Designing a gurdwara for Sikh youth, where pray meets play

This is the fifth in a series of articles on Gurdwara design by VISHAL J SINGH. This time, the author creates The Naujawan Nexus, a gurdwara designed to welcome and integrate the youth with the wider Sanggat.

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| Vishal J Singh Gurdwara Design | 25 Dec 2015 | Asia Samachar |

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Gurdwara design – Visual AsiaSamachar/Vishal Singh

By Vishal J.Singh

There was once a young child in Africa, innocent and fragile, who greatly admired and adored his teacher. As a show of heartfelt gratitude he wanted to buy something and present it as a gift to his teacher. But alas, he had not a single coin to his name, and decided to go to the seashores of the great continent and bring back some sand instead as a token of his appreciation.  An unusual gift, undoubtedly, but unique and memorable for certain. 

And so he walked two days under the scorching sun of the dry savannah, and finally reached the shores of the great sea whose waters went far beyond the universe he knew, scooped up some fine sand with his delicate hands and walked back to his school to present the sand to his teacher. Upon receiving the gift, she was moved to tears by the kindness of her student and said, as she wiped tears from her eyes, that the child didn’t have to do so much just to make her happy. And he then said “But teacher, the journey was the gift I brought back to give you.”

 

It has been said in countless circles, in countless cultures all across the world, that children are our future. They are the ones who shoulder the heavy responsibility of carrying on the bloodlines of their families. The elders care them and nurture as well as possible, tempered with loving discipline and access to food, clothing and education. The best young minds are identified and trained to lead societies and nations onto great things. Those who do exceptionally well are acknowledged and celebrated. We all want our young to do well, and we’ll do anything we can to bring them to greater heights.

This is an intrinsic truth that cuts through all of humanity, regardless of colour or creed. 

For our young, it is of utmost importance, of course, to have them brought to our Gurdwaras whenever possible, as to allow them to experience the Divine Love of the Gurus and be blessed by the wisdom and guidance of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. The power of the Sanggat (congregation) too, is an amazing social component of our society, where bonds of everlasting friendship are created through joyful interactions and the performance of “sewa” to serve those in need. Truly, these noble acts of worship and service are what we Sikhs are most grateful for, and constitute an important contribution to our collective persona and identity, nationally and even internationally.

But a sad truth is slowly emerging in our society. 

It is an unfortunate fact that youth participation and involvement in our Gurdwaras has been on the decline for quite some time now. Articles in the Asia Samachar themselves attest to this undeniable state of things. Clearly we need to do something to reach out to them and get them proactively involved in the Gurdwara – centre of activities and programmes – as a means of shaping well-developed individuals who will contribute positively to society as they mature and become professionals in the long run. Indeed, it is our responsibility to the young that we live up to our duties as caretakers and parents and nurture their every need as best as possible.

But the question remains, where do we start? 

If there is one thing the youth have in limitless abundance, it is energy. Pure, unbridled, bountiful amounts of energy that allow them to be physically and mentally active for hours at an end. One only needs to spend time with young children in their tender pre-adolescent years to see how true this is. This explosion of energy that a child inherently manifests well into adulthood, blessed with so much dynamic spirit, will surely necessitate channels for them to express their episodes of energy positively and beneficially. When it comes to bringing the youth together, perhaps no other activity can so successfully muster up their collective alliance as powerfully and as quickly as sports. When national heroes play for their nation’s glory and honour, whether on the badminton court or the football field, the whole country goes into a frenzy, supporting and cheering their favourite teams onwards to victory, and this rings true for the youth as well.

For this reason, I propose a Gurdwara that not only provides religious guidance and education, as it has and should, but devote part of its premises for the implementation of games and sports as well. This incorporation of the “play” into our Gurdawaras will be carried out side by side with the “pray” that will remain as the primary function of our houses of worship. This will bring balance to a youth’s personal development, where a Gurdwara not only strengthens his love and understanding for the spiritual, enrich his mind with the practical, but will fortify his body with the physical. 

This Gurdawara, called The Naujawan Nexus (nexus means central point), will cater to a host of physical activities for both sexes and will encourage participation and friendship on and off the field. For the purpose of this concept and in respect to its location, the Gurdawara projects a “ship-like” appearance in its design and uses materials like stone and timber extensively as part of its appearance as how wooden decks are used as jetties and harbours today. Three sport activities have been chosen as a starting point for the exercise: football, basketball and kayaking /sailing. But the Gurdawara can be designed to incorporate other sports as well, namely gatka, hockey, badminton, etc. As a proposal The Naujawan Nexus will be built on a site next to a lake located in Kuala Lumpur, called Titiwangsa Lake Gardens, which will allow the lake to be a platform of sorts for the implementation of water based sports, such as sailing, kayaking, canoeing etc. This incorporation of water in to the building programme of the Gurdwara takes advantage of the power of water to be base of sports for groups of youth in an exciting and fun way and serves as an attraction of its own.

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Gurdwara design – Visual AsiaSamachar/Vishal Singh

This (see photo above) is the main entrance court of the Gurdawara, marked with a vibrant combination of saffron and blue “arrows” that leads to the elevated Darbar Sahib and Langgar Hall on the left and the main playing field and assembly area on the right. Vibrant eye-catching colours personify a youthful element in the Gurdawara and creates a striking visual element upon walking through the open air verandah.

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Gurdwara design – Visual AsiaSamachar/Vishal Singh

This is the main playing field of the Gurdwara, where a host of activities, most obviously football can take place. However it can also act as an assembly area for the Sanggat and the plaza in front of the field is the where the Nishan Sahib is located. This area can also act as a stage for other activities such as gatka, and the Sanggat can remain on the field to visually enjoy the experience.

Gurdwara design - Visual AsiaSamachar/Vishal Singh
Gurdwara design – Visual AsiaSamachar/Vishal Singh

The Gurdwara has three courts that can be used for a variety of activities, but for this concept, these are courts are where people can play basketball, futsal and even hockey in a smaller more controlled setting. Multi-functional arenas allow for flexibility in a variety of functions and these courts allow for that to be planned and implemented.

Gurdwara design - Visual AsiaSamachar/Vishal Singh
Gurdwara design – Visual AsiaSamachar/Vishal Singh

Finally, the Gurdwara is connected to a timber deck “jetty” that has boats for kayaking and canoeing tied to its deck for the youth to try out water based sports. This is to allow the youth to explore alternative ways of experiencing physical activities they have never tried before, and the incorporation of the lake as a platform to allow the implementation of water sports creates an interesting attraction in the Gurdwara complex.

Youth all over the world are crying out to be heard. They want their opinions respected and known, and they want to be connected to other youth so that they may be able to work together for a better world. Gurdwaras undoubtedly have done a marvelous job of acting as community centres for Sikhs from all walks of life and ages to congregate together to learn of the glories of our faith, culture and history. Let us now take the next step in establishing a Gurdwara that not only caters brilliantly to the mental and spiritual as it has been for centuries, but to the physical as well. For the sake of our youth and all the energy they bring.

NEXT ARTICLE: We review how a modern gurdwara can act as a dynamic pedestrian terminus in an urban setting, well linked to key infrastructure junctures and public transportation networks in the city.

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Vishal J.Singh, Aspiring architect, Bachelor of Architecture, Infrastructure University Kuala Lumpur

STORIES ON GURDWARAS:

Roles and functions of a gurdwara (Asia Samachar, 11 Dec 2015)

Lessons in building a gurdwara (Asia Samachar, 9 Dec 2015)

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 |

3 COMMENTS

  1. Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh,

    Ranjit Singh Malhi / thank you so much for your kind words. They are much appreciated. Hopefully one day someone will decide to take this to the next level and have it build for all of our society to benefit.

    RESPONSE FROM A READER OF A SIKH GURMAT DISCUSSION GROUP:

    Dear reader, firstly thanks so much for the kind words and your interest in this idea, but please be informed that this idea is strictly conceptual and therefore NOT to be taken literally. This ideas presented here are simply exercises of the imagination and the proposals you see here are meant to encourage people to be more creative in their thoughts and open their minds up to new possibilities not just in architecture but in everything that requires creative work.

    Yes you’re right, if anything like this got built, it would require significant capital inlay and certain maintenance issues would also be of concern, but this is not an actual proposal that is scheduled to be built at a specific site in the near future, and therefore the proposal here for this Gurudawara is simply a vehicle designed to encourage members of our society to be open to new ideas and possibilities in the creative arts, and in this case, the architecture of Gurdwaras to be more inclusive of the needs of the modern age pertaining to social needs, new technologies, etc.

    As for the incorporation of water sports, the idea there is not to literally include those activities in the design of the gurdawara, but to at least consider the possibility of doing physical activities outside the norm of what is expected in a gurdwara complex for its obvious social and physical benefits. Again, this is an exercise in imagination and not a real project, and therefore NOT to be taken literally.

    I thank you though for your comments and considerations and yes, I like the name too .. The Naujawan Nexus … for its catchy nature. Thanks again and Waheguru Bless.

  2. RESPONSE FROM A READER OF A SIKH GURMAT DISCUSSION GROUP:

    The project ‘play pray’ that Vishal Singh ji has written about falls in that genre and is also symptomatic of a search for Sikh Institutional Architecture for the times and environments we live in.

    It seems an ambitious project with pretty heavy capital out lay and may be rather steep and tenuous recurring maintenance costs.
    It perhaps will need a significant critical mass of youth interested in the selected sporting activities.

    Sporting and several other forms of activities have been variously made part of Gurdwara activities but few have survived over the ages.

    To my mind the problem has been the inability to create a live nexus between the prayer related purpose and the secular activity.
    Naujawan Nexus is a catchy name and I like it. But I am finding it difficult to spot the play and pray nexus here.
    The same kind of conundrum shows up when we blend a cultural institution as a part of Gurdwara complex.

    Some activities like conferences, seminars, interfaith actions, health screenings, self help training, aid to those in need and even self defense skills etc can be blended with relative ease.

    Kayaking and Sailing? I do not know.

    I would wish the initiative well and watch its progress with great interest.

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