Lessons in building a gurdwara

Our committee, too, has not been spared of same maladies, foibles and follies that have afflicted other committees – inflated egos, each one a power onto themselves - Ajit Singh, Malaysia’s first Sikh diplomat, tells Asia Samachar in an interview just ahead of the launch of the new Shah Alam gurdwara

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| Shah Alam, Malaysia | 9 Dec 2015 | Asia Samachar | 

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Inflated egos and rude social media encounters are some issues that volunteers may face when undertaking social work. They are present even when taking on the noble task of creating a new gurdwara for the local Sikh sangat.

Ajit Singh, Malaysia’s first Sikh diplomat, had his share of the encounters as member of the team that went about to build a new gurdwara for the Sikh community in Shah Alam, the state capital of Selangor, Malaysia.

SEE ALSO: ‘Gurdwara of learning’ coming to Shah Alam

“Our committee, too, has not been spared of same maladies, foibles and follies that have afflicted other committees – inflated egos, each one a power onto themselves,” he tells Asia Samachar in an interview just ahead of the launch of the new gurdwara on Friday (11 Dec 2015).

“This is very painful to watch and, worse, to bear if you at the receiving end. It’s become almost an occupational hazard now for those holding public office.”

Ajit is the chairman of the organising committee and also the patron of the building committee for Gurdwara Sahib Guru Nanak Shah Alam (GSGNSA).

He was the first elected secretary-general of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), a post he held for five years and which carries ministerial rank.

 

Asia Samachar: Why a Gurudwara in Shah Alam?

Ajit: Even though Selangor is the most developed state in Malaysia, its capital, Shah Alam, hasn’t had a Gurdwara with full modern facilities. The old one in Sri Muda was too small and run down. Its Darbar Sahib had to share space with the kitchen and double up as the langgar hall, classroom, and meeting room when needed. There was no air-conditioning or a good sound system. The Sangat had to use the facilities of the nearby gurdwaras in Klang, Petaling Jaya or Kuala Lumpur for larger gatherings such as weddings, births and engagements. There was a real danger that the Sangat could drift away as was evident by the growth of some mini darbar sahibs in shop lots of nearby neighborhoods. With the modern and up-to-date facilities the new GSGNSA will provide, it is hoped that we will not only retain the old membership but attract other families and make it a gurdwara of choice.

What are the main features of the opening ceremony?

You will find that the programme for the opening ceremony gives emphasis and importance to both the katha and the kirtan to reflect the role we envisage the gurdwara to play. At the same time it recognises the need and the interest of the Sangat to display their reverence and love for their Guru in a visible way. Hence, we have the Nagar Kirtan on foot for the 6.4 km long journey. Indications are that our compatriots from gurdwaras in nearby areas as well as from outstation will join us in this. The Sri Dasmesh Band will add color and vibrancy to the event.

For the kathas, we are very fortunate to have two very outstanding Malaysians, Bhai Manjeet Singh of Titiwangsa and Dr Karminder Singh (Ph.D. Boston), both of whom are fulfilling an urgent need in the Sikh community for a better understanding of our Beloved Living Guru, as embodied in the SGGS. They write and hold regular classes, take part in samelans (camps) and visit other gurdwaras and gatherings to talk about Sikhi. The former will open the ceremony with his katha on Friday (11 Dec 2015), while the latter will address us at the close of the Akhand Paath on Sunday (13 Dec).

For the kirtan, again we are relying on our very own Malaysian talent. We in Malaysia are indeed very fortunate that we have such a rich pool of very good kitanists, male and female, amongst us who are only too ready to volunteer their services.  We all know Dya Singh. This maestro, as I like to call him, has made a name for himself, both here and with international audiences abroad. He has the flair and the dare to do the unconventional and get away with it. Veer Tarlochan Singh and Veer Baldev Singh (Leo) will, no doubt, stamp their own imprint with their inimitable styles. Giani Satnam Singh of Seremban is both a well-known teacher and granthi and he will make up the full team of the kirtanists.

The Nishan Sahib Selami at 1pm will have the attendance of the Sri Dasmesh Band.

Also Veer Hargopal Singh of the Shabad Explorer fame will launch his latest version of the application, this time with audio included. It  will be a great boon for beginners and others now to read and listen to the shabad as it appears on the screen line by line. The CD will be distributed free.

Dya will also be distributing a free CD of his own commemorating this memorable event.

There will also be a free distribution of the CD recorded by a father and the daughter team from New Zealand. The special CD by  Veer Yadvinder Singh (brother of Baldev Leo), and Bibi Amrita Kaur will have a picture of the GSGNS on its cover page.

So you can see that while we are in for a very stimulating, fulfilling and entertaining ceremony, which will be a memorable one for all of us, we are also charting the future role of the gurdwara as a learning and teaching center. May Waheguru Ji bless us in this endeavor.

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What have been your main challenges and difficulties you faced as Patron of the Building Committee?

I could easily write a book on “How not to build a Gurdwara”! The construction itself has taken us nearly four years because of delays caused by circumstances beyond our control. But planning and getting the project off the drawing board took a good four years as well. So these eight years have been a long haul indeed. I really feel exhausted but exhilarated too because we have been able to fulfill Guru Ji’s wishes.

It is said of a married couple that if they stay married and feel the same for each other at the end of having built their dream house, that would be a achievement. I suppose, using the same example, if  committee members  in a gurudwara or a Sikh NGO can still smile and hug each other a the end of their terms of office or the project they having been working on,  it would says a world of that committee.

In our case, there are only about four of us still hanging in there from the time we first started on this long and difficult road. Our committee, too, has not been spared of same maladies, foibles and follies that have afflicted other committees – inflated egos, each one a power onto themselves and, of late, using the social media to build their own sense of self importance and becoming both the judge, jury and executioners. This is very painful to watch and, worse, to bear if you at the receiving end. It’s become almost an occupational hazard now for those holding public office.

If only we could work as a team and say that we, volunteers all, are grateful at the opportunity He has given us to work for His cause. What a wonderful world it would be!

Is there any solution to this?

Let us start our own “rehat meryada” or SOP for our meetings. At each of our meetings, we should leave vacant the chair at the head of the table normally occupied by the president, patron or chairman. It is where Guru Ji will be Sitting, Watching and Listening. The others will sit around the “vacant” chair. At the start of each session, we will make a short Ardas, (not to the chair), seeking His blessings and His guidance. So apart from giving us the feeling that we are all sewadaars and sewadarnis, we will have to be extra careful when hurling insults, raising voices or using unparliamentary language. Also, it would help to remind us constantly that we are working for Him and not some egomaniac intent on leaving a golden legacy. Similarly, the end of the session should also be marked by a Ardas thanking Him for having given us the opportunity to meet and to be able to make good progress in our discussion in an amicable,brotherly and sisterly manner. It’s worth trying it out.

What are your plans now?

With His Grace, to learn to die while still alive!

RELATED STORIES:

‘Gurdwara of learning’ coming to Shah Alam (Asia Samachar, 3 Dec 2015)

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Potential tussle for MGC presidency, Jagir to serve last term (Asia Samachar, 16 Nov 2015)

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Major changes in Malacca gurdwara leadership  (Asia Samachar, 9 Mac 2015)

Rethinking gurdwara design (Asia Samachar, 21 Apr 2015)

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ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs / Punjabis in Southeast Asia and beyond. Facebook | WhatsApp +6017-335-1399 | Email: editor@asiasamachar.com | Twitter | Instagram | Obituary announcements, click here |

2 COMMENTS

  1. Failure to respond may be perceived as the suspicions or adverse comments having some truth in them.
    No reply/explanation has been made on the questions raised in the last comment.
    Could it be that those holding management positions feel that the questions raised may be an affront to them and may be questioning their actions?

    It is observed that while there are some comments on what is published/reported there is rarely any response on the comments made even when the comments/remarks may have been ‘controversial’. If the Sanggat wants to progress then there should be a healthy debate and discussion on the points raised. As and example there have been articles on the way Gurdwaras are Managed but there appears to be little interest from the Sanggat or the Sikh Leaders to debate the issue and find solutions.

    There are other topics on which the Sanggat should be actively involved and not remain silent except to criticize in private and in small groups. These critics may be referred to as just empty drums who make noise but are not be willing to commit their views in print for common information.

    SILENCES WILL NOT BRING ANY IMPROVEMENTS AND THE STATUS QUO WILL REMAIN.
    SANGGAT JI PLEASE BE VOCAL AND PARTICIPATE IF YOU WANT TO PROGRESS AND BRING ABOUT A CHANGE AND THIS IS MY HUMBLE SUGGESTION.
    I HOPE THAT ASIA SAMACHAR WILL NOT BECOME JUST ANOTHER WEBSITE GIVING NEWS OF BIRTHS-MARRIAGES-DEATHS-ANNIVERSARIES AND NOT USED TO BRING ABOUT ANY TRANSFORMATION IN THE SIKHS.
    Many leaders talk about needing new blood and the youths/professionals in our organizations to be involved but until those who are nearing the date to meet their Makers are not willing to make way graciously but wait to be ‘kicked’ voted out then there is little hope for improvement or transformation. Start with holding posts for not more than three to five years and age limit of sixty or so to hold any post and active participation to be the criteria for being elected and to hold the post. THE SENIORS SHOULD BE APPOINTED AS ADVISERS.

    Apologies in case any one were to misunderstand my intentions given through my above and other views.

  2. Asia Samachar: Why a Gurudwara in Shah Alam?

    The response of Sr Ajit Singh was that ‘Even though Selangor is the most developed state in Malaysia, its capital, Shah Alam, hasn’t had a Gurdwara with full modern facilities. The old one in Sri Muda was too small and run down.

    Personally I am in total agreement with the justification for having a new Gurdwara in Shah Alam.
    However I notice that there was anold Gurdwara in Sri Muda and my questions are:

    [a] Was the land on which the building stands owned by the Sanggat or was there a condition that the Sri Muda land had to be surrendered to the Government in exchange for the land in Shah Alam?

    [b] If the Sri Muda Gurdwara land was owned by the Sanggat then what is its fate going to be? Will it also function for the benefit of the nearby Sanggat and how many are there? The reason for this question is that there are several Gurdwaras in Malaysia which are not being used as intended for common good due to lack of Sanggat. The Police Gurdwara in High Street, the Gurdwarra in Kg.Pandan Settlement in KL may fall in this category. It is to be remembered that the Titiwangsa Gurdwara land is understood to be now categorized as ‘commercial’ and has high commercial value estimated to be in tens of millions due to its location.

    It is common knowledge that some Gurdwaras may be perceived to be ‘abandoned’ and not used for common Sanggat’s benefit but more for some individual families who may be perceived to be objecting their closure more for personal interest rather than of the Sanggat.

    Malaysian Gurdwara Council will be in a better position to gauge the usefulness and benefit to the Sanggat of some of the Gurdwaras. MGC should consider doing a study before the Gurdwaras become solely for the use of some individuals or groups. Another organizations would be the Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia.

    MGC and Gurdwara Management Committees should seriously consider this suggestion and the Sanggat get involved by giving their input and professional expertise as Gurdwaras are too important to be left without moving with the times and thus needs a change of mindset of all.

    My apologies if any one were to be offended by my views and comments but I do not wish the Gurdwaras become like the Christian Churches in KK and Leeds which had to be sold by the indifferent attitudes of the local Christian communities.

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