Gurbani vs Sacred Shrine. Who wins?

Darbar Sahib, Amritsar – Photo: Saheb Singh

By Amarjit Singh Gulati | Opinion |

To many, this topic maybe touchy or sensitive because many, if not all tend to make it their life’s mission to visit the sacred shrines or historical gurdwaras (teerath asthaans) in India. We call this act ‘yatra’ or ‘teerath yatra’ and for some reason, we consider this act sacred or ‘pun’ (meritorious act).

Here are some questions we need to ponder upon (seriously):-

  • Is visiting the sacred shrines or historical gurdwaras in India a form of great deed?
  • Is this part of what Guru Nanak’s Sikhi says within the sacred words of Guru Granth Sahib?
  • What does Guru mean when he uttered the word ‘teerath’ in Gurbani?
  • Are sacred shrines / historical gurdwaras (buildings and places) being put higher than Gurbani?

Every time I travel to India, my visit has a lot to teach me. But one thing I can never get my head around is this: Why do the Raagis (bards/singers) employed by SGPC in Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar) never explain the meanings of the shabads they sing? Isn’t the understanding of Gurbani to be put as emphasis rather than the ritualistic singing and acts of worship?

Here is the thing – Sikh devotees flock Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) in thousands, lining up for hours at end, just to take ‘metha’ (bowing in reverence) to Guru Granth Sahib which is placed in the main hall (center building surrounded by the ‘sarovar’ – pool of water). Families come from near and far just to get a glimpse of Guru Granth Sahib ‘bir’ (physical form of Guru Granth Sahib – holy scriptures binded). Don’t they realise that the same Guru Granth Sahib ‘bir’ is also present in their own local gurdwaras? Why isn’t there a long line of devotees taking ‘metha’ there?

When asked why are they so eager to take ‘metha’ and ‘parshaad’ (sweet) from the Golden Temple, they say, “because this is a sacred shrine and the ‘parshaad’ here is blessed!” What? Blessed?! Isn’t the same Japji Sahib and Ardaas (Sikh prayers) recited for all the ‘parshaads’?

Let me ask you…

Is the Guru Granth Sahib placed in Harmandir Sahib or any other sacred shrine (teerath asthaan) different? I don’t think so. In fact they’re all the same, all over; in village gurdwaras as well as in the shrines/ historical sites. We have been told false stories by fake priests for so long that now we have begun to believe that the shrines are bigger than Guru Granth Sahib.

They (the pujaaris) have made us bow down in reverence to Guru Granth Sahib for so long that, never once have they told us what’s written inside of the holy book. Instead, they’ve told us countless dubious stories of our Gurus, all taken from story books like ‘Suraj Parkash’ written by Santokh Singh. If you’ve not read this book, you should! The author has not only made a total mockery of Sikhi but also showed utter disrespect towards our Gurus and other Sikh martyrs in his stories.

Shrines make more money and it’s all about the money. Have we not placed the sacred shrines above Gurbani?

Guru Nanak Ji says..

ਤੀਰਥਿ ਨਾਵਣ ਜਾਉ ਤੀਰਥੁ ਨਾਮੁ ਹੈ ॥
ਤੀਰਥੁ ਸਬਦ ਬੀਚਾਰੁ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਹੈ ॥

Teerath Naavan Jau, Teerath Naam Hai ||
Teerath Shabad Bichaar, Antar Gian Hai || (SGGS: 687)

Meaning: Guru Ji is pointing towards us and asking, what is the point of bathing in sacred shrines or during pilgrimages, when the the real ‘teerath’ (sacred shrine) is to understand ‘Naam’ (God’s laws -Law of the Universe). Guru Ji further elaborates saying that the real ‘teerath’ is when we strive for spiritual wisdom and contemplate upon the instructions of our Gurus, as inscribed within Guru Granth Sahib.

Here’s a short story which will elaborate the points above further.

Once there was a Punjabi family, born in New Zealand. They decided to visit Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar, for the very first time. When they arrived at Harmandir Sahib, the youngest sibling decided to submerge himself in the ‘sarovar’ (pool).

After several dips, he came out and asked his mother, “Mummy ji, why hasn’t my skin color changed to white? I don’t understand. I prayed so hard for many years and now I’m finally in Golden Temple. Mummy, you’re the one who told me stories like how black crows who dipped in the ‘sarovar’ were able to come out as white! Why did you lie to me, mummy ji?!” The mother just kept quite. She was dumb struck, unable to answer her child.

When the child became a teenager, he met an elderly and wise Gursikh. He narrated his dip-in-the-sarovar story. After listening attentively, the elderly man laughed and said, “Aren’t you silly? Where is the logic in this? Why would a crow want to change its color in the first place? It’s like an ant wanting to fly like a bird. Is this possible? No! Animals are in perfect sync with Waheguru’s “Law of Nature” (hukam).” It made a lot of sense.

These stories and countless other stories we’ve been told are utter rubbish and fake. There are close to 4,000 stories which have been deliberately created the Nirmalas and by ‘poojaris’ (Brahmin priests) centuries ago. You will find most, if not all, these ‘mumbo jumbo’ stories in the ‘Suraj Parkash Granth’. (Heck! They even had the cheek to name it a ‘granth’). But saddest case of all are not the stories but how we, so called ‘learned’ and wise Sikhs have fallen prey to their tricks.

Todays ‘brahmin priests’ do not wear a lorn orange cloth or carry a steal bowl. Today, ‘poojaris’ look, talk and even dress like Sikhs. They have infiltrated our way of live, our believe system and even our religious practices, diverting us from the original and true message of the Guru.

The secrets of living have been deliberately kept from us by these ‘poojaris’ but we allowed it. It’s not their fault entirely. We failed to wake up and to think for ourselves. We preferred an easy way out of our troubles and began to believe the words of the ‘poojari’. We never took the trouble to read or understand Gurbani ourselves and instead always passing the baton back to the Granthis (priests) to solve our problems on the fly. Nothing has been solved. In fact, we are on a downward spiral.

We need to wake up and think! Are we placing more importance on the sacred shrines or Gurbani? Without understanding, one is NOT able to elevate one’s mind. Let’s seek to make a change and live our lives with guidance from our Gurus. Let’s place more importance on the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji and what’s written in it, and not living our lives blindly, following others (herd mentality). Only then, we may have some chance of saving ourselves and Guru Nanak’s Sikhi.

The metaphor behind the crows dipping story…

When one dips in the sarovar, one is to shed their bad and evil deeds, actions and thoughts. They are to surrender their minds and follow the will of God by accepting the truth as explained within Gurbani. If just by dipping in a sarovar, one is able to change color or become pure, then how about the fish that lives in the sarovar?

About the Author: Amarjit Singh Gulati, who runs a Malaysian-based blockchain academy and manages a software solutions company, blogs on Sikhi at This is an abridged version of the original article entitled Is Gurbani bigger or a sacred shrine?


Gurdwaras today not the same dharamsaals of Guru Nanak (Asia Samachar, 29 April 2022)

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  1. Amarjit ji it’s like travel in Reverence vs Spirituality. Both have their unique place. The land on which our Gurus laid their feet and lived are historical significance. Take visiting these places as act of reverence in their memories. Out of 4000 stories, you have mentioned, not all 100% can be untrue?. What should the panth do? Don’t have SGGS prakash in those place of significance to the Sikh History? And if it is done, then it is mendatory to matha tek.. And to bow to SGGS is part of what our forefathers have been doing. Are we going to err them? Spirituality is all about our dedication via meditation. Perhaps the most difficult phenomena to achieve. Should your article be taken as to discourage travelling to the land where Gurus lived and spread their doctrine. These places are close to every Sikh’s hearts. The tradition of Harmandir Sahib has always been singing the hymns never kattha. Kathas are available in the surrounding asthans. Today info is at the tip of our fingers. Nothing is going to change. It’s only we as individuals need our inner transformed by adopting and adapting the messages in the Gurbani of SGGS.