There is no founder. Sikh temples are all over the place. Wherever a handful of Sikhs’ get together they will build a temple for the Sunday prayer and all that. So, this place was actually a house. This is the area only, behind it there used to be a row you called it a sub room. It got 10 rooms. Here used to be the living room. Behind it was the kitchen. It was in 1925 it was inaugurated by (you can see the photo behind you.) We call him San Sohan Singh that means Saint Sohan Singh. He came in 1925 and he inaugurated this place and he took over as a priest. At that time as a young person, he was a poet. He was knowledgeable about the script, the scriptures. And he started to stay over here. He passed away in 1972.
So, where did he come from?
He came from Punjab. In a village called Chadteva in Punjab. And he was a very accomplished person in all fields. He was a priest; he was a poet. He also was a medicine man. His father and grandfather were very well versed in all that. He was also a very accomplished martial art artist. In the sense of Indian street fight and all of that (gataka). Fighting in all. He was very efficient and what else do you want to know?
How many Sikh temples in Melaka?
In Melaka state there’s only 1 Sikh Temple. And during 1925 up to the 60’s the Tampin people used to come over here. Because there’s no temple in Tampin. The only temple was only in Muar. But then Muar, Tampin and Melaka used to be together. They were very cooperative. Then later in the 60’s, the Punjabi’s help them to set up a temple in Tampin. At the roundabout, there’s a house. That’s actually the temple. He was actually an unelected leader of all the Punjabi’s. In Singapore and in Malaysia. Due to his knowledge and his presence and his psychic powers. And he got this God given spiritual powers. So, he passed away on the 24th of May 1972.
So, where does he stay?
He stayed over here. This was his room, inside here. Now, we make it as a prayer hall. Otherwise a lot of people come over here. You know a lot of people don’t follow the religion. They put photographs. By right in our religion there’s no such thing. That was supposed to be his room. Later on, the wall inside he used to put his bed and lie there. Later, when he became sickly they built a room for him nearby. Now it’s been torn down. After he passed away. They built this complex. So, we moved all the bottom and shop lot and all that. So, in fact, we are lucky, including myself. We have all seen him in person. That time we were children when he was around. Actually, the people have faith in him. Whatever request they have or they come to him and tell their problems. He said a prayer and all of their problems will be settled 100%. Even after his death, they make a vow and its fulfilled. So, that’s why Melaka has become the main centre in S.E Asia. And we have the biggest gathering outside India, here in Melaka on his memorial prayer or day. From all over like Australia, US we had a lot of people come in here. Those who have connections here and those who heard about it and come and follow. And here like other temples in India, foods are served 24 hours per day, 365 days a year. Breakfast in the morning, lunch and dinner. 24 hours open.. You can see Chinese. It’s open to everyone. Even, Malays.
Are you all vegetarian?
Basically, all Sikh temples are vegetarian. There’s no two ways about it. Because, we the Sikhs, particularly from Punjab. I’m a Punjabi Sikh, I was born in India, in the state of Punjab. The Punjabis basically have 4 major religions; we have Punjabi Muslims, we got Punjabi Hindus, we have Punjabi Sikhs, we have Punjabi Christians. At that point of time i o anybody who comes in can eat the food, whether Muslim Hindu Sikh.
Why must you cover the head?
Our religion has certain principles to be followed. It’s our birth right. We are supposed to keep long hair. 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). All starts with K. In English is K, in Punjabi’s is KA.
Why must you cover the hair?
Because we have to keep the hair long, we must protect and cover it. The lady must wear the shawl, in Punjabi is Chunni.
How is the intermarriage? The Punjabis in Malaysia inter-marriage with other races
In Malaysia you see, in fact even in India. You see India is opening up to all these intermarriages. We have no problem with inter-marriages. If you like to marry in the temple, normally we ask the boy or the girl to convert. Otherwise you can’t follow the wedding rites. In December we had a Punjabi boy marry an Indian girl. She converted in May. And there’s a Chinese girl who comes here a lot. She converted herself saying because she’s had problems and all that. She will be helping in this temple as a volunteer on cooking. And we have lots of intermarriages here in Malaysia and Singapore because of our cosmopolitan society. Normally it depends. Majority of the converts normally they follow the Sikh religion. And they are better Sikhs than the normal Sikhs. Converts always work harder
How about after the marriage, can the family accept?
Normally in marriage, it’s a husband and wife thing. Outsiders have no role to play. Normally you look at it, mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws normally don’t get along in the same race. But, surprisingly, most of the mother-in-laws with the other races get along better. Because you see, you can’t argue because you don’t speak the same language. That’s what I’ve seen la. But normally, they all are accepted. We don’t have problems.
What’s the population of Sikhs in Melaka?
In Melaka, we have roughly about 80 families. About 270 registered members with us. That means 270 Sikhs here in Melaka. And there are quite a number who are not registered as members. Around 20 extra. One family can have 3 members. To become a member, you need to be 21 years old and above. Families about 80, 90 or 100. But if you are talking about the number of people, it accounts for about 300. And then we have outsiders from other states who are working around here. Some from India, Manipal Medical. We got doctors, professors, then the flying school and engineers all who come from abroad. That doesn’t count in that 300.
That next building is an asrama?
No, we have prayer rooms in that building. We have 4 big praying rooms. Sometimes we have 4 or 5 separate prayers going on at the same time. At the same day different particular people want to do a prayer. Example, I have my own prayer, you have your own prayer. And that side of the temple, by right in any Sikh Temple they have rooms for ‘wayfarers’. So, what has happened last time we had them down. Whoever comes can sleep over. But now, it was built like 10 years ago.
Another voice: Can you remember the Gurkhas selling bangles along Bunga Raya, in the old days?. They used to come here and stay. They come here, eat here and stay here. Only in the evening they come back here and stay.
The cost is from donations?
The cost is all from donations. The government doesn’t help us. And we never ask. Whatever property that we bought is from donations. All we bought with our own. 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.