Gurdwara Sahib Melaka

Amarjit Singh

With a former Secretary of
Gurdwara Sahib Melaka
Amarjit Singh, 68

Conversation on
3 September 2019

Gurdwara Sahib Melaka
150A Jalan Temenggong

In Melaka State there’s only one Gurdwara [Sikh temple]. Like Gurdwaras in India, here food is served all day, breakfast, lunch and dinner, 365 days a year. It’s open to everyone. You can see Chinese, Indians, Malays and other races including tourists come here.

Basically all Sikhs are vegetarian, there are no two ways about it. I was born in India, in the state of Punjab. Punjabis basically have four religions: Punjabi Muslims, Punjabi Hindus, Punjabi Sikhs, Punjabi Christians. At that point of time in Punjab everything was vegetarian. We are an agricultural society. 80% of our produce is vegetables. So anybody who comes in can eat the food, whether Muslim, Hindu, Sikh.

Our religion has certain principles. We are supposed to keep our hair long. Men have this bangle, the sword and the knee-length underwear or jodhpurs which we call “kashera”. They call it the 5 K’s: the Kanga (wooden comb), Kirpan (steel sword), Kashera (cotton underwear, like the cowboys wear), Kesh (uncut hair), and Kara (iron bangle).

We have lots of intermarriages here in Malaysia and Singapore because of our cosmopolitan society. If you like to marry in the Gurdwara, normally we ask the boy or the girl to convert, otherwise you can’t follow the wedding rites. In December we are having a wedding of a Punjabi boy and an Indian girl. She converted in May. And there’s a Chinese girl who comes here a lot. She converted to Sikhism at her own free will. The majority of the converts are better Sikhs than the normal Sikhs. Converts always work harder.

Mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law normally don’t get along very well. But surprisingly, most of the mothers-in-law get along better with the other races. Because you can’t argue because you don’t speak the same language! That’s what I’ve seen. But normally, they all are accepted. We don’t have problems.

Ruhmala, a cloth used to cover the holy book

“We have the biggest gathering outside India every year here in Melaka on Sant Sohan Singh’s memorial, from all over”

In Melaka we have about 80-100 families. Number of registered members with us, about 270-300. And then we have outsiders who are working around here. Some from India, Manipal Medical [College]. We got doctors, professors, then the flying school and engineers from abroad.

In any Sikh temple they have rooms for ‘wayfarers’. Whoever comes can sleep over. The cost of maintaining and running the Gurdwara is all from donations. The government doesn’t help us. Anywhere in Malaysia and Singapore, all the temples are bought and built by the Sikhs. They don’t just go and squat on the land. Is the Malaysian government going to help us out? No. Our people will request, but if they give or don’t give it’s another matter. But then we have our own channels. Not only from Malaysia or Singapore. Sometimes when there’s a donation drive our relatives abroad like in Europe will send, or get other people to collect and send to us.

This place was actually a house. Sant [saint] Sohan Singh came in 1925 and inaugurated this place and took over as a priest. He was from a village called Chadteva in Punjab. He was very accomplished, he was a priest, a poet, knowledgeable about the scriptures and an accomplished martial artist. And he started to stay here. He was actually unelected leader of all the Punjabis in Singapore and in Malaysia due to his knowledge and his presence and his psychic powers. He passed away in 1972.

We are lucky we have all seen him in person, myself included. Whatever requests [the people] have, they come and tell their problems. He says a prayer and all of their problems will be settled 100%. Even after his death the Sikhs have a lot of faith in him. So, that’s why Melaka has become the main centre in southeast Asia. And we have the biggest gathering outside India every year here in Melaka on his memorial, from all over, like Australia, the United States.

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Melaka Downtown Exhibition