By A. Jeyaraj
Pics by Luqman Hakim
Ipoh Echo has been featuring a series of articles on places of worship of the major religions and this issue covers the prominent gurdwaras in Ipoh.
A gurdwara meaning ‘door to the Guru’ is the place of worship for Sikhs. People from all faiths, and those who do not profess any faith, are welcomed in Sikh gurdwaras. Each gurdwara has a Darbar Sahib which refers to the main hall within a Sikh gurdwara where the current and everlasting Guru of the Sikhs, the holy scripture Sri Guru Granth Sahib, is placed on a Takhat (an elevated throne) in a prominent central position. A gurdwara can be identified from a distance by the tall flagpole bearing the Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag.
Gurdwaras: a focal point for all Sikh religious, cultural and community activities
Perak, where most of the early Sikhs settled, and wherever there were Sikhs, a gurdwara was sure to follow, has the most number of gurdwaras with 42 out of a total of 119 in Malaysia.
Religious festivals are based on the Nanakshahi Calendar which takes its name from Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. Sikhism is still based on his teachings and those of the nine Sikh Gurus who followed him.
Guru Nanak was born in 1469 in what is now Pakistan. At the age of 30 he mysteriously disappeared for three days. When he reappeared, he began to preach the Sikh faith and spent the rest of his life teaching, writing and travelling around the world to discuss religion with Muslims and Hindus.
The gurdwaras have daily, twice weekly, thrice weekly, weekly and monthly prayers and religious programmes. On September 1 all gurdwaras celebrate the first installation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib which is celebrated for three days. Vaisakhi or harvest festival is celebrated during April. The birthdays of the ten gurus are celebrated.
Gurdwaras perform an Akhand Path that is continuous nonstop recitation of all the verses in the Guru Granth Sahib from beginning to the end by a team of readers and lasting more than 48 hours. This ritual is considered very holy and is said to bring peace and solace to the participants and the passive listeners of the recital.
The weekly Isteri Satsang or ladies programme is held in a number of gurdwaras which commences with the Sukhmani Sahib Path or religious hymns.
The Sikh community is small and so times and days of functions are staggered to enable devotees to attend all. Individual gurdwaras celebrate specific festivals on a grand scale. All gurdwaras have a langar or community kitchen, where people can eat free vegetarian food.
Gurdwara Sahib Police Ipoh, Central Police Station
This is the first gurdwara in Ipoh. In the 1880s, there were a few Sikh families in Ipoh who worked as dairy farmers and bullock cart drivers. Around 1890, Sardar Hari Singh took the lead in building a Gurdwara Sahib in Club Road (Jalan Panglima Bukit Gantang) to serve the Sikhs’ religious needs. A few years later, the present Ipoh Police Station was built near the Gurdwara. Subsequently, the land around the gurdwara came to be within the compound of the Ipoh Police Station.
The original gurdwara was constructed out of wood and planks, with an attap roof. It has undergone many upgrades and the current building was completed about two years ago and currently has four residential rooms which are rented out to senior citizens who have no family at a nominal rate. Four old ladies are now staying in these rooms.
Kirtan classes are held here where a professional musician teaches children and adults to play the tabla, harmonium and other instruments.
Gurdwara Sahib Greentown, Jalan Hospital
The Gurdwara Sahib Greentown is situated on a hilltop and commands a majestic view of the surroundings. The early history of this Gurdwara is rather unique. This is the only Sikh Gurdwara Sahib in Malaysia which has been built by the Sikhs from the Eighth Division of the Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army).
The original building was built in 1942 by the Sikh soldiers who were interned by the Japanese in the Greentown Military Camp. It was a simple structure made of reinforced mud walls with an attap roof. It was located within the confines of the camp perimeter. Soon after this gurdwara was built, two Battalion Commanders who were Muslims, objected to the existence of this gurdwara inside the camp.
Colonel Matab Wulk, who was the Commanding Officer of the Sappers and Miners of the 8th Division of the Azad Hind Fauj, decided that the gurdwara had to be moved to an area outside the Military Camp.
The present site was chosen by Captain Teja Singh of the 2nd Battalion and Captain Chatar Singh of the Sappers and Miners Unit. The present building was completed in 1965.
Martydom of Sahibzadas (sons) of Guru Gobind Singh ji is celebrated annually here.
Gurdwara Sahib Bercham, Jalan Bercham
In 1910 a small gurdwara was built in Kopisan village near Tanjong Rambutan. In 1951, during the resettlement of people, the Sikhs had to move from Kopisan to the present location in Bercham. A new gurdwara was built at the present location. The present building was constructed about ten years ago. The structure is a replica of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India.
This gurdwara conducts initiation of Khalsa or Amrit Sanskar which is a sacred ceremony which brings a person into the Sikh community or Khalsa Panth. This is done for people who have reached maturity and to realise the commitment required.
Free breakfast, lunch and dinner is served to anyone who comes.
Central Sikh Temple, Jalan Gurdwara
This gurdwara is officially registered as Wadda Gurdwara Sahib, Ipoh. (Wadda means big.) When the Police Station was built next to Gurdwara Sahib Police, the civilian Sikhs were not allowed to enter the gurdwara. Around 1910, the Sikhs were allowed to build their gurdwara on the present site which consisted of a double storey wooden building. The present building was built in 1983.
There is an Assistant Registrar of Marriages and marriages are registered here. The actual marriage ceremony is performed by the Granthi Sahib or priest, in accordance with Sikh rites.
This gurdwara is also managing the crematorium adjacent to it and has a hearse for funerals.
Gurdwara Sahib Tanjong Rambutan, Jalan Ipoh
This gurdwara was built around 1919 at the present site. It was a single storey wooden structure with a tiled roof. The present two storey gurdwara was built in 1969.
There are three guest rooms and Sikh families from outstation can stay in these rooms for free for a few days.
Punjabi classes are conducted on Sundays.
Gurdwara Sahib Buntong, Jalan Bombay
A single storey gurdwara was built in Telok Kurin in 1934. Around 1951 most of the Sikhs were resettled in the present Buntong area and they built a new gurdwara in 1952. The present building was completed in 1972.
Vaisakhi, the harvest festival is celebrated for 15 days with continuous prayers for the last three days.