ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Gurdwaramentality: The COVID-19 crisis and the agency of Sikh volunteers and Gurdwaras


Mukhopadhyay Rita Brara - Ashoka, Sociology/Social Antrhopology, Sonipat, Haryana 131029, India


11 – Rethinking governmentality: Sovereign agency beyond the state in South Asia


 I try to apprehend Gurdwaramentality as it appears in the sovereign, self-regulating,  practices of individual Sikh volunteers and the spaces of  Delhi’s Gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) through Covid-19. At considerable risk to their own lives, Sikh volunteers perceived the pandemic as a God-given opportunity to undertake seva (selfless service in the Sikh idiom). The novelty of such action lies in reconfiguring pre-existing sacred practices. As everyday religious conduct, seva is confined to the Gurdwara but its socio-spatial practices expanded extraordinarily – carrying and transporting patients and corpses to crematoria,  food preparation/delivery, and feeding street animal life, for instance. Again, langar in the Sikh tradition describes a community meal that is cooked, served, and shared. Once Gurdwaras organised the free distribution of oxygen in their precincts, these were ritually signified as oxygen langars.A second focus investigates both the sovereign agency and the contextual intertwinement of  Gurdwaramentality and the governmentality of state institutions through Covid-19. If Gurdwaramentality expresses the sovereignty and power of faith, as both product and producer of ‘inner’ truth and discipline for believers in the shape of self-willed agency, it contrasts with the sovereign mentality of the state’s power-wielding salariat. Yet contextual alliances with state institutions/personnel, in the view of volunteers, enabled the efficacy of sacralized seva.