As S.S. Bhatti writes in his “Outline of Sikh Architechture” at www.sikhspectrum.com, the word gurdwara (a compound of guru, meaning guide, and dwara, meaning gateway or seat) has an architechtural connotation. Many gurdwaras have the typical Mughal dome, entrances on all sides signifying that they are open to all, and a two-story construction to gain elevation for the shrine. The gurdwara at San Jose is no exception.
There are festoons over the parking lot and soothing waterfalls near the sloping entrance. Outside, there are pairs of shoes strewn around as squealing children run happily while their parents socialize with their friends.
There is a central building with wings on either side. Enterprising stalls are set up outside the building to sell everything religious from cassettes and pictures to radio sets that promise to receive the Voice of Punjab.
Behind, in a large tent, people are listening to the kirtan, or religious singing. Bob Dhillon, the communications director is among them.
“Only part of the construction, i.e., Phase 1 has been completed,” he says. “Around 74,000 sq.ft. are yet to be constructed. There are plans for a hall, dining room, kitchen, classrooms (for students of the Khalsa School), library, and offices.”
“It is also planned to make the second story into living quarters for the main priests and their assistants and also for visiting priests,” adds Dhillon. “The construction is slated to begin around January 2005 and it would take about two years to complete the remaining part of the project.”
However, the gurdwara, which was inaugurated on Aug. 29, is already functioning and offering daily service, recitation of Gurbani, kirtan, and other ceremonies.
“The gurdwara has services at the time of marriages and funerals. There are also some people who wish to take the Granth home as part of purification and the priests are also there to help,” explains Dhillon.
“There is the Akhand Path, a continuous recitation of the Guru Granth Sahib, which could take up to 48 hours,” he adds. The Shabadkeertan or singing of the hymns takes place on Wednesdays and Sundays. There is also the Katha and speeches about community issues between the keertans. Here community leaders are given a chance to address the public.
According to Dhillon, on a Sunday, there may be 2,000 to 3,000 devotees visiting the temple over the span of an entire day. At peak times, there may about 1,500 people.
“The response from the community has been very good. People are very happy,” says Dhillon. “There are also a number of non-Sikh visitors throughout the week, who come for a visit, sometimes with babies in strollers; they appreciate the architecture and the waterfalls.”
The free community kitchen or langar provides food for the devotees. Situated in one wing, the kitchen is simply furnished with mats spread over the floor for devotees to sit and eat. People pick up plates and stand in line to be served a simple, yet filling meal of rotis, dal, vegetables, and yogurt, while in the adjacent kitchen, the cooks are busy making more rotis.
“Each family sponsors langar for one day; it is all voluntary,” says Dhillon. “People sign up and we are booked several months in advance.”
On the second floor of the main building is the art gallery, which houses informative pictures about the Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sahib, creation of Khalsa, Guru Nanak Dev, and other Sikh Gurus.
Gurinder Pal Singh, who helped set up the art gallery is also the principal of the Khalsa School, which offers classes every Sunday for a nominal fee. Around 400 children are currently enrolled.
“This is one of the few gurdwaras to offer classes; in fact it is the biggest one,” he says. “The activities include learning the Punjabi language, Sikh history, and the Gurbani, which are the writings of the Gurus to be recited everyday.”
“It is comparable to the Sunday school system,” says Singh. “The children learn to sit in a congregation and pray. There is somebody to talk in their own language and their own level.”
There are 40 classes of around 10-12 children, explains Singh. There are about 60 teachers; all the teaching staff is voluntary. The registration is synchronized with the school year and there are also midterms and final exams.
According to Singh, it takes a child about three years to learn to read and write Punjabi and the Gurmukhi script and by the time of their graduation they are able to read from the Granth Sahib. There are also plans for voluntary service, such as in hospitals or food banks by the children.
“It is really amazing to see what children can do,” says says Molinder Singh Kohli, one of the founding fathers of the school. “They know how to do simran, which is to chant the names of the Gurus and to meditate. It is very impressive to see a small child focus and concentrate.”
Kohli also mentions a book, The Boy with Long Hair, written by Pushpinder Singh that the Khalsa School uses as part of its curriculum.
Pushpinder Singh explains that Sikh children, because of their religious attire, look different from other children. This book helps the children to understand and feel pride in their identity.
“Respect for other religions is embedded in the Sikh religion; we don’t really believe in conversion,” says Dhillon. “If you are a Muslim, be a good Muslim. Our philosophy of getting along with your neighbor, no matter how different he is, is a 500-year-old philosophy, but it is very much applicable today.”
Priya Gopalakrishnan is a graduate student of mass communication and journalism at San Jose State University.
San Jose Gurdwara
3636 Murillo Ave., San Jose, CA 95148
Daily Service: 5:00-7:00 a.m.
Wednesdays: 7:00-9:00 p.m.
Sundays: 10:00 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Nitnem: Daily recitation of the Gurbani
Kirtan: Daily singing of hymns with musical instrument
Akhand Path: Continuous reading of the Guru Granth Sahib; it takes approximately 48 hours
Amrit Sanchar: Similar to the baptism ceremony, it takes place 3-4 times a year
Gurupurab Celebrations: Birthdays or martyrdom days of the Gurus
Celebrations this year to mark 400 years of the installation of the Guru Granth Sahib