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New Madera Sikh Temple Dedicated
The Madera Tribune
By: Tami Jo Nix
March 22, 2010

Welcoming the spring equinox took on a solemn, yet joyous meaning for the Sikh Council of Central California. Members of the local Sikh community began very early Saturday morning preparing for the dedication of Gurdwara Gurmat Parkash, 18456 Road 21, the first Sikh temple in Madera County.

Local cardiologist Dr. Ranjit Singh Rajpal serves as secretary general of the council.

City Councilwoman Sally Bomprezzi, Madera County Sheriff John Anderson and Glenna Jarvis, the legislative assistant for Supervisor Vern Moss of District 2, presented the Gurdwara (temple) with certificates from their agencies congratulating them on their new edifice. The Sikhs in turn presented the officials with plaques expressing their gratitude for the welcome.

“Kuldeep Singh, with a group of young men builds the temple fulfilling a prayer of his,” Singh’s father, Rajpal, said.

“With the will of God only,” Singh said.

The ceremonies Saturday began with a procession from Avenue 18 to the font of the temple property, two parcels from the avenue, in the Dixieland area. Sikh children, carrying baskets of flower petals threw them in the air during the parade.

The purpose of the procession was to consecrate the Sikh holy book, “Guru Granth Sahib,” in the temple.

To accommodate the 300 who were in attendance, the preparations included erecting a large tent to serve as a chapel. The main room of the Gurdwara, while large enough for the local Sikhs to worship within was too small for Saturday’s gathering.

A martial arts demonstration, known as Gatka, brought attention to the young boys and girls, who study under a teacher. The match, a cross between fencing and sword dancing, uses sticks as swords. Some of the older, advanced students performed suing steel swords.

Following the demonstration, the Guru Granth Sahib was carried by procession into the permanent temple and then taken under the canopy for the ceremonies.

After the holy script was placed on the altar, the Sikhs each paid their respects by kneeling or bowing in front of it and leaving a fist in the form of currently of food offerings. Bangs of sugar, flower and mils joined then growing currency offered as a sign of respect and devotion.

During worship services, the congregation sat on mats on the floor facing the altar with the men on the left side and the women on the right. Sikh hymns were sung and prayers were offered for the good of the community and the dedication of the temple, Rajpal said.

The two main components of the Gurdwara are the sangat, or congregation and the pangat, community kitchen, also known as Guru-Ka-Langar, Rajpal said.

Traditional Sikh foods, in large quantities were prepared in the langar by the men and women of the faith.

According to the beliefs of the Sikh people, they refrain form eating meat, at mercy on living creatures is considered superior to all pilgrimages and religious donations, Rajpal said. While eating meat is not forbidden eating kosher prepared meat is.

Dishes such as pankora, made of holy flour, potatoes and onions, battered and fried in vegetable oil was one of many foods served. Mathi made of flour and water, rolled into a ball and flattened before cooking on a grill or over an open flame is reminiscent of a tortilla. A sweet dish, referred to as similar to a donut and called Gulab Jamun, is made of flour, water, sugar and dry mild with the dough rolled into a ball and fried. Another dish, made from bread and prepared similar to French toast is called pakora.

The various dishes are served with sauces used as condiments. A chutney made of mint and cilantro is a spicy sauce, while a sweet sauce similar to simple syrup is made of sugar and water.

There are five sacred objects a devout Sikh Carried on one’s person, and are knows as the “Five Ks.” They are Keshas, long, unshorn hair and beard; Kangha, a comb for grooming; Kara, a steel bracelet; Kirpan, a symbolic sword; and Kacha sacred undergarments.

“These serve as a reminder to us of our faith and are also seen by others to let them know we are peaceful people who will fight to defend ourselves or other from violence,” Rajpal said.

Using an American term, adopted by many during World War I, the Sikhs subscribe to a “live and let live” mindset.
According to their teachings, “When an affair is past every other remedy, it is righteous, indeed, to unsheathe the swords,” said Guru Gobind Singh.

Rajpal told a story of how in large cities women who ride the subway choose to ride in cars occupied by Sikhs because they know if violence breaks out these people can turned to for help.

A section of the Gurdwara grounds on Saturday were devoted to a bazaar. One vendor sold merchandise such as the bracelet, comb, simran, (prayer beads) and swords along with the audio and video CDs, prayer books, framed prints of the 10 gurus and other holy Sikh images. At another booth, fabric in the Sikh tradition and prayer mats were sold.

The first Sikh Temple built in the United States was built in Stockton in 1937, Rajpal said.

The Joaquin Valley has drawn a fairly large population of Sikh to the area because this region and its fertile agriculture land is much like their home in India, he said. To this day the Sikhs are persecuted in their native lands.

The word Sikh means disciple of one God. They follow the teaching of the 10 gurus whose work is compiled in the holy script, he said. Additionally, following these teachings, men and women who follow the faith must participate in the Amrit, the Sikh baptism.

According to the last Census, about 250,000 Sikhs live in California, out of more than 650,000 who live in United States as a whole.

Sikhism, the first religion of India to be brought to America, in the 1880s and centers on spiritual liberation and social justice and harmony, all based on faith in one Universal God.

The religion was founded by Guru Nanak, born in 1469 in the village of Talwandi, now called Nankana Sahib near Lahore, Pakistan.

A brief history of the faith from the booklet,” what is Sikhism?” tells of how the 10 gurus(teachers) propagated the faith and cites examples of living spiritually while taking an active role in the secular world.

The 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh initiated the Sikh baptism ceremony in 1699 and thus gave distinctive identity to the Sikhs, it said.

Throughout history, in their native lands, the Sikhs were persecuted and tortured for not following the faith of the invaders from other regions.

The Sikh’s fifth prophet was beheaded when he refused to convert to the conquering emperor’s religion, Rajpal said.

Another important aspect of the followers is the lack of a caste or class system. All are equal, men and women, he said. Women are revered for their place in the family and community. Women have the right to grow spiritually, recite divine hymns in the Sikh temple and participate in all religious ceremonies including baptism.

A widow is allowed to remarry, if she chooses, unlike some other religions of India which teach the widow’s body must be burned on her husband’s funeral pyre.

Everyone entering the Sikh Gurdwara must have their heads covered and remove their shoes as a sign of respect.

In the front courtyard of Gurdwara Gurmat Parkash is a flowing fountain. There are two tile washing stations to allow the followers to wash the hands and feet before entering the Gurdwara.

More information on the Sikh faith and upcoming functions may be found at www.sikhcouncilcentralca.com

©Jas Singh