In 1857, the Chinese uprising started in the gold mining town of Bau, which is about 20 miles (about 33 kilometres) from the town of Kuching. Sir James Brooke, the first white Rajah of Sarawak, fled to Singapore where he took refuge with the Governor of the Straits Settlements. He subsequently recruited personnel for the Sarawak Police Force in Singapore.' The first batch of 13 Sikhs led by Dewa Singh Akhara, were brought to Kuching. These Sikhs played an important role in bringing peace, law and order to this area. Sikhs who came later were
employed as prison wardens by the Government and as security personnel by the Sarawak Shell Company in Miri. It is also believed that there were a few Sikhs in the Sarawak Rangers, which was formed in 1872.
The number of Sikhs in Kuching from 1880 to 1906 were as follows; 1880 - 80 Sikhs, 1890 - 90 Sikhs, 1900 - 110 Sikhs and 1906 - 130 Sikhs. On 1" October 1910, the Sikh congregation, which consisted mainly of Police personnel and watchmen, decided to build a Gurdwara Sahib in Kuching. A piece of land, 0.37 acres in size, was obtained for this purpose from the Government. It was made obligatory that all Sikhs in Kuching had to contribute at least one month's salary towards the building fund. Construction on the double storey wooden building commenced on 1st March 1911. The Gurdwara Sahib building was completed and officially declared open on 1st October 1912. The Sikhs also contributed one per cent of their salary (i.e. one cent out of every $1.00 earned) to build a verandah around the Gurdwara Sahib.
On 1st September 1928, the Management Committee of the Gurdwara issued an order as follows:-
(a) Any person who had consumed alcohol could not come to the Gurdwara Sahib.
(b) No meat was allowed to be consumed in the Gurdwara Sahib premises.
(c) Any person who stayed in the Gurdwara Sahib had to do sewa (service) in the Gurdwara Sahib.
(d) Any Sikh, who read the Holy Book, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, for the first time, had to donate $5.25 to the Gurdwara Sahib fund. Anyone who did a `sadaran path' also had to donate $5.25.
The Gurdwara Sahib in Bau, about 20 miles (33 kilometres) away was under the jurisdiction of the Gurdw a Sahib Kuching Management Committee in the late 1920s. The Gurdwara Sahib Kuching pai r all expenses incurred by the Gurdwara Sahib Bau. The Gurdwara Sahib Bau was closed in the late 1950s as there were no longer any Sikhs in Bau.
The names of the Management Committee of the Gurdwara Sahib Kuching in 1928 were:-Inspector Ram Singh (128) President, Major Phuman Singh (134), Sergeant Begah Singh (61), Sergeant Sham Singh (174), Corporal Narain Singh (100), Corporal Channan Singh (113), Maan Singh (109), Partap Singh, Watchman Joala Singh, Corporal Hajoora Singh (66) and Sergeant Gurdit Singh
The early history of the Gurdwara Sahib Kuching from 1910 to 1928 was documented by the Granthi, Bhai Gurdial Singh, on 16th December 1928 in Gurmukhi. This has proven to be an invaluable source of reference.
By the late 1930s, there were more than 300 Sikhs with their families residing in Kuching. These Sikhs have left their mark on the history of Sarawak. In Matang, Kuching there is a Bukit Punjab and in the Batu Lintang area in Kuching there is a Jalan Punjabi.
On 14th March 1935, the Management Committee of the Gurdwara Sahib Kuching purchased a shop in Carpenter Street for $10,186.00. Another shop in India Street, Kuching was purchased on 16th May 1940. The rental received from these two shops was used to upkeep the Gurdwara Sahib premises.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, Sikh personnel who were attached to the various army units in Kuching, used to come to the Gurdwara Sahib Kuching to pray as well as do (sewa).
Over the years, this Gurdwara Sahib was repaired on several occasions. As the Sikh Sangat had grown considerably, the Gurdwara Sahib building was found to be inadequate. It was finally demolished in 1980 to make way for a new building.
Construction of the new three-storey brick building commenced in late 1980, under the Presidency of Sardar Mukartar Singh Sandhu. There are six golden-coloured domes on top of the Gurdwara Sahib building. The Darbar Sahib is located on the second floor. The langgar hall, kitchen, library, office, a store and a guest room are located on the first floor. The Granthi's quarters, ration store, guest's room and a hall are located on the ground floor. This Gurdwara Sahib also had a lift installed for the convenience of the elderly. Its beautiful and unique architecture attracts even tourists who visit Kuching. The cost of this Gurdwara Sahib building was about RM1,000,000.00 out of which RM20,000.00 was donated by the State Government. This new Gurdwara Sahib was declared open on 18th April 1982 by Y.B. Tan Sri Datuk Ong Kee Hui, the Minister of Science, Technology and Environment, Malaysia. After more than a decade, the final structure of the Gurdwara Sahib building was completed under the Presidency of Sardar Sarjit Singh Khaira.
The 300th anniversary of the birth of the Khalsa (Vesakhi), which fell on 14th April 1999, was celebrated on a large scale by the Sikh community of Kuching. An exhibition on the Sikh religion, history of Sikhs in Sarawak, Sikh culture, musical instruments, old photographs, Punjabi suits etc was held on the ground floor of the Gurdwara Sahib Kuching. This exhibition was declared open by Y.B. Datuk James Wong Kim Min, the Minister of Environment and Public Health on 10th April 1999. The 200 invited guests who attended this event were very impressed by the exhibits.
On 11th April 1999 a religious procession and nagar kirtan was organised by the Sikh community of Kuching. About 400 Sikhs took part in this procession, which commenced from the Gurdwara Sahib at 7.30p.m. and wound its way through the main streets of the town of Kuching. The procession was led by the Panj Piyarae followed by five youths, each of whom carried the Nishan Sahib. The Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, the Holy Book of the Sikhs, was placed on a raised dias on a lorry decorated with lights and flowers. The entire Sikh Sangat followed singing shabads all the way and chanting "Boleh So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal". This was indeed a unique experience not only for the people of Kuching, but for all Sikhs as well. The procession finally returned to the Gurdwara Sahib Kuching at about 9.30p.m. where refreshments were served to all. The next morning, on 12th April 1999, the Sri Akhand Path was held, which concluded on 14th April 1999.
In conjunction with the 300th anniversary of the birth of the Khalsa, the Relics of Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji, which are in the possession of the descendants of Phir Bhudu Shah, were displayed in the Gurdwara Sahib on 6th April 1999. These relics consist of the Kanga and Dastar used by Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji and a handwritten note (Jafar nama). These relics were given to Phir Bhudu Shah in appreciation for his assistance during the fight with the moguls. Phir Bhudu Shah's son as well as his brother and many of his followers were killed in the battle.
The Management Committee comprises of the President, Secretary, Treasurer and four committee members. The present Trustees of the Gurdwara Sahib are Sardar Gurbachan Singh Akhara, Sardar Daya Singh Gill and Sardar Haridial Singh Basuwal.
There are 40 students who attend Gurmukhi classes on Sundays. The Punjabi school is run by volunteer teachers.
Bhai Tarlok Singh served as a Granthi in this Gurdwara Sahib from 1959 to 1970.
Datuk Dr. Gurdarshan Singh Hans, who was born in 1943, is the first local born Sikh to become a Doctor in the State of Sarawak. He is a Devout Sikh and an Akhand Pathi. He is also the first Sikh in Sarawak to have been awarded a Datukship, in 2001 by the State Government of Sarawak.
Presently, there are about 75 Sikh families who participate in the religious activities in this Gurdwara Sahib. The usual weekly prayers are held on Sunday mornings at 9.00a.m. Other religious programmes are held as and when necessary at the request of the sangat.
The author is grateful to Sardar Piara Singh Gill, President of the Gurdwara Sahib Kuching, for providing him with his article "History of the Sikhs in Kuching" as well as an extract (pages 41 and 42) from "Sarawak Book of Amazing Facts and Records".
Sikh Gurudwaras in Malaysia&Singapore
Saran Singh Sidhu AMN,PNM,FRNS