'The Hindustan Times' has just published a story from the campus of Guru Nanak University (GNDU), Amritsar, where it is reported that the administration of the University is seeking to take over control -- possibly to close it down? -- of the Campus Gurdwara which has been run by students from its very inception.
The story of the origins of this gurdwara is as related below. The original story on its formation was first published in ‘The Sikh Review' in November 2004.
The morning alarm rang at 4 o’clock.
It was Jasjot’s turn today. Commonly known as ‘susti’ by the closest around him, he was in his University hostel room, wrapped in his much loved ‘rajaee’ with all the corners tucked under his body.
Still, he took less than a second to slap the small button on the head of the clock and silenced it. This happened every Friday morning, the day it was Jasjot’s turn.
But his love and determination towards his duty were unquestionable, especially since it involved coming out of this dormant stage from his cocoon.
There was a knock on his door. It was Prabhpal. He had returned from the campus gurdwara after finding it closed. Jasjot was supposed to open it today and do the seva and the parkash.
It was a gurdwara, one of a kind in the whole world. There was no granthi, no raagi, no sevadaar, and yes, no pardhaan and no secretary. In fact everyone was the granthi, the raagi, the sevadaar, the pardhaan and the secretary.
This was the small gurdwara in the campus of Guru Nanak University in Amritsar, Punjab.
The story of its coming into being is interesting and inspiring. It is said that the University, in the late 1980’s, constructed a septagon shaped building which was supposed to house the student center. In the center of the building there was a septagon shaped hall which could be reached by going down a few steps. This hall was surrounded by rooms with glass walls facing the center. A kitchen was located in the north-east part of the building.
Some time later, the law faculty started holding its classes there.
There was a general disappointment among the students that there was no gurdwara in the University. When they saw this small building in the middle of the campus being constructed, the idea of the perfect place for a campus gurdwara struck them.
Though it was a perfect building for the gurdwara, at that time of the ‘troubles’ in Punjab, making such a demand was no less than a challenge. And, as was expected, the University administration summarily rejected the students’ demand for the establishment of the gurdwara on campus.
But that era of acute human rights violations by the state and the resistance movement that followed in Punjab also meant excessive determination amongst the Sikh youth to struggle for their just cause.
And this desire of having a gurdwara proved no exception to their determination. In the middle of one night in April 1986, some students took the saroop of Guru Granth Sahib and did parkash in the building.
The incident was followed by some arrests by the police, but finally the much awaited dream came true. The parkash was done, the nishan sahib was erected, the kitchen started running and thus the gurdwara was established within the Guru Nanak University campus under the spirit of ‘Degh Tegh Fateh’!
However, this didn’t lead to the thawing of relations between pro-gurdwara student activists and the university administration. For ten years there was no official recognition to the gurdwara by the administration. Even the university shied from mentioning this building on its published official maps.
No support from the administration meant students had to use their own dasvandh for running the gurdwara. First they constructed a small podium in the center hall where the throne of the Guru Granth Sahib was installed.
The hall and the rooms were carpeted. The two rooms, one on the left and the other on the right, were reserved for the sangat. A library was set up in the room behind the podium.
In one small room the place for sukhasan was established and another small room was reserved for gurdwara’s management.
And now, every year in February, the students celebrate the foundation day of the gurdwara on a large scale. All the seva, ranging from making langar for thousands to doing the service and kirtan, is managed by the students. On this day, professional raagis, dhaadis and katha-vaachaks also join the celebrations.
This gurdwara has become a source of inspiration for many. And what better place could it be than in the University campus where thousands of students come every year to attain knowledge (gyan).
The gurdwara has also served as a gurmat school where many students have learnt from each other to do kirtan, ardaas, take vaak, do parkash, perform sukhasan and prepare karah parshaad.
In the absence of a granthi this gurdwara also takes the credit of being one of the very few gurdwaras where all men and women stand shoulder to shoulder in performing any kind of seva.
This gurdwara also serves as an example of harmony, selflessness and team-work where the students volunteer to do seva, which they take on from the senior students, and in turn pass on what they have learnt to newcomers.
Every year new students come to the University, some of them, like Jasjot and Prabhpal, get involved in the seva… and thus this cycle of seva piety continues.
My own association with the GNDU Gurdwara -- I attained my gradutation and post-graduation in 'Human Genetics' from the University from 1994-1999 -- included my stint as one of the student volunteers who did seva at the gurdwara.
The author lives and works in Denmark as a Chief Operating Officer of a Danish Biotech company, ARCEDI Biotech, which developes new technologies for non-invasive prenatal diagnosis.