Saturday, December 10, 2016
Gateway to Sikhism

GURDWARA SAHIB JALAN SUNGEI BESI (SHA'PAN) KUALA LUMPUR

No. 25 Jalan Besi off 3 1/2 Miles Jalan Sungei Besi, 57100 Kuala Lumpur

In the early 1930s, there were a few Sikh families who worked as watchmen (security personnel) in the various Engineering Workshops situated in Jalan Chan Sow Lin and the Jalan Sungei Besi area.

In June 1937, these Sikhs repaired and converted an old empty house in Jalan Dua off Jalan Chan Sow Lin into their first Sikh Gurdwara in this area. There were numerous coconut trees around this Gurdwara Sahib. Some of the more adventurous Sikh youths used to climb these trees to pluck coconuts so that everyone present could drink the sweet coconut water. The first Granthi was Bhai Gurdhan Singh who did voluntary service for the next nine years until his departure for Punjab in 1946. This Gurdwara had to be vacated as the owner of the property wished to take possession of his land.

In late 1939, the Sikh sangat acquired a small wooden house for about Straits Settlements $300.00 on the site of the present UMW Toyota office at 3 1/4-Miles Jalan Sungei Besi. This house was repaired and converted into a Gurdwara. Two years later the government advised the management committee to relocate the Gurdwara, as its location was considered dangerous, being very close to the old RMAF airport. The vacated second Gurdwara building was converted into five small houses and these were allocated to needy Sikhs. The Gurdwara Sahib benefited from the donations received from the occupants of these houses up to the early 1960's.

In early 1942, an old wooden building was acquired at the far end of Jalan Empat off Jalan Chan Sow Lin. About Japanese $800.00 was spent to rebuild the Gurdwara building, which was made of wooden planks with a semi attap and zinc roofing. Water was drawn from a well to serve the needs of the sangat. The Guru Ka Langgar used to be served either on banana leaves or water lily leaves. The sangat used to sit on the floor, over which was spread lalang grass covered with mats, while having their Guru ka Langgar. However, the location of this Gurdwara was found to be very inconvenient and by early 1945 this Gurdwara was also vacated.

In February 1945, the Sikh sangat bought an old wooden house at the far end of Jalan Enam off Jalan Chan Sow Lin for Japanese $400.00. The building was on a temporary occupation license (T.O.L.) land and about 40 feet by 60 feet in size. This house was extensively renovated and converted into a Gurdwara. This, the fourth Gurdwara in this area, was used by the Sikh sangat for nearly 40 years.

Prior to 1948, it was customary for ladies to sit only at the rear portion of the Darbar Sahib behind the menfolk. During large jormelas, the men used to occupy nearly the whole of the front seating area in the Darbar Sahib. The womenfolk were requested to move further behind. As a result most of them ended up sitting outside the Gurdwara Sahib building. In 1948, the President, Sardar Dhan Singh of Village Dalla (the author's father) and Sardar Bhag Singh Tugal spearheaded a move to correct this unusual seating arrangement. A special general meeting was convened. It was agreed that from hence forth all menfolk would sit on the right side and the ladies were to sit on the left side inside the Darbar Sahib facing the Sikh Holy Book, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.

There was to be a large stream at the back of the Gurdwara Sahib building which was infested with water snakes. These snakes used to come out from the stream and sleep in between the wooden logs which were kept in the Gurdwara. Whenever firewood was needed for cooking, one or two people had to stand on guard with sticks to protect themselves from being bitten by these snakes.

In the early days, the chappatis (bread) were cooked by men as there were very few ladies in this area. Gradually, as more and more Sikh families shifted to this area, the ladies started to cook chappatis in this Gurdwara Sahib. The chief cooks in this Gurdwara Sahib were Sardar Thena Singh Khara, Sardar Najar Singh Bhaga Purana and later, Sardar Kartar Singh Har Raipur. Sikhs intending to hold jormelas used to consult these gentlemen so as to obtain the provisions and marketing lists for the Gurdwara. Since the late 1970's, the cooking of the Guru Ka Langgar etc. has been done by Sardar Sukhdev Singh Daya and various other sewadars.

This Gurdwara had a brass bell which was hung at the back of the Darbar Sahib. At the conclusion of the Ardas and the Wak, this bell was rung by a sewadar to indicate the commencement of the serving of the Guru Ka Langgar. The author used to greatly enjoy doing this sewa in this Gurdwara Sahib in the 1950's.

There were no electric fans in the Gurdwara Sahib in the early days. A few sewadars used to wave huge phakhian (hand fans), which were made of rattan and beautifully embroidered cloth. over the seated sangat. One such sewadar used to softly recite "Baba Ji, teri kirpa nal mein, pekha fayran pani towan, teri sangat dah" (Oh God, with your blessings, may I be honoured to sway this fan and bring water to serve your devotees).

On 9th October 1963, this Gurdwara Sahib was badly damaged by the great Cheras flood which occurred when the bunds of two tin mining pools burst. This resulted in the flooding of large areas in Cheras, Jalan Chan Sow Lin, Jalan Sungei Besi and Salak South. The Sikh sangat gave generously towards a special restoration fund for the repairs to the Gurdwara Sahib. Most of the Sikhs residing in this area gave a minimum of RM50.00 upwards per household while most of the Gurdwara Sahibs in and around Kuala Lumpur donated a minimum of RM100.00 each. This Gurdwara Sahib, which was made of wooden plank walls and zinc roofing, was repaired at a cost of about RM3,500.00 in late 1963. A few small houses were also built at this time, at the back of the Gurdwara Sahib to serve as temporary accommodation for Sikhs who may have a need for them in times of distress. By 1985, this Gurdwara had to be shifted again as the land was acquired by private businessmen.

On 2' May 1964, the Sikh sangat of this Gurdwara Sahib held a jormela in memory of Baba Kharak Singh Ji who passed away in India at the age of 97. Baba Kharak Singh was very highly respected by the Sikhs because of his selfless service in the cause of the Khalsa Panth during the Gurdwara Reform Movement.

Bhai Maha Singh Ji Village Mofar, Bhatinda served as a Granthi in this Gurdwara Sahib for nearly 22 years from 1958 to 1966 and again from 1969 until his demise in July 1983. He was a very humble man and much loved by the sangat.

In early 1985, the Government allocated a piece of land, Lot PT245 Section 93A, in Jalan Besi off Jalan Intan at 3 1/2-Miles Jalan Sungei Besi. This property is gazzeted as a temple reserve and held under Title Grant Registration Number 490 dated 29.9.1978. The size of the land is 1709.4m (18,399 square feet).

A two-storey building was built on this site at a cost of nearly RM300, 000.00 out of which RM40,000.00 was donated by the Government. The foundation stone was laid by YB Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, the Minister of Works on 2nd June 1985. The Sikh sangat held their first religious function in the new Gurdwara Sahib on 30th November 1986 on the occasion of the birthday of Sri Guru Nanak Sahib Ji.

The Darbar Sahib on the first floor is quite large (100 feet x 60 feet). The langgar hall on the ground floor can easily seat about 350 people.
This Gurdwara Sahib has a very comprehensive constitution, which was approved by the members on 24th September 1987. The author played an important role in the preparation of this constitution, assisted by Sardar Amar Singh Malli, the Secretary.

The Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) complex in Amritsar, Punjab was attacked by the Indian Army on 5th June 1984. To commemorate the 4th Anniversary in memory of the Sikh martyrs who sacrificed their lives defending this holy place, a Shahidi Jormela was held in this Gurdwara Sahib. An Akhand Path followed by kirtan and prayers for peace were held from 3' to 5th June 1988, which was well attended by the Sangat from all over Malaysia.

The "Lohri" festival, which falls on the eve of the Punjabi month of Maagh (usually in January), has been celebrated on a large scale in this Gurdwara Sahib since the 1950's. The Sikh Sangat from the neighbouring areas look forward to this function, so much so, that this Lohri celebration has become a tradition in this Gurdwara Sahib. The Sikh Sangat, especially those with new born male children, donate various sweets e.g. ladoo, jalaebi, batfee, biscuits, sweets, chocolates etc. which are later distributed to the Sangat.

The Lohri programmes commence with the kirtan followed by the Ardas prayers from 7.00p.m. to 8.45p.m. The Sangat then partakes of the Guru Ka Langgar and refreshments (tea or cold milo). A bonfire is then lit on a pre-arranged pile of firewood in the compound of the Gurdwara Sahib. The elderly ladies then sing songs of yesteryear and perform traditional dances up to about 10.15p.m. after which everyone returns home. It should be noted that Sikhism does not condone the inequality of gender and as such both males and females are to be treated as equal.

The Management Committee consists of the President, Secretary, Treasurer and their assistants as well as twelve committee members.
Sardar Sukhdev Singh Daya served as President of this Gurdwara Sahib for more than 21 years until his retirement in early 2003.

The author has been serving as Honorary Auditor of this Gurdwara Sahib for nearly 40 years since 1963 to 2002, except for a short period of five years when he served as Honorary Treasurer from 1987 to 1992.

There are about 60 Sikh families in this area who participate in the religious functions held in this Gurdwara Sahib.

The Asa di War Kirtan is held every morning from 6.00a.m. to 7.00a.m. by the Granthi. The once weekly programme is held every Sunday morning from 6.00a.m. to 8.00a.m.Upon request, Jormelas by the Sikh sangat are also held on Sunday mornings from 10.30a.m. to 12.00p.m.

The Isteri satsang programme is held on the first Saturday of every month form 2.00p.m. to 4.00p.m. The Sikh Naujawan programme is held on the last Saturday of each month from 7.00p.m. to 8.30p.m.

Courtesy:
Sikh Gurudwaras in Malaysia&Singapore
Saran Singh Sidhu AMN,PNM,FRNS

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The etymology of the term 'gurdwara' is from the words 'Gur (ਗੁਰ)' (a reference to the Sikh Gurus) and 'Dwara (ਦੁਆਰਾ)' (gateway in Gurmukhi), together meaning 'the gateway through which the Guru could be reached'. Thereafter, all Sikh places of worship came to be known as gurdwaras.
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