Our Gurduaras are our Fortresses (Opinion)
Siri Singhasan e Khalsa Gurdwara in Espanola, New Mexico - Open as well as secure
Even though this Gurdwara is open to all, and all are welcomed, it is also fully fortified
with 3 foot thick solid walls, barred windows and secured bulletproof entrances.
According to Bhai Kahn Singh Namba in Mahan Kosh the word Gurduara means “Dwelling of the Guru” and/or “Guru’s Knowledge”. So essentially a Gurduara is the place where the Guru is and the teachings of the Guru flourish. Our Gurduara’s have been living up to or been trying to live up to this standard in most ways, but they lack necessary depth in one major concept, sovereignty.
What is sovereignty? Webster’s Dictionary says its supreme power. Guru Gobind Singh passed on temporal or worldly authority to the Khalsa and non-temporal authority to Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Gobind Singh told the Khalsa they are in charge. Guru Gobind Singh also mandated that the Khalsa is to defend and maintain the Gurduaras while fighting oppression in the world. Rattan Singh Bhangoo describes this history in Panth Parkash as follows, “The perfect Guru the Tenth created the Khalsa Panth in this manner, so that they must wage a war against oppression. Since no body achieves sovereignty without waging a war, The Tenth Guru had decided this strategy from the very beginning.”(pg. 77) Guru Gobind Singh also gave one guideline which is possibly the most quoted line in Sikh history, “When all means have failed only then it is lawful to raise arms.” (Zafarnama.)
The events that occurred in Wisconsin are extremely horrific and upsetting but, I am overjoyed with all the support the community has and is giving the families of the departed and others affected. I would like to also commend the children of the birthday party in the basement who reacted to the sound of gunshots to warn others, Satwant Singh Kaleka who attempted to tackle the gunman to save others, and anyone else who were not mentioned in news reports for their acts of bravery. These displays of courage as well as our communities support in the aftermath are in line with the highest principles of the Khalsa and show that we still have the sovereign spirit Guru Gobind Singh instilled in us in 1699.
But we must face the reality that most of our Gurduaras are defenseless against an active shooter or any sort of violent perpetrator. We are not prepared or outfitted to handle these types of situations ourselves as a sovereign people.
Most people when they read the above statement they will say, “Well isn’t every place defenseless against these types of maniacs?” Sure this is true but a Gurduara is not supposed to be like every other place. Gurduara’s are supposed to be a fortress of the Khalsa and serve as a hub for Khalsa sovereignty.
The Rehit Mariyada explains in detail the setup of a Gurduara. It talks of having a war drum (the nagara) in the main darbar which is supposed to be beaten at the end of each diwan to sound the sovereignty of the Khalsa and the Gurduara’s. To show the sovereignty of the Guru we set up our darbars to look like a royal court. We have the pedestal where our authority sits, we have the canopy, we have someone fanning the authority, we give the authority offerings of money, and we have weapons displayed in front of the authority. These weapons are not there for aesthetic reasons they are supposed to be practical tools for upholding righteousness and sovereignty of the Gurduara’s and the Khalsa. The duty of using these practical tools was given to the Khalsa.
War against oppression has several levels that the Khalsa is supposed to master. In our war we have protesting, awareness campaigns, petitions, mediation, and negotiating down but we cannot protest, or start a petition against a deranged gunman whose mind is set on violence. When you encounter such a person it is in that moment which it is lawful to raise arms. But we have no arms, and we do not know how to use them. This is where we are not living up to the Guru’s standard. The Guru’s all believed in being prepared for violence and if you look carefully every single light of Nanak practiced combat. Guru Gobind Singh Ji instilled values of fitness and training in the Khalsa that were carried on by Banda Singh Bahadur, Jassa Singh Aluhwalia, Mai Bhago, and countless others, “He would order his Singhs to exercise and run races, and inspect them from all sides in a standing position. He would make some of them sit and make others stand, While asking still others to get up and run a race,” (Panth Parkash, Rattan Singh Bhangoo, Episode 16). Where are those values now? We seem to only occasionally direct these values at the very young but as they get older it really doesn’t matter anymore.
Giani Gian Singh illustrates the alertness of the panth and the willingness to be prepared for anything in the following, “Before 1857, many quivers full of arrows, matchlocks, flintlock guns, swords, lancers, spears, sang (long metal lance), katars, peshkabz, pistols, shields, armour and many types of chain mail were found in every house. All the people in their homes both learnt and taught Shastar Vidiya and became complete soldiers…Now no one even speaks of these skills and the English speaking youth are consumed with making money. Even to those of us who have employed Shastar Vidiya, it is becoming as if it were a dream. In another fifty years or so this Vidiya will have dried up and people will say it was all but lies” (Giani Gian Singh, Twarikh Gur Khalsa 1891 pg. 36).
For all intent and purposes Gurduaras are by no means a sanctuary against physical oppression and we the Khalsa are not prepared to deal with violence the way Guru Gobind Singh Ji fashioned us. Let’s work to revitalize our panth from this 155 year downturn.
I found an ally to help our panth in a group called Masada Tactical based out of Baltimore, Maryland. The group specializes in security protocols and teaching practical self-defense for the real world. I am working on getting meetings between Maryland Gurduara committees and Masada Tactical to present what the sangats can do to have better security. It is my sincere hope that the committees and sangats try to do something outside their boundaries and make the change.
Let us restore our Gurduaras and our panth to their former glory. Please be a part of the solution, and find an ally who can try do this work at your local Gurduara or contact me and we can try arrange for the good folks at Masada Tactical to come over.
“As an embodiment of all the Divine attributes in plenty the Khalsa must be autonomous and self-respecting, never submitting to the sovereignty of anyone else, except the sovereignty and autonomy of God.” (Sri Gur Panth Parkash, Rattan Singh Bhangoo pg. 81)
Vaheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Vaheguru Ji Ki Fateh!