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Gurudwara Shri San Jose Sahib

This is a discussion on Gurudwara Shri San Jose Sahib within the Roots and Culture forums, part of the :- Mature Discussions -: category; San Jose, California: In an event highlighting the influence and permanence of the Bay Area’s Indian community, Gov. Jerry Brown ...

Old 04-16-2011
Star Gurudwara Shri San Jose Sahib

San Jose, California: In an event highlighting the influence and permanence of the Bay Area’s Indian community, Gov. Jerry Brown and other political leaders joined thousands of colorfully dressed Sikhs who on Sunday celebrated the opening of their greatly expanded temple in the Evergreen hills of San Jose, making it the nation’s largest gurdwara.

The open house marking the $20 million addition to the Sikh Gurdwara-San Jose drew Brown, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and other dignitaries including clergy from Christian and other faiths. They joined thousands of Sikhs who had traveled to the packed celebration from all over Northern California.

For several hours during the afternoon, hundreds of Sikh men and women patiently waited in a long line to bow and pray in the vast, newly completed prayer hall before the Guru Granth Sahib, the religious text of Sikhism. Thousands moved on to the eco-friendly vegetarian kitchen, called a langar, where an army of volunteers had cooked spinach-and-mustard-leaf saag, spicy dahl and sweets — enough to feed a crowd estimated to be around 10,000 people.

In a speech, Brown praised the Sikh community’s success and urged members to continue to build business, political and community ties in California. To the approval of many in the audience, the governor also vowed to seek justice for two elderly Sikh men who were shot as they went for a walk last month in Elk Grove, near Sacramento — an event many in the community believe was a hate crime because the Sikhs may have been mistaken for Muslims. One man, Surinder Singh, 65, died, while a second man, 78-year-old Gurmej Singh Atwal, was seriously injured.

Despite the community’s ongoing distress about the shootings, the mood at Sunday’s gurdwara opening was overwhelmingly happy and proud, with the festivities not marred by the long and contentious battles the temple community has endured to complete the nation’s largest and most expensive gurdwara.

As he returned to his car, Brown was surrounded by a crowd of Sikh men happily snapping pictures with their cell phones, and many said completion of the giant expansion and the presence of Brown and other leaders signaled a milestone for the Bay Area’s Sikh and Indian communities and cultures.

“It’s a great day for everybody to come together and celebrate,” said Kavneet Singh, managing director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Eduction Fund in Washington, D.C., who was attending the open house. “This is the culmination of years and years of hard work.”

Tough times over

Sunday’s vibrant scene, also timed to coincide with a significant Sikh harvest holiday, called Vaisakhi, was the end to nearly a quarter century of struggle for completion of what is now among the biggest gurdwara outside of India.

In addition to the new prayer hall, the expanded campus includes 12 nearly finished classrooms for the 600-plus children who attend weekly religious school, and 11 apartments that house temple priests and visitors. The entire campus is freshly landscaped with green grass, walls are painted in golden saffron, and the rooftops are majestic onion domes, reminiscent of temples in Punjab, India, where the Sikh faith was born more than 500 years ago.

“It’s literally been one dollar at a time,” said Sukhraj Sohal of San Jose. “So, today feels good.”

While the first phase of the gurdwara was finished in 2004 and cost $10 million, temple leaders say the addition was about $1.5 million over budget and opened a year later than planned, and at times there has been intense internal criticism over its management and fundraising.

Bhupindar “Bob” Dhillon, 69, the most powerful lay leader of the congregation, which has 3,500 registered members, has been both praised and criticized for his forceful hand in temple affairs. Dhillon, who had a long career in real estate and homebuilding, ended up managing the project.

“A lot of people were saying it can’t be done,” Dhillon said. “So when it did happen, this makes me very happy.”
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