Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road (Silat Road Sikh Temple)
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 Board has declared the Gurdwara a historic site.
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.
Bhai Maharaj Singh was born Nihal Singh, in the village of Rahon in the Ludhiana district. When he became a preacher, he changed his name to Bhagwan Singh and joined a wandering group of Sikh preachers headed by Bir Singh. After Bir Singh's death, Bhagwan Singh became the leader of the group. When Maharaja Ranjit Singh passed away in 1839, Dalhousie, the Governor-General of India, annexed the Sikh kingdom in the Punjab and removed Rani Jinda, the widow of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. During the Anglo-Sikh wars of 1835-1847, Bhagwan Singh organised a Sikh uprising in the villages around Jalandhar and Multan to prevent the British takeover. For his role in the Prema Conspiracy to kill Henry Lawrence, a British Resident, the British put up a reward of Rs.10,000 for his capture. He was arrested 28 December 1849 as he was planning a revolt with Punjabi soldiers in the British Army.
He was tortured and sent to Singapore, then a penal colony, on the ship, the 'Mohamed Shah', with his chela, Khurruck Singh, a sergeant, a corporal and six privates. He arrived at the new Outram Jail on 9 July 1850 where he was put into solitary confinement. He became blind from the lack of natural light in the prison and developed cancer of the tongue and painful rheumatism. The medical doctor in charge of the prisoners recommended to his superiors that he be allowed to take regular walks outside the jail, but his request was rejected. Bhagwan Singh died on 5 July 1856 and he was cremated outside the Outram Jail. The spot was visited by Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, and eventually it became a small memorial to the freedom fighter who was remembered as Bhai Maharaj Singh. The original shrine was made from mud.
During the Japanese Occupation, the Silat Road Gurdwara served as a refuge for war widows and orphans. As a sign of gratitude, the widows would assist the temple in the preparation of the food (langar). When the war was over, the widows and their children were sent back to India without delay, only with the help of the Sikhs here.
The present Gurdwara, managed by the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board, stands in grandeur, after a S$8.3 million facelift. The Bhai Maharaj Memorial, seven-storey annex and gorgeous shrine, is one of the striking features of this beautiful temple. Opened on 23 October 1995, the newly-renovated Gurdwara had 400 worshippers on its opening ceremony. The Gurdwara has the largest palki in the world; at 3m. long, 1.5 m wide and 4 m. high, it weighs 10 tonnes. It was made in India in 30 pieces and put together in Singapore. The larger dome, topping the Gurdwara, is the largest dome on a Gurdwara outside India, and is 10 m in diameter. The smaller dome is from the old Gurdwara. The pinnacles are gilded in pure gold leaf.
The S$8.3 million facelift project had been supported mainly by a S$7 million donation by Sikhs in Singapore and around the world. These donations included S$30,000 for the gilding of the shrine pinnacles, $25,000 for the marble palki, S$10,000 for the tables and chairs in the langar hall, S$10,000 for the water coolers and other items. Apart from the Gurdwara and the shrine, the building also houses the Sikh Heritage Centre which focusses on general Sikh history and culture and the Sikh community in Singapore. It provides Punjabi language classes and organises Sikh cultural activities. The annual Bhai Maharaj Singh celebrations take place from mid-June to mid-July every year during which prayers, sporting events, and charitable acts are held. An annual football event, the Bhai Maharaj Singh Cup, are open to all Sikhs who are citizens and permanent residents of Singapore.
Balbindar Kaur Dhaliwal
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Sikh temple now a historic site. (1999, November 15). The Straits Times, Home, p. 42.
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