Vishal J Singh | Gurdwara Design | 13 July 2015 | Asia Samachar |
In this third in a series of articles on Gurdwara design, VISHAL J SINGH looks at how the Langgar Hall can play a more prominent role to connect direct with the world at large.
Let me begin this article with a poignant story.
“A young child, neglected, sickly and diminished, walks up to an elderly man, seemingly religious in demeanour and raises and clasps both his hands. He looks at the elder man, dressed in the finest white robes he’s ever seen, and asks, “Sir, can I please have some food?” The elderly man obliges and says: “Of course you may, but first tell me something.” And the child goes “Yes, sir?”
“Are you a Hindu?” asks the man and the child says no. “Are you a Muslim?” he asks again and the child, again, says no. Then the elderly man asks “Are you a Christian?” and the child says no for the third time. Finally, the elderly man, bewildered and puzzled by the child’s identity, gives up and asks: “Then what are you?”. The child looks at him, without any pause for hesitation, says “I am hungry.”
Of all the activities, both social and cultural, that are deeply intrinsic to the experience of being a human being, perhaps no other activity brings us close together as a collective community as the act of eating. The simple act of consuming food and water for nutrition, is valued for so much more than just as a means to sustain ourselves physically. All across the planet, individual cultures indulge in eating and drinking as a celebration of the human spirit, to be enjoyed and savoured with friends and family, as a profound social activity that brings people together.
In Sikh culture, there is perhaps no better example of expressing the spiritual and physical importance of nourishment other than in the act of peforming “sewa” to feed the congregation that frequents any Gurdwara on any given event or function. Typically, the Langgar Hall can be considered the second most significant architectural space in a gurdwara complex, second to only the Darbar Sahib and the Sachkhaand itself, as it should be.
In most typological Gurdwara layouts, the Langgar Hall is usually situated either below the Darbar Sahib or next to it, depending on how many stories the Gurdwara complex will have. Now, there is certainly nothing wrong in this designed layout, but I’ve always wondered, in the back of my mind, could the Langgar Hall assume an even more prominent role that it is usually assigned with?
What if the Langgar Hall could serve more than just one group of people at any specific time, usually members of the Sikh faith, and literally position itself in a location within the Gurdwara complex grounds that would serve the non– Sikh going crowd simultaneously? Could we design the Langgar Hall to have direct access to the public on the exterior periphery of the Gurdwara complex, while also being in a position to serve the needs of the Sikh faithful, as well, thus bringing the two cultures together in an atmosphere of joy?
The following part of my article seeks to address the intriguing notion that a Langgar Hall in a Gurdwara complex can act not only as a venue for communal eating and drinking, and of course the “sewa” that comes with it, but as a venue to encourage social connections with members who are not part of the Sikh faith, thus establishing bonds of friendship and respect between the followers of the faith and the general public as well.
For the (hypothetical) execution of this concept, I propose building a Gurdwara in a district of the city of Kuala Lumpur that is known for its vibrant local culture, its rapid modernisation, its rich mixture of traditional and modern buildings, and for its dynamic tapestry of social and economic hotspots of activity. This part of the city is called “Brickfields” and was so named during a time when the British were still in charge of the affairs of the country.
Historically, Brickfields literally had fields of bricks carpeting its many open areas, and was this was done to allow the raw bricks to dry in the sun, after being burnt in a furnace, in preparation to be used as building material. Over the decades, it became a dynamic enclave of culture for many ethnicities in the city, who also brought and celebrated their respective traditions, thus explaining the numerous religious establishments such as temples, churches, mosques and social ones too, such as schools, living quarters, markets, eateries and so forth that are seen here. Truly, Brickfields is a microcosmic version of the city itself, expressing the rich ethnic and cultural diversity of the populace of Kuala Lumpur in a single district, which makes it all the more strange that a Gurdwara isn’t found anywhere here.
Thus, the Gurdwara that I’m proposing not only contributes to the richness of Brickfields as an “urban ingredient” to the social treasure trove of cultures here. I also propose that the Gurdwara itself takes on an active social initiative by having the Langgar Hall directly connected to the pavement that borders the roads, allowing the casual day to day passerby to engage the Gurdwara in a more meaningful manner, other than just observing the premises from the outside.
Pathways are “arteries” in the urban infrastructure, and ultimately, it is the constant flow of pedestrian traffic that powers the spirit of every “artery” in the city. These “architectural arteries” literally are the lifeblood of any dynamic metropolis in the world, and the proposed location of the Langgar hall that connects to that “architectural artery” on the street level ensures active social engagement between the public and the Gurdawara itself.
The Langgar Hall here acts as a “social connecter” that welcomes people to enter the hall, encouraging goodwill and positivity, and see for themselves the beautiful “sewa” that takes place when food is served to the hungry. No obligations are expected of anyone, and when food is served between the “sewadars” and the passerby, then immediately a bond of friendship is created, and camaraderie permeates the air, between all parties present at the venue, old and young, rich and poor, Sikh and non-Sikh.
I sincerely believe that for a Gurdwara to be true to its founding spirit as a house for humanity, meant for the benefit of all people, then perhaps architectural solutions to keep expanding on this divine concept could keep on being explored and expressed to greater heights in the modern era. This is simply my proposal to allow a way for me to share with the world the invaluable teachings of the Sikh faith, and what better way to do it than by first offering a morsel of bread to a fellow human being. Waheguru Bless.
Vishal J.Singh, Aspiring architect, Bachelor of Architecture, Infrastructure University Kuala Lumpur
NEXT ARTICLE: GREEN GURDWARA. Vishal J Singh will review what a proposed “Green” (environmentally friendly building) Gurdwara can be designed as in the modern context. It will address environmental issues and eco-friendly principles.
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FROM THE SAME AUTHOR:
A sanctuary by the sea (Asia Samachar, 7 June 2015)
Rethinking gurdwara design (Asia Samachar, 21 Apr 2015)