By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Construction of Gurdwara Sahib, the New England Sikh Study Circle’s new temple being built on Flanders Road in Westborough, is targeted for completion by Labor Day 2016. Delays since construction began in March 2014 have been caused by last winter’s heavy snow, and the discovery of significant ledge at the site, which necessitated additional fundraising to pay for blasting, according to Building Committee Chair Sukhjinder Singh Bajwa. The outer shell of the building is now complete.
Currently, the committee is interviewing contractors to finish the interior of the 21,000- square-foot building, which is located on 37 acres. The building will contain a prayer hall, library, 12 classrooms, conference rooms, and an apartment for Priest Ramgupal Singh and his family.
Most of the contents of the temple will be new, except for the kitchen equipment, which will be brought from the congregation’s current home in Milford. The temple’s gold dome and saffron-colored flag, with the Sikh symbol of Khanda, will come from India.
“It is labor-intensive and the cost is prohibitive to make the dome here… It will be shipped here in nine pieces,” Bajwa said.
President Malkit Singh Gill added, “We are spending $7 million. I feel very good with [the Building Committee] in charge.”
The group also includes architect Jasbir Singh Gandhi, engineer Anup Singh Khatra, youth representative Angad Singh Mokha and others.
The congregation has been bursting out of its 8,000-square-foot space for some time. Parking is a serious problem in Milford, which will be relieved by the 126 spaces at the new Westborough temple.
Membership includes approximately 200 families from central Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire. There are three other Sikh temples in the state, in Everett, Medford and Millis.
Most of the members of the congregation are immigrants, according to Bajwa. He said that more than half the world’s over 20 million Sikhs live outside Punjab, the region in India where the religion was founded more than 500 years ago.
“There is a joke: when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, he saw a Sikh. The Sikh said, ‘When India was partitioned, I might as well have moved to the moon,’” said Bajwa. “We are everywhere.”
Religious school for the congregation’s approximately 120 children is held on Fridays and Sundays. The number of students is expected to increase to 150 once the congregation moves to Westborough. Students also study Punjabi.
Eleven-year-old Gurleen of Millis, and her teacher Amarjit, both expressed excitement about the move to Westborough.
“It’s always crowded so the move is good,” Gurleen said. “I like it here; it is a good place to learn.”
Following religious school and prayer service on Sundays, there is always a “langar,” a community meal that all are welcome to attend. A langar is also served on Friday night, usually to a smaller crowd. Amandeep Singh, the center’s secretary, noted that at the New England Sikh Study Circle, a different family sponsors the langar every week.
Bajwa said that the Sikhs’ main temple, Sri Harmandir Sahib, in Amritsar, India, serves 50,000 meals a day and 100,000 on Sundays and on festival days.
Singh noted that “Sikh” is pronounced “sick” not “seek.”
“It means student, and ‘gurdwara’ means ‘teacher’s home,’” he said.
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion, which has always regarded men and woman as equals.
“They do sit separately during prayer, but that is a tradition, not a prohibition,” Bajwa commented.
In order to equalize members and break from the caste system which is practiced in India, all Sikh men share the same name, as do Sikh woman. For men the name is “Singh,” which means “lion.” For women, it is “Kaur,” meaning “priest.”
“Sikhism is about living a good spiritual life and sharing with the less fortunate,” Bajwa said.
The congregation is active in giving back to those in need, with clothing drives for St. Francis Homeless Shelter in Boston, sponsoring meals at the Pine Street Inn in Boston, and supporting local blood drives.
For more information about the congregation and the construction of the Gurdwara Sahib, contact Amandeep Singh at [email protected] or 508-243-8846.
Photos/Jane Keller Gordon