local indian Gurdwara and watched the English translations be projected. The intent was great, but of course there was trouble with the execution, and soon my eyes wandered when things got out of synch. Not everything was translated of course. Not understanding the language robbed me of the experience. Frankly, english must be the language of the Western Sikh Gurdwara's if it is to survive in this country in the long term IMHO. Having said all that, care, respect and accuracy must be considered so that there is minimal loss in translation.. I think there are a lot of folks like me on sidelines, waiting for the changes so that westerners can assimilate. Right now, I feel there is a large shadow community following, but not committing due primarily to language and kesh (there, I've said it). Peace.