Sunday, March 18, 2007

Screen Projected Translations of Kirtan

Our Gurdwara, or place of worship, recently started a wonderful pilot project where translations of the ceremony are projected onto a screen in roman script, English, and Punjabi. As someone who was born and raised in the states, I can attest to the struggle a western native born goes through to try to understand our services.

Our Giani's, or priests, rarely if ever offer any translation into English, the primary and often only language of the young generation of Sikhs. In addition, most of our prayers and shabads, or hymns, are in Gurmukhi, which is a much older form of Punjabi. After years of struggling to become more fluent in Punjabi, I was frustrated to realize I still had far to go in understanding our holy texts in Gurmukhi. In my estimation, differences between Gurmukhi and Punjabi are something akin to the differences between the early modern English of Shakespear's era, perhaps even the Old English of Beowolf, and modern day English.

In any event, the projection idea is a fantastic new development. The way it works is a volunteer runs a laptop which projects onto a screen during the services. The volunteer listens to the service, and figures out which shabad or prayer is being recited. This person then pulls up a corresponding power point containing the translations and clicks through the slides as appropriate. If a prayer or shabad is not available in a prepared power point, the person goes to and performs a search to get to the appropriate text. The system works amazingly well without being disruptive to the hymns and ragas; the serenity of the prayers in their native Gurmukhi is preserved, the Giani's can remain spontaneous in their service, and the Sangat can gain more insight into the texts. The one drawback is that the volunteer needs to be trained and spend some effort, but my guess is this will become easier over time as the kinks in the system are worked out. We're currently raising funds to purchase the full projection system, and it looks likely to happen.

My guess is other immigrant communities of different faiths have similar problems where the ceremonies are performed in a mother language often foreign to the western native generation. I really hope this idea catches on as it would be unfortunate if another generation feels alienated from its faith due to a basic communication disconnect.

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