Sikhism in Netherlands
Netherland Sikhs are a religious minority in Netherland. They number around 12,000 and most of them live in or around Amsterdam. There are 5 main gurudwaras in Netherland.
The first contact of the Sikhs with Holland took place during World War II (1939--45) when, at the request of the Dutch government, the British had sent Sikh and the Gorkha soldiers to Indonesia to fight against Japan. While the Sikhs and the Gorkhas together defended Indonesia, they also displayed exemplary bravery to make the Dutch people reach Holland safely immediately after the war when Indonesia got independence. To avenge the atrocities perpetrated against them (during their slavery), the Indonesian people had wanted to inflict severest assaults on the Dutch.
In Holland the Sikh armies had fought against Germany at Masstricht and Eindhoven. Recently the living Sikh soldiers had come to Holland along with other soldiers from America, England, Canada and Australia, to pay homage to their dead comrades at the commemorative function held at Arnhem to observe the 50th year of the Second World War.
Sikhs got an important opportunity to know and understand the Dutch in the '70s through the diplomatic channel when the former Maharaja Yadvindra Singh of Patiala was the Indian Ambassador in Den Haag. Besides the royal and official functions of Netherlands, the grand Sikh Maharaja's charismatic presence at other social and cultural programs greatly affected the people of Holland.
I came to Holland in August 1973 and met the Maharaja in September at his residence where I also met S Joginder Singh Mann, S Ganga Singh Dhillon and R.S. Gentle. I came to know only form him that a certain S Balbir Singh of Delhi was running an Indian restaurant Tandoor in Amsterdam for about two years. He also told me that a Sikh family of S Beant Singh-Tarlochan Singh had been living in Rotterdam for the last ten years.
Our next meeting took place at the Tandoor restaurant where S Bishan Singh Samundari (former Principal of Khalsa College and Vice Chancellor of Guru Nanak University) was also with us. S Balbir Singh told us that there was one Guru Ramdas Ashram run by American Sikhs who also had a restaurant called the Golden Temple. This was the information which I got about the community on my arrival.
I cultivated regular contacts with the Maharaja. He was not very happy to be there as an ambassador to Holland. He would often say that he himself had handed over the Patiala state to the government in order to consolidate India, and that the tall and brave Sikh soldiers of Patiala had died in the Indo-China war fighting in the forefront. He found it difficult to understand why a Sikh was not made an ambassador to USA, Canada or England. Tears often swelled in his eyes while talking about the young soldiers. He was also unhappy over the curtailment of the privy purses. He breathed his last in May 1974 at Wassenaar. His daughter and son-in-law came from England. With his death, a brilliant star of the Sikhs had disappeared from the firmament of Holland.
I had established contacts with the American Sikhs in September. About 20-25 Americans, Dutch, Germans and Italians had embraced Sikhism with the inspiration of S Harbhajan Singh Yogi. The ashram was being run under the guidance of Sat Kartar Singh and Kaur of the USA. The direct control of the ashram was in the hands of Yogiji. His photographs adorned the walls of almost all rooms.
Guru Granth Sahib had not yet been ceremoniously installed. Only yoga classes were organized and vegetarian food was served in the Golden Temple restaurant. I was mightily pleased when they expressed the desire to learn Punjabi. Punjabi classes were arranged on every Wednesday and Sunday. Since they were converts to Sikhism from other religions, they had a sincere urge to learn and therefore started writing and speaking satisfactorily in a few months time. The people of Punjab must know of Ms Satkartar Kaur who used to address audience in the Punjab gurdwaras in chaste Punjabi. This lady was very close to Mrs Amarjit Kaur, wife of Shaheed Bhai Fauja Singh.
In the beginning of 1974, the weekly congregation in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib started to be held in the spacious hall of the Ashram situated on the first floor. Tarn Taran Kaur, Satkartar Kaur and later Gurjagat Kaur, and other Sikh men and women started performing kirtan. Some Indians also started attending these congregations.
The ardas and the Song of the Khalsa were rendered in English. Later, Guru Ram Das Ashrams were opened by Tarn Taran Singh and Kaur in Hamburg, Germany, by Satraj Singh and Kaur in Copenhagen, Denmark, and by Guru Hans Singh and Kaur in Paris, France.
Ashrams were also opened in Italy and Australia, but the center continued to be the Ashram at Amsterdam. We can never forget the contribution of Sat Kartar Kaur and Singh to Sikhism.
Let us now look towards the Punjabi Sikhs. The first abode of Punjabis in Holland about which I came to know was Albert Cuijpstraat 246 where lived Sukhchain Singh Grewal and Balbir Singh Grewal from Narangwal and Raipur respectively. They lived in this house from 1975-80. I had come across Pargat Singh - Ajaib Singh from Pohwind and Balbir Singh Bassi from Kamalpur and they had taken me to the above-mentioned. After meeting them I also came across Dharam Singh, Kartar Singh, Jarnail Singh, Tejwant Singh and Lal Singh. I also met Inder Singh Amritsari and Inderjit Singh Raipur.
The Grewal brothers were very nice and the doors of their house remained open to all and sundry round the clock. Since there was a market under the building, every newly-arrived Punjabi would come to their place. The news of their hospitality had reached even the travel agents of Punjab and after sucking the blood of their preys they would give the address of these brothers and assure their clients that they would be taken care of in Holland by ‘their’ people. I have myself heard the tales of exploitation involving travel agents, as narrated by the victims themselves at the Grewal residence.
I have made a special reference to the Grewal residence because the beginnings of the Sikh community in Holland and the recognition we enjoy here was made in this house. I will elucidate the point further.
I was also present when ways to send a part of our income to Punjab was being discussed. This incident took place towards the end of 1976. When I asked if they had any other aim in this foreign land they kept silent but became quite serious. Everybody was dumbfounded.
I informed them that everywhere Sikhs went we established Gurdwaras. They agreed with me. I then suggested to set up a Gurdwara. Everybody felt excited. They asked me to take the initiative. And it was decided that Baisakhi of 1977 would be celebrated in Amsterdam. We approached some other people and they agreed with the program. Thus the above mentioned persons are founders of gurdwaras in Holland.
We had neither the money nor the land. We rented a spacious hall in the Markant Hall for five hundred guilders to celebrate Baisakhi on April 17, 1977. We approached the ashram and they agrred to cooperate. We published five hundred posters with pictures of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh, khanda, and also the program with an invitation from the Amsterdam Sikh Community, printed on the stencil machine provided by the ashram.
We invited the Indian ambassador Mr Ras Gotra but he expressed his inability to attend the function. Then another strongly worded letter was sent to him stating that an ambassador was expected to perform two functions. First, to establish contacts between the Indian government and the government of this country and the other, to participate in the weal and woe of Indians settled there. We let him know that the second function was more important than the first. Consequently we received a letter that the ambassador along with his staff would attend the event.
Our difficulties began to be overcome automatically. Satyash, the famous classical singer from Bengal, who had been invited in connection with the birth anniversary of Ravi Shankar, undertook the responsibility of performing kirtan. He expressed his limitations and promised to sing the shabads of Bhagat Kabir only as he was quite proficient in singing them. He told us that there were many devotees of Bhagat Kabir in Bengal. Moreover, there was also the Kirtani jatha of the Ashram. The sewa of langar was undertaken by S Balbir Singh of the Tandoor.
I had a chance meeting in Amsterdam with S Gurbachan Singh from Dan Haag. He gave the news to S Karnail Singh Jassal, who always strived for panthic (community) causes and Hardip Singh Bindra, Bhajan Singh and Joginder Singh (all from Dan Haag) and it traveled further to S Jasbir Singh, Hardev Singh Thandi, Mehar Singh, Nirbhai Singh (all from Leiden), S Joginderpal Singh, Malkit Singh, Chain Singh, Sadhu Singh, Karamjit Singh, Darshan Singh Mann, Tarsem Singh, Lakhvinder Singh, Devinder Singh (all from Rotterdam), and Surinder Singh Ahluwalia and Kanwaljit Singh Ahluwalia (from Delft), Jatinder Singh (Den Haag) etc. and they informed almost all Sikhs living in Europe. Jagir Singh and Gian Singh of Rotterdam also came to know about it.
The meeting with S Gurbachan Singh proved to be very useful. Afterwards the first Akhand Path in Holland took place at his residence. Giani Amolak Singh was approached in England. So these were the Sikhs living in Holland at that time. S Jarnail Singh of Rotterdam also came to know about it.
There were 10 to 12 Sikhs in Amsterdam who were very enthusiastic about the whole affair. When S. Mohinder Singh Bahara, Asa Singh, Mohinder Singh Lammea, Gurmit Singh Jat, Sohan Singh Duggal, Dr Mangal Singh, Sarwan Singh, Charanjit Singh, Ram Singh, Parambir.Singh and Lashkar Singh (all from Amsterdam) came to know about it, they all started to work on the program. All night long decorations were prepared at the residence of the Grewal brothers, and the Hall was decorated in the early morning. Langar was available throughout the night in the kitchen attached to the Hall. Bhagwant Singh also reached there.
On April 17, the ashram people brought the Bir of Guru Granth Sahib, along with the beautiful palanquin, druggets, utensils etc. The kirtan commenced and the entire Hall was filled to capacity by noon. The sangat (congregation) started sitting in the courtyard in front of the Hall. The ambassador, Mr Rasotra, also reached along with his staff. This was the first function held in Europe outside England. More than four hundred persons attended it. In his address, the ambassador said: "If Guru Gobind Singh had not founded the Khalsa, all of India would have embraced Islam." The Bengali artiste also performed well in the classical raags.
At an appropriate time I made an appeal for the construction of a gurdwara in Holland, which was unanimously approved by raising the jaikaras. A suggestion was also made that the entire Sikh population of Holland should collectively celebrate Baisakhi, the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak and the birthday of Guru Gobind Singh every year in Amsterdam, Dan Haag, and Rotterdam respectively. This suggestion was also well-received. Money started pouring in. Along with religious solidarity, social, family and cultural affinity also gained strength, the proof of which was given by the congregation on the demise of S Makhan Singh when 11,568 guilders were collected and sent to his family in Punjab.
After a short while prominent Sikh leaders like Jathedar Tohra, Talwandi, Jaswinder Singh Brar, Dr Gurnam Singh Tir, Principal Satbir Singh and Abnashi Singh visited Holland for the first time. In August 1977, the Indian Welfare Association (IWA) was formed in Albert Cuijpstraat 246. S Jasvir Singh (now an advocate) and Mehar Singh from Leiden, S Karnail Singh and Gopal Krishan from Dan Haag, S Jagir Singh and Gian Singh from Rotterdam and S Kartar Singh and I from Amsterdam became members.
As a reaction to the Amritsar killings of April, 1978 a demonstration was held in front of the Indian Embassy. This was the first protest by Sikhs in Europe outside the U.K. The Sikhs of the ashram also joined us. Though this demonstration was in protest against the massacre of Sikhs, many did not participate thinking it to be anti-India. The cracks appeared in the IWA. I tendered my resignation which was not accepted.
With the help and cooperation of the ashram, the Sikhs of Amsterdam participated in a festival where they sold home-made food and collected 3,500 guilders which were given to S Harbhajan Singh Yogi through Satkartar Singh for onward transmission to the wife of Fauja Singh, who had died as a martyr. At the instructions of yogiji, a van was procured for the Jatha and was given to Ms Amarjit Kaur for the work of religious preaching.
Towards the end of 1978 when I was away to India, in my absence some of the minions, at the instigation of the Embassy, forcibly snatched the funds collected so far from its incharge, S Mohinder Singh Bahara and Dharam Singh of Amsterdam. Till then the weekly congregation used to be held in our homes by turn and the funds would go on swelling every week.
At the Baisakhi function of April 1979 in Amsterdam, these mischief mongers, at the instigation of the Embassy, announced from the stage that they would build a gurdwara in Amsterdam and if the Sikhs living in Dan Haag and Rotterdam had the guts they should build the gurdwaras in their own cities. The entire sangat protested vehemently but that person disappeared all of a sudden after sowing the seeds of discord within the community.
On their return to Rotterdam, the Sikhs from this city, being unable to bear the insult, set up a committee comprising of Devinder Singh, Mehar Singh, Karnail Singh, Tarlochan Singh and Surinder Singh Ahluwalia and started planning a separate gurdwara in Rotterdam.
In Amsterdam, the community boycotted the mischievous elements and continued with their weekly congregations at the private residences. Like before, in November 1979 too, the birth-anniversary of Guru Nanak was celebrated with great pomp and show in Dan Haag. The Sikhs from Rotterdam also joined and thus contributed a lot to the success of the program.
This dealt a stunning blow to the designs of the toadies of the embassy. They wanted to put obstacles at any cost to disunite Sikhs and our plan of setting up of a gurdwara. The demonstration of 1978 hurt them like a thorn. When after celebrating Gurpurb, the Bir of Guru Granth Sahib was being brought to Amsterdam by car, these ungrateful people pelted shoes, sticks and wine bottles at it. They had brought some Pakistanis along. Satkartar Singh was driving the car and I was carrying the Guru Granth Sahib. There were two more people with us.
I have used the word ‘ungrateful' for them because I fail to understand how else to describe them and their deplorable actions. Are they any different from the Nirankaris? A wave of resentment ran through the entire community in Holland.
Now all the funds were under their control, but the weekly congregations in private homes continued unhindered. They were joined by Shivraj Singh, Bhagwant Singh, Paramjit Singh Sehli, Puran Singh, Devinder Singh, Raghbir Singh, Binder Singh, Daljit Singh, Sucha Singh, Gurmej Singh, Sardul Singh, Nirmal Singh, Rajinder Singh, Ajaib Singh and many others including Bhupinder Singh Hadiabad, Sohan Singh, Harjinder Singh Sandhu, Marail Singh, Badari Singh, Jaswant Singh Sandhu, Avtar Singh, Major Singh.
Finally, after a unanimous decision, a hall at 2 Weteringdwarstr-36 in Amsterdam was rented in September 1981 and the first gurdwara of Holland was inaugurated and everybody undertook the responsibility of paying the rent. Sant Gian Singh of the Nirmal Kutia, (Johlan, Jalandhar) came from England along with about two dozen people to participate in the event.
Money is never a problem whenever any task is undertaken for the Guru. Funds started to pour. S Bhagwant Singh, Tejwant Singh and Jarnail Singh made a special contribution to the task.
By the end of 1981 the community of Rotterdam set up a gurdwara at De-La Rey Straat 376, which was developed into the present beautiful building in April 1988. In 2002 the sangat in Rotterdam bought a school building and is now constructing what will be biggest Gurdwara in Holland. The Dan Haag gurdwara was established in July 1987 at Stortenbeker 91, which was converted into the present appealing building in 1989.
What happened afterwards is being summed up here
On 10 October 1982, we took out a procession in front of the British Embassy in favor of the Sikhs' right to wear a turban.
The arrest of Jathedar Talvinder Singh Babbar on the border of Holland-Germany on 29 June 1983 is an important event for Sikhs of Holland.
Protesting killings of innocent Sikhs in India.
Sikhs all over the country were rudely shaken by the great massacre in June 1984. An emergency meeting was held in the Rotterdam gurdwara. The Holland Sikh Association was formed. Its members were S Karnail Singh from Dan Haag, Jasvir Singh from Leiden, Devinder Singh- Lakhvinder Singh from Rotterdam and I.
The Holland Sikh Association got overwhelming support from all the three gurdwaras of Holland. Processions were taken out in front of the Indian Embassy. One procession was also taken out in the city of Amsterdam. These events got adequate TV coverage.
Prof Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon (of Punjab University, Chandigarh) was in Holland during those days. Several Press conferences were arranged in the gurdwaras. S Devinder Singh also passed away during those eventful days.
In November 1986, the International Sikh Youth Federation was formed in the presence of the entire Sikh community of Holland in the Rotterdam gurdwara. ISYF arranged several international conferences in the three gurdwaras in which Sikh leaders from the USA, Canada, England, Germany, France, Belgium, etc. addressed the community, the press and the TV and continued raising their voice for the Sikh cause.
Leaders of the political parties of Holland, the high officials of the Church, Amnesty International and the representatives of the Kashmiri people also raised their voice in support of the Sikhs. It is a matter of great pride for Holland that Sikh leaders like S Ganga Singh Dhillon, Dr Gurmeet Singh Aulakh, S Didar Singh Bains, S Ajaib Singh Bangri and Prof. Darshan Singh Raagi continued enlightening us and the world through the press on various occasions.
For Punjabis settled in and around Amsterdam, a weekly radio program in Punjabi has been going on since August 1991. This program invariably begins with Gurbani shabad and gives adequate representation to the well known old and new artistes of the East and the West Punjab and is thus rendering a great service to the mother-tongue. This program is presented by Ms Amar Jyoti Kaur from Amritsar. It is broadcast from 3 to 4 PM.
Find more information about Sikhs and Gurdwaras in Netherlands ( Holland) at