EVER WANTED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS INSIDE GLASGOW’S GURDWARA?
You can hear the sound of women kneading the chapati dough before you see them, closely gathered round the huge table in the kitchen.
“Waheguru” they chant continuously, rhythmically, to focus their mind on the job, eyes never leaving the table apart from to pass their products along the line to be tossed, fried and buttered at the end.
They are working in the Gurdwara, and this is Sunday, the busiest day of the week in the Sikh temple.
Waheguru, the word that they happily chant, is Punjabi for ‘God’ and the women will run the free kitchen, the Langar, all morning, readying themselves for the meal which is given out after the weekly prayers in the Darbar Sahib, the hall above them.
“On a Sunday we can make a couple of thousand chapatis,” explains volunteer Parvinder Kaur as she rolls out some dough.
“But there are usually a few festivities through the week as well so over the course of a week I would say we make about 10,000 chapatis in here.”
The concept of the free kitchen in every Gurdwara is fundamental to Sikhism, which was founded 500 years ago by the Sikh’s first Guru – Guru Nanak – in the Punjab in India.
The kitchen provides a free, simple, vegetarian meal to all people who attend the Gurdwara and was created essentially as a ‘leveller’ – encouraging people of all backgrounds, castes and professions to sit together, side by side, eating food made from the one pot.
“Guru Nanak wanted to promote equality”, explains Parvinder as the chapatis bubble up on the hot plate.
“He wanted to say that no matter what culture or religion you are, you are always welcome for free chapatis and curry.
“So anybody can come at any time and have their meal.”
Sikhism was created over 550 years ago, by Guru (ancient Sanskrit for ‘teacher’) Nanak and was established by nine other Gurus who left their teachings in a holy book, – the Guru Granth Sahib – which is known as the eleventh guru.
The modern day Gurdwara is run by volunteers who do everything from cooking, cleaning, teaching Punjabi and the reading of the ancient script from Guru Granth Sahib at prayer times.
For volunteer Charandeep Singh, 23, the Gurdwara is more than just a place to go to practise a religion, it’s a place where the Sikh community can coalesce in a sort of second home.
“For me, being a Sikh is special”, he says.
“Sikhism has played a real part of my life as I grew up. It’s about the values and being able to practice the values on a day to day basis.
“It’s about equality, justice, humanity, peace and respect and trying to utilise these values on a daily basis, whether that’s campaigning or at work or here at the Gurdwara volunteering or in the community.
“Equality is a core value. You can’t participate in Sikhism unless you believe in equality.”
Downstairs in the Langar hall is 75-year-old Mohinder Kaur, who has been volunteering in Nithsdale Road for 50 years.
“Mohinder does selfless service in the kitchen,” explains fellow volunteer Gurjit Singh.
“She is helping out with making the dhal and also helping upstairs by keeping it clean.
“She also comes overnight to turn the gas on for the kitchen the next day.”
Glasgow Sikhs celebrate Vaisakhi
There are 30m Sikhs in the world, which makes it the fifth largest religion. In Scotland, there are around 25,000 Sikhs with most of them living in Glasgow.
The Glasgow Gurdwara sits in Pollokshields. There are another three across the rest of the city.
Aside from visiting the Gurdwara and promoting the values of equality and justice, Sikhs will try to abide by the five Ks – Kesh (uncut hair), Kangha (a wooden comb used and then placed in the hair), Kara (a metal bracelet), Kachera (specific undergarments) and Kirpan – a small curved sword.
“The 5 Ks are a core part of being a Sikh,” says Charandeep.
“Every baptised Sikh wears them essentially 24 hours a day. You never take them off.
“Men and women both wear turbans to cover their uncut hair and that again promotes equality between men and women.
“The Kirpan is worn by both men and women and as Sikhs take pride in helping others over themselves and the Kirpan really signifies that.
“It is there to help people – there was a recent case in England where a lady’s bag was snatched and a Sikh man chased them. We are there to help those in distress, whether they are a Sikh or not.”
When they are not in the Gurdwara, Sikhs in Glasgow are busy raising money to build a newer, larger temple just along the road in Albert Drive. The community is raising £4m towards this project, which will open in 2013.
With a larger kitchen, prayer hall, a new museum and specialist classrooms, the building will be state of the art and accommodate 800 people.
“There will be better facilities that we don’t have here, a crèche for children, a bigger hall and a better library”, says Gurdwara President, Surinder Singh.
“It unites the community. Without the Gurdwara there is no faith.
“Everywhere the Sikh community live they always have a Gurdwara, the community unites.
“Life starts at the Gurdwara and finishes at the Gurdwara, it is part of our life.”