Sunday, 13 April 2014

Vesakhi (Sikh New Year)

Sikh New Year

The festival Vesakhi (or Baisakhi) is the Sikh New Year falling on 13 April annually, or the first month of the Sikh calendar. It was instituted by the 10th Guru, Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji and commemorates the occasion in which five brave Sikhs offered themselves as a sacrifice for their community. The celebrations are closely tied to the Amrit ceremony or the initiation rite into Sikhism.

History - During the 17th century, a Mogul Emperor Aurangzeb installed himself as India's empereror. Tyrannical as he was, he denounced every other religion in an attempt to spread the influence of Islam, particularly to the Brahmins (the highest ranking caste in the Hindu hierarchy). The Brahmins then sought the favour of the presiding Sikh prophet, Guru Tegh Bahadur, who was the father of Guru Gobind Singh Ji (originally known as Guru Gobind Rai). Guru Gobind gathered members of the community together and, with a sword drawn, called for the head of a brave man. Initially pandemonium broke as fear spread among those gathered but when a moment of silence descended, a total of five men offered their heads.

Each time a volunteer offered himself, Guru Gobind brought him into a tent and returned to the crowd with a bloodstained sword. However, much to the amazement of the audience, all five men emerged unharmed, radiantly dressed in the Khalsa Bana (or the traditional yellow "dress"). Guru Gobind then baptised them in a ceremony now known as amrit. Guru Gobind bestowed the five men as the Panj Pyare or "Five Beloved Ones". They were considered the embodiment of the Guru.

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Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road (Silat Road Sikh Temple)

The Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road, a.k.a Silat Road Temple, takes its name from its location which is in Silat Road, now renamed Jalan Bukit Merah. Silat Avenue is still available as a short road nearby. It houses the samadh (tombstone) of Bhai Maharaj Singh Ji, the Sikh freedom fighter, after it was brought to the Gurdwara from the Singapore General Hospital on 12 October 1966. The National Heritage Boardhas declared the Gurdwara a historic site.

Early History - The Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road (Gurdwara) has its origins as the first-ever Sikh temple to be built in Singapore at Pearl's Hill. In the early days of Singapore, the Sikhs who came from Punjab often found themselves a job with the Police. Those rejected were usually employed as security guards and watchmen. The Sikh policemen soon realised the need for a Gurdwara. For the Sikhs, the Gurdwara meant more than a place of worship; it was also a place where they could meet their friends and family. The Sikh policemen also wanted to expand their current temple premises to cater to the needs of newly-arrived Sikh migrants.

Previously, they allowed the migrants to put up at their barracks till the migrants found lodging of their own. With the Sikh community in Singapore growing, they could no longer continue with this practice. Moreover, there were rigid rules that the policemen themselves had to adhere to in the quarters. Hoping for a new half-way house, the Silat Road site was chosen for its close proximity to the harbour and the railway station. The Police Gurdwara, as it was commonly known in Sikh society, was built at a cost of S$54 000. The sum was raised mainly by the Sikh members of the police force in Malaya and Singapore. Sikhs in neighbouring countries also contributed to the fund. The Gurdwara was completed in 1924, built with arches and domes. A bigger Gurdwara was built in 1966 and it served as a meeting place for the Punjabis and a memorial to Bhai Maharaj Singh, a Sikh warrior. It is believed by some Sikhs in Singapore that any prayer would be granted through the divine intervention of Bhai Maharaj. It was only after his tomb was kept in this Gurdwara that it soared in popularity, in comparison to the other Sikh temples in Singapore.

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Central Sikh Temple

The Central Sikh Temple, or the Central Sikh Gurdwara as it is known to the Sikhs, is a place of worship for the Sikh community in Singapore. Established in 1912, it was previously known as the Queen Street Gurdwara Sahib due to its former location. Currently located at Towner Road, the Gurdwara, which means “place of worship”, holds a particular significance for Sikhs as it also houses the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, the Holy Scripture for Sikhs. Besides serving as a temple, the Gurdwara also serves as a community facility for Sikhs, housing facilities such as dining halls, a library and a dormitory.

HistoryIn 1912, a group of Sikhs decided to move out of their former temple, the Sikh Police Gurdwara Sahib at Pearl Hill, and build a new one. This initiative was also supported by the Sindhis and the Straits Settlements Police, Singapore Branch. Funds were raised by seeking donations from the Sikh community. With a combined area of 13,032 sq ft, the newly built temple was named Queen Street Gurdwara Sahib, later also known as Wadda Gurdwara.

During its formative years, the temple faced several problems over the leadership of the Gurdwara. At the time, the Sikh community was split into three factions, the Majha, the Malwa and the Doabha Sikhs. The government intervened on 12 June 1917, taking control of the temple from the Sikhs, locking up the Gurdwara Sahib safe box and taking away the keys. Management of the temple was then handed over to the Muslim and Hindu Endowment Board, which the Sikh community saw as an insult.

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Sikh community

The Sikh community is one of the smallest ethnic groups in Singapore and is usually considered part of the larger North Indian community. According to the 2010 census, there are about 12,952 Sikhs in Singapore. The Sikhs first came to Singapore in 1819 as sepoys, servants or convicts of the British East India Company.

Historical background - The term “Sikh” originally referred to the followers of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. The word was derived from either the Sanskrit words “sisya” or “siksa”, meaning “disciple” and “instruction” respectively, or from the Pali word “sikkha”, meaning “training” or “study”. Today, the term “Sikh” is used to refer to a person who follows the teachings of the Ten Sikh Gurus.

The Sikhs come from the Punjab area in northwest India and are adherents of Sikhism. It is generally believed that the first Sikhs who came to Singapore were part of the group of sepoys under the employment of the British East India Company. Sikhs and other Punjabis started migrating out of the Punjab province shortly after the British took control of the area in the mid-19th century. While British control established peace and encouraged economic growth in the area, it also created a phenomenon of indebtedness for many of the rural Sikhs who turned to alternative forms of work to augment their income. When the British started recruiting for the Indian Army in the Punjab area, many Sikhs joined as recruits.

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The turban is a wrapped headdress made from a length of fabric that is twisted and wound around the head in various ways. The turban is of Muslim origin and has been widely worn in the Middle East and on the Indian subcontinent since at least the early Middle Ages (5th to 10th centuries). In Singapore, turbans are mainly worn by men of the Sikh community.

Description - The term turban is derived from the Persian word dulband, which later evolved intotulband and finally turban. In India, the turban is also known as the pagpagri orsafa. The Sikhs refer to the turban as the dastar (also spelt dastaar). Most turbans are made of cotton and are thus strong, easy to wash and affordable. Turbans for royalty, the wealthy and religious ceremonies are made of silk, may be dyed in brilliant hues and even embroidered with gold thread.

Turbans can be tied in many ways. They can be preformed and worn like a fitted headdress. Alternatively, the turban can be formed by wrapping the fabric around the head each time it is to be worn.

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