Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road
Built in 1924, the Temple is also known as Silat Road Sikh Temple. The Silat Road Sikh Temple has been designated a historic site by the National Heritage Board.
In the early days of Singapore, there were only two Gurdwaras in Singapore. Members of the Sikh Contingent of the Straits Settlements Police Force had their Gurdwara on Pearls Hill. The Civilian Sikhs had their Gurdwara in Queen Street.
Upon the completion of the new building of the Queen Street Gurdwara in 1921, the members of Sikh Contingent, seeing that the civilian Sikhs had now a large new Gurdwara, petitioned the Government for the grant of a piece of land for the building of a new Gurdwara. Their original Gurdwara building in Pearls Hill was too small and was inadequate for the Contingent which had grown in size.
Another reason for building a new Gurdwara was to have a building with not only a Prayer Hall, langgar and dining hall but also many rooms on the ground floor which could be used to accomodate new arrivals from Punjab for a short period, until they found employment and moved to other destinations, like Malaysia, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Indonesia or Manila.
In December 1922 the Singapore Harbour Board leased, for 20 years, to the Inspector-General of Police, the site of the present Silat Road Gurdwara comprising an area of 23,725 square feet. The Gurdwara building was completed in 1924 at a cost $54,000 of which 70% was raised by members of the police force in Singapore and Malaya and the balance was donated by Sikhs in neighboring countries.
One, Bhai Wasawa Singh, a member of the Sikh Contingent was greatly responsible for raising funds for this Gurdwara. He was given leave and sent to Malaya, Hong Kong and Shanghai on a fund raising tour. Later he performed the duties of Granthi at the Pearl's Hill Gurdwara.
The first Granthi of this Gurdwara was Giani Nand Singh, a graduate of Mahindra College in Patiala. He was especially recruited from India. He was a Preacher from the Panch Khalsa Diwan, a reformist movement based in Bhasaur Village in Patiala Satte. Giani Nand Singh was a native of Bhasaur. He was the father of Mehervan Singh, a well-known public accountant who did sterling sewa (service) as the Sikh representative on the International Inter Religious Organisation. Mehervan Singh died in Singapore on 2 January 1999.
In October 1926, the Singapore Harbour Board surrendered thefee simple in the land occupied by the Gurdwara to the Government on payment of $16,800.
Although this Gurdwara has been built by the members of the Sikh Contingent, the Sangat (congregation) at this Gurdwara used to be mostly civilian Sikhs and hence money for the maintenance of the Gurdwara came from civilians. The management of the Gurdwara used to be in the hands of a committee of policemen with the Subedar as the Chairman. After sometime there was agitation for civilian representation in the management committee.
I was present at the official opening of Silat Road Gurdwara in 1924. I was then 13 years old and was a student at Outram Road School. The honours at the opening ceremony were done by the Inspector-General of Police, a Britisher, in the presence of Subedar Sunder Singh, the President of the Gurdwara and other British and Sikh officers. Originally this Gurdwara was known as the "Police Gurdwara". It was much later that the name was changed to "Gurdwara Sahib, Silat Road".
In 1937 the Government vested the Gurdwara property in the Silat Road Gurdwara Board of Trustees on payment of $16,800. The Board of Trustees was to be nominated by the Sikh Advisory Board and was to consist of ten members, three to represent the Majha Sikhs, three the Malwa Sikhs, three the Doaba Sikhs and the tenth member was to be a Sikh member of the Singapore Police Force or the Naval Police Force.
This was the position until the enactment of the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board by The Parliament which is now the governing authority of both the Central Sikh Gurdwara and the Silat Road Gurdwara. It was at the request of the Sikh community that the administration of both these Gurdwaras was vested in a single Statutory Board.
Silat Road Gurdwara has fallen on hard times. Attendance at the Gurdwara had fallen. There was only a handful of Devotees as sangat (congregation) at the weekly service on Sundays. There was no Granthi. A resident at the Gurdwara named Sarban Singh performed the morning and evening service. The committee found it difficult to maintain the Gurdawara. There was no money to carry out the necessary repairs. The committee requested the Government to amalgamate the Gurdawara with the Queens Street Gurdwara.
The government consulted the Sikh Advisory Board and all Sikh religious societies functioning as Gurdwaras. Convinced of the general desire of the whole Sikh community, the Government introduced in Parliament, on 19th November 1960, a Bill entitled "An Ordinance to amalgamate the Queen Street and Silat Road Gurdwara and to place them under an Incorporated Board." The Bill was referred to a Select Committee of Parliament for the public to give their views.
A large number of Sikhs and Sikh societies made representations to the Select Committee. Thirty Sikhs gave oral evidence before the Select Committee. Eventually, Parliament enacted the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board Act which incorpoarted the Central Sikh Gurdwara which was to govern the Queen Street Gurdwara as well as the Silat Road Gurdwara. This Statutory Board now administers both these Gurdwaras.
Before the second World War, some Sikhs lived in the Silat Road Gurdwara as tenants, occupying small rooms on the ground floor. They paid small monthly rents. In 1937, I visited a relative and his wife who occupied a small room on a rental of $5 per month. Rather than keeping the rooms vacant, the Committee decided to rent out the spare rooms.
During the second world war, some Sikh widows with their children were granted refuge in Silat Road Gurdwara. They were maintained by the Sikh Community through the 3.5 years of the Japanese occupation of Singapore. Provisions and other necessities of life were provided. Langgar was prepared by the widows.
When the war was over and sea passage to India became avaliable, the widows and their children in Silat Road Gurdwara were given priority. They were given free passage to India by the Sikh community. One person who did great humanitarian sewa (service) in this matter was the late Sadhu Singh Khaira, the well known money lender. He was incharge of repatriation.
Soon after the end of the second world war, many young English educated Sikhs came to Singapore from Malaysia in search of employment. Quite a few of them stayed in Silat Road Gurdwara in rented rooms. They did not mind three or four of them sharing a room in order to save costs. As and when they found employment they moved out. Most of them became Teachers. Some joined the Police Force of Singapore.
It is only after the tombstone, found in the ground of General Hospital, was brought to Silat Road Gurdwara, on 12th October, 1966 that this Gurdwara became very popular with the Sikhs. The Samadh (tombstone) is believed to be that of the Sikh Saint-Solder, Bhai Maharaj Singh, the hero of the Sikh resistance to the British occupation of Punjab. The attraction of Silat Road Gurdwara is the Shrine of Bhai Maharaj Singh containing his Samadh. It is believed that prayers are answered and vows are fulfilled when a Devotee worships at this Shrine.
It is because of Bhai Maharaj Singh's Shrine that Silat Road Gurdwara has acquired overwhelming popularity. At one time Totally neglected, it is now undoubted the most popular Gurdwara amongst all the seven Gurdwaras in Singapore. Deep veneration of the Shrine and the adjoining Gurdwara has resulted in the belief that an Akhand Path service performed on behalf of a Devotee at this Gurdwara earns the Devotee great merit. Consequently there is long booking list for performance of Akhand Paths. This is also the only Gurdwara in Singapore where langgar (food) is prepared and served everyday, throughout the day.
Before I close, a few words about Sardar Kartar Singh Dalamnangal. Politely adressed as Jathedar (Chief) he is often referred to as Jarabanwala (The stocking man). For the last fifty years that I have known him, I have always seen him in the uniform of a British Admiral.
Sardar Kartar Singh has done yeoman service at Silat Road Gurdwara. Since the end of the second world war, he has put his heart and soul into sewa (service) at this Gurdwara. He supervised its renovation and recontruction. A retired man, he had not only time but also the passion to see the glory of the new Gurdwara taking shape day by day. Silat Road Gurdwara became his second homeHumility is the essence of Sikhism, and in Kartar Singh we saw a living example of it. Some may consider it indelicate on part to single out one person's sewa, when there are hundreds doing sewa at Silat Road Gurdwara. However, it has been said that Kartar Singh is an extra-ordinary person who has done extra-ordinary sewa at Silat Road Gurdwara. I do not think any one will disagree. Men like him serve to inspire.
In 1881, a contingent of 165 Sikh police personnel arrived in Singapore. Some of these Sikh police were posted to the Singapore docks. The Tanjong Pagar Dock Company built barracks for its Sikh Dock Police in Anson Road, which also included a Sikh Gurdwara Sahib.
In the early 1900's, the Anson Road barracks and Gurdwara Sahib were demolished. The Sikh police were offered an alternative site in Silat Road to build their Gurdwara Sahib. In December 1922, the Singapore Harbour Board leased the present land in Silat Road, comprising an area of 23,744 square feet to the Inspector General of Police. In October 1926, the Singapore Harbour Board sold this piece of land to the Government for $16,800.00.
Bhai Wasawa Singh Thoorkot, a member of the Sikh Police Contingent, played an important part in raising funds for the Gurdwara Sahib building. He travelled to Malaya, Hong Kong and Shanghai in China to seek donations. The police personnel from the Gurdwara Sahib Sikh Police in Pearl Hill also donated one month's salary for this project.
This new Gurdwara Sahib was completed in 1924 at a cost of Straits Settlement $54,000.00. It was originally known as Police Gurdwara Silat Road. The Inspector General of Police, a British officer, in the presence of the President, Subedar Sundar Singh, and other British and Sikh officers, performed the opening ceremony. This Gurdwara Sahib building was built in the traditional style of architecture with domes and arches.
The first Granthi of this Gurdwara Sahib was Giani Nand Singh, a preacher of the Panch Khalsa Diwan, a reformist movement based in Bhasaur Village in the State of Patiala.
There were several rooms in the annex to the Gurdwara Sahib to accommodate Sikh travelers, especially police personnel and their families who were going on leave or a posting to Hong Kong, Shanghai in China, British North Borneo and Sarawak.
In 1937, the Government vested the Gurdwara Sahib property to the Silat Road Gurdwara Board of Trustees on a payment of $16,800.00. The board of Trustees consisted of ten members i.e. three members to represent the Majha Sikhs, three members to represent the Malwa Sikhs, three members representing the Doaba Sikhs and the tenth member to represent both the Singapore Police Force as well as the Naval Police Force.
During the Japanese occupation of Malaya and Singapore (1942 - 1945), a few Sikh widows and their children stayed in the rooms in the Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road. These widows did sewa (service) in the Gurdwara Sahib and were provided with provisions and basic necessities. At the end of the war, these widows were provided with free passage to India by ship. The late Sardar Sadhu Singh Khaira played a great humanitarian role to assist these widows.
In the 1950's, the Silat Road Gurdwara Sahib went through difficult times. There was no Granthi, and attendance of the Sangat was limited to a few faithful Sikhs. A Sikh resident of the Gurdwara Sahib, Bhai Sarban Singh used to do the parkash and semapti of the Sikh Holy Book, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. The Gurdwara Sahib was in a state of disrepair but there were no funds. The Management Committee requested the Government to intervene and amalgamate the Silat Road Gurdwara with the Queen Street Gurdwara Sahib.
In 1981, the Singapore Government enacted the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board Act. This Board was appointed to manage the Silat Road Gurdwara Sahib and the Central Sikh Gurdwara Sahib. The Central Sikh Gurdwara Board appoints all the committee members of the Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road.
There was a samadh (Shrine) erected in the grounds of the old General Hospital in Outram Road, which is believed to be that of the Sikh Saint-Soldier, Bhai Maharaj Singh Ji, who had resisted the British occupation of Punjab. Subsequently, a few Sikhs built a small Gurdwara Sahib and installed therein the Sikh Holy Book, Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Regular prayers were held there and a elderly Sikh lady, Ram Kaur, used to reside there and do sewa. The author visited this Shrine in the early 1960's, but it was then more popularly known as Baba Karam Singh Ji's samadh. There are no records of any religious person by the name of Baba Karam Singh in Singapore. It is therefore a mystery as to how this name, Baba Karam Singh, came to be associated with this Shrine.
In October 1963, the Sikh Advisory Board passed a resolution to the effect that the Sikh Holy Book, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, should be removed from the Samadh of Baba Karam Singh Ji. However, this resolution was not carried out until 1966 when the Singapore Government stepped in.
In 1966, the Government decided that the hospital grounds were not a suitable place for a Sikh Gurdwara Sahib and Shrine and ordered it to be removed. This of course upset some of the Sikh Devotees. However, an amicable solution was reached between Sikh representatives and the Government.
On 12th October 1966, the Sikh Holy Book, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, and the Nishan Sahib were respectfully taken in a procession of motorcars, escorted by the police to the Silat Road Gurdwara. At the same time, the Sikh Devotees also brought the original samadh of Baba Maharaj Singh Ji from the hospital grounds. This was placed near the entrance to the Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road but without installing the Sikh Holy Book, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, in the new structure.
Over the years, this Gurdwara Sahib has been extensively renovated. The original Gurdwara Sahib building can hardly be distinguished following the extensive renovations.
Since the transfer of Bhai Maharaj Singh Ji's Shrine to the Silat Road Gurdwara Sahib, it has become overwhelmingly popular. The Sikhs and other Devotees who visit this Shrine and the adjoining Gurdwara Sahib hold it in great reverence. It is believed that an Akhand Path held at this Gurdwara Sahib by a Devotee earns the Devotee great merit. It is believed that prayers recited sincerely from the heart are answered and vow shave been fulfilled when a Devotee worships at this Shrine. This is the only Gurdwara Sahib in Singapore where langgar is prepared and served everyday.
All visitors and Devotees pay homage at this Shrine and the Bhai Maharaj Singh Ji memorial Gurdwara Sahib, which was officially declared open on 23' October 1995. The Devotees then proceed to the Silat Road Gurdwara Sahib, which is located next door on the first floor.
Sikh ladies hold Bhai Maharaj Singh Ji in great reverence. Some of them light candles at the back of the Shrine and pray to him for guidance. The belief that prayers are answered through his blessings is very strong. Devotees whose prayers have been answered are known to have left banknotes of S$10,000.00 and even gold jewellery in the donation box of the Shrine.
In 1995, an ancillary block next to the Gurdwara Sahib was completed. It includes the Sikh Heritage Centre and the office of The Singapore Sikh Education Foundation, which was established in 1990. Cultural activities, Punjabi as well as kirtan classes are held regularly.
On 14th November 1999, the National Heritage Board declared the Silat Road Sikh Temple as a Historical Site. Since the late 1940's, Sardar Kartar Singh Dalamnangal has been doing sewa in this Gurdwara Sahib, a span of over 50 years. He supervised the renovations, reconstruction and expansion of the Gurdwara Sahib building.
Usually, the Akhand Path (48 hours of continuous reading of the Sikh Holy Book, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji), commences on Mondays at 8.00a.m. and concludes on Wednesdays at 8.00a.m. Other religious programmes e.g. Sukhmani satsang, pooranmasih programme, Sangrand, Masia and other jormelas are held regularly.
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