The National Gurdwara, located on Massachussetts Avenue in Washington, D.C., is in dire financial straits.
Built in 2005, the Gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) is located in the heart of D.C. – steps away from the National Cathedral and only a few miles away from the White House – and claims to be the only Gurdwara in Washington. However, despite its lofty goals, it seems that the Gurdwara has become too mired in politics and poor management to be able to achieve its objectives.
It’s sadly an all-too-familiar story, where Gurdwaras are concerned.
Despite its prestigious setting, the National Gurdwara has not been spared the political problems that plague many Sikh places of worship. At the same time, it has been unable to meet its financial commitments, so much so that the management had even tried to sell control of the National Gurdwara to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (the SGPC), the organization that manages many of the Gurdwaras in India:
To bail out the gurdwara from financial mess, the management in 2009 had offered Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) to take control of the gurdwara on payment of the [$2 million] loan. But till now the committee has not been able to dole out the required funds.
Gurmeet Singh Bedi, who had represented SGPC, told TOI over phone from Washington on Friday that the gurdwara, inaugurated in 2005, was constructed at a cost of around US$7 to 8 million. “Due to low turnout of devotees, the income of gurdwara is not enough to pay back the loan and so the management offered it to SGPC,” he said.
The operating costs of most Gurdwaras are covered by the significant donations of devotees. The alleged contentious atmosphere at the National Gurdwara likely played a role in its low turnout of devotees, consequently making the Gurdwara unable to meet its financial obligations. One also wonders if there is even a critical mass of Sikh devotees in the D.C. area that would have been able to financially sustain this Gurdwara.
It’s also difficult to imagine how well the SGPC would have been able to operate the National Gurdwara from overseas, especially considering how the SGPC has managed Gurdwaras in its own jurisdiction in India is often debated. This would have been an unprecedented step for the managing body whose jurisdiction is primarily over historical Gurdwaras in the Indian states of Punjab and Haryana.
The National Gurdwara is a symbolic and prominent representation of Sikhs in the nation’s capital. Unfortunately, it has instead become a symbol of what many Sikhs lament about the management of our places of worship.