Today marked my seventh wedding anniversary and as we do each year, my wife and I visited the Gurdwara where our Anand Karaj took place. The Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara in Hounslow has always been within easy travelling distance for us so we continue to enjoy the nostalgic visit and romanticism that surrounds the place where we consecrated our love for one another and our Guru. However, we were left with a sour taste in our mouths after today’s visit and were left looking for reasons as to why we bother to visit the Gurdwara at all, particularly when we recite so much of the Guru Granth Sahib at home together. It was an interesting day and one following which I am more determined than ever before to help my fellow Sikhs understand the revolution of Guru Nanak.
When we reached the Gurdwara on Alice Way this morning we couldn’t find any car parking spaces which was quite odd considering that it was a Monday morning, even in the summer holidays. Assuming that a funeral service might be taking place, we found an alternative spot and ventured inside. Very quickly it became clear that the Gurdwara was hosting a wedding which is odd for a Monday morning, but within seconds I realised why. In recent years, many Gurdware across the UK have chosen to refuse Anand Karaj services for non-Sikhs, but those who have not have been met with protests, some taking place on the day of such weddings. Accordingly many of the Gurdware who continue to engage in this practice do so outside of regular service days, opting for weekday weddings when they know they can do so with little questioning from their congregation – such as was taking place today in Hounslow. I explained my own viewpoint on this particular issue in an article last year – The Holy Union of Anand Karaj – where I made it clear that whilst I shared the frustration of the protestors I couldn’t endorse their actions; a much better strategy is to make permanent change well in advance and across the board through a range of methods. One of these was to converse with the Gurdware representatives – something I did today. The response did not fill me with any confidence (as expected) and goes some way to explain why some Sikhs choose to protest the Gurdware where non-Sikhs continue to be accepted for an Anand Karaj.
The first person I spoke to was a Mr Grewal whose official position was explained to me thus: “he runs this Gurdwara” – a statement made not once, but twice by different sevadars. I asked Mr Grewal very simply if he could explain to me why non-Sikhs were being accepted to engage in an Anand Karaj service without being told that it represented a commitment to a relationship between them and the Guru, beyond all others. His reply was that other Gurdware were allowing this and that it was also one way of keeping the children of Sikhs connected to the Gurdwara, despite them marrying elsewhere. I began to counter argue that the House of Guru Nanak had never been a way of life which appeased people and compromised principles in order to retain their allegiance, when he raised his arms and bluntly stated that he would not discuss this any further. He walked away as I called out to him to return, saying that I simply wanted to dicuss the issue not cause a scene, but to no avail. My wife and I then took our yearning to discuss to a few of the granthis who had witnessed the encounter; they explained that this issue had been raised with the Gurdwara committee previously but that they continued to do as they saw fit and that this non-Sikh Anand Karaj was not the first that had taken place in recent weeks. Seeking a further attempt to engage Gurdwara representatives I went alone in to the official office of the Gurdwara (Gurdwara committees have previously called the Police when they feel ‘threatened’ and we didn’t want to risk both my wife and I having to answer to the authorities if they used my quest for a discussion as an excuse to call for backup!) This individual who was manning the office desk proved to be just as rude, proffering the same reasoning before disregarding my presence and calling forward the next individual waiting in line, although he did at least converse with me for all of around 3 minutes!
Every Sikh is free to marry whomever they wish. An Anand Karaj however, by the very wording of the laavan (main hymns read during the service) and of course the Ardas are a statement of intent by two individuals to live harmoniously with one another with both accepting the Guru as their teacher beyond all others. The Hindu gentleman marrying the Sikh lady at Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara this morning must have been ignorant of this fact otherwise why would he go through with it? Although few realise it, taking part in an Anand Karaj is making a statement of your desire to live in accordance with the Sikh way of life. Let me be clear, it is that Gurdwara representatives themselves are ignorant of this fact as well as the vast majority of the Sikh population worldwide, that I am taking issue with. The blatant lack of understanding the Anand Karaj by those who seek to serve the House of Guru Nanak is symbolic of our collective malaise as a people who know not what revolution was born in 1469, who disregard the birth of a way of life which holds the key to a better World for all. The many practices that are being facilitated in Gurdware that go against Sikh ideology such as the holding of elections and the installation of multiple Guru Granth Sahib rescensions in a single Darbar, have collectively curtailed our values of discourse, learning and a way of living within the World that is wholly unique. The non-Sikh Anand Karaj is perhaps the most obvious example of a people far removed from their origins, and hence that will not be solved by protests, naming-and-shaming or edicts (those are mere stop-gap solutions).
The sad truth is that Gurdwara custodians, like the title-bearers of Sikh institutions and Sikh leadership at all levels, have suffered a catastrophic failure due solely to moving away from Sikh ideology as has the Panth itself. We as a people are corrupt. Our intentions might not be bad (and that includes the custodians that I encountered at Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara Hounslow today) but this way of life was not born from good intentions – it was built on the practice of Truthful living. It took me many years to realise that and when my mind finally left the confines of our restrictive and stagnating Gurdware almost a decade ago it flourished almost immediately through the freedom to read, hear and utter aloud the ideas of Guru Nanak in every space and at every time, not simply in word, but in discourse and more importantly in practice. Next month I will be publishing a work titled ‘Long Live Revolution‘ which encapsulates my understanding of what is taking place in Sikhdom today and the solutions that we should seek out for recourse of our problems. Some Sikhs reading this article or watching the short video I recorded to accompany it will be considering protests or enforcement of Sikh-only Anand Karaj services, but they too would have then missed the point. There is something much deeper going on here, something that we are all suffering from and the answer lies within that revolution of Guru Nanak.