Mangalore, India: Mangalore being a true cosmopolitan city has assimilated people of diverse religions and nationality in its fold. It is therefore not surprising to know that there about 25 to 30 Sikh families residing within Mangalore and they have also constructed a Gurudwara in the city. Interestingly the original root of these families is the same though these families have arrived in Mangalore from different parts of Northern states like Punjab, Haryana Delhi and Uttar Pradesh over a period of nearly four decades.
Sikhs are known to be kind, open hearted, generous, tolerant, hard working and progressive in their nature who easily integrate into the society. This has been proved right as these Sikh families who have made Mangalore their home for many years now have retained their identity but at the same time have easily merged with local culture and traditions. It is therefore not astounding if you come across young school and college going brats conversing in pure Tulu or Kannada just like the locals do. Or don’t be surprised when they swear by their liking for some of the local Mangalorean cuisine, about which they must have come to know from their class or collegemates or tasted them in some of our celebrated hotels in the city.
Karmendar Rathour the elder son of businessman Iqubal Singh Rathour, an Engineering student and an alumnus of St Aloysius College says he likes Mangalore, its culture, its cosmopolitan tradition and his band of friends spanning across all religions. He is a football player who represented St Aloysius High School and College football team for three years. He surprises me by speaking in chaste Tulu and Kannada.
The community has developed a fondness for our verdant beaches and the South Indian cuisine. “For us going out often means going to the beach and we are not tired of this. Even when our relatives and acquaintances come to Mangalore we take them to the beaches. We simply love the beaches”, says Vice president of Shri Harvinder Singh who is into interior decoration business.
It was trade and commerce that brought the Sikh community to the shores of Mangalore in the 1980’s. Iqubal Singh Rathour, who is into the business of supplying school uniforms recalls that his parents had come to Mangalore on business. “Initially only 4 to 5 families were here but over the years we have many families who are business as well as in service. They work for coast guard, banks, MRPL, government employees and some are employed in some of the Navaratna companies.
Fulfilling a long cherished dream
Religion is often the binding factor and having realized this need these Sikh families in Mangalore decided to come together and organize as a community when they rented out a place in Gundu Rao lane in Mannaagudda for a Gurudwara. This was just the beginning and it was here the seeds of the grandiose ideas of having a gurudwara of their own germinated. The seed soon bore fruit as they bought the land and constructed a Gurudwara in Kottara Chowki, Bangra Kulur. This Gurudwara Shri Guru Singh Sabha, was inaugurated in 2011 and now the Sikh community happy having a place to call its own.
Iqubal Singh Rathour who is the Secretary and Treasurer of Shri Guru Singh Sabha says she came to Mangalore as a bachelor here stayed put here along with his father. Now his four children two boys and two girls are studying in different schools and colleges in the city. Iqubal Singh said to construct the Gurudwara they sought funds from other Gurudwaras and also Sikh families from different parts of the country. All the work of the Gurudwara is carried out through the society Sri Guru Singh Sabha.
When I visited the Gurudwara the Poojary (priest) told that Sunday is the best day to visit to know more about the Gurudwara and also to meet the people as the entire community congregates at the Gurudwara for the Sunday Sammelan. So I arrived at the Gurudwara exactly at 1 pm and was accorded a warm welcome by the members. While some were busy in the prayer hall a few were busy volunteering their service in the kitchen to prepare “Langar” (lunch).
The gurudwara is open to anyone the only requirement being that they should cover their head. I had taken a head scarf with me to cover my head after reading the board during my previous visit. Even otherwise a cloth is made available at the Gurudwara for those who don’t have the scarf or the pagri (the turban). Vice president of Shri Guru Singh Sabha Harvinder Singh says “covering the head is both a moral and religious obligation as it denotes showing reverence to Guru Granth Sahib.
Guru Granth Sahib – the Living Guru
Prayer rituals are held in the Gurudwara on a daily basis and poojary Parveen Singh conducts these rituals here in the morning and evening. However, the weekly ritual called Sapthahik programme held every Sunday is very popular and is attended by most of the families. The prayers begin at 11 am where they worship the “Guru Granth Sahib” reading verses from the holy book and singing keertanas to the accompaniment of several musical instruments like table, harmonium, Dholki etc. Devotees who enter the prayer hall make his offerings in the form of money or groceries etc., before the guru to express his gratitude for the favours. They also bow to touch the ground with the forehead in front of the holy book the Guru Granth Sahib.
All the devotees sit on the floor during the prayer and also during the Langar – the common kitchen where food is served to all the visitors in the Gurudwara without discrimination. “Whoever comes here to the Gurudwara be it the President or Prime Minister will have to sit on the floor as demonstrates a feeling of unity and equanimity while sitting together and eating Langar. But we make an exception to the old aged or physically challenged who cannot sit down”, says Iqubal Singh. It gives a greater feeling of unity and equality while sitting together like that and eating Langar.
People from nearby areas irrespective of caste, creed or religion can take part in Langar and every Sunday the devotees at this Gurudwara prepare food for about 100 people.
The Sikhs respect and worship the Guru Granth Sahib as the living spiritual guru and therefore is treated like one. The Holy Book occupies the central position in the prayer room as it is kept on a cot in an elevated position. An awning is erected above the cot where the holy book is placed on the cot and it is highly revered by the devotees. During the prayer the Langar (food) prepared in the common kitchen is kept in the prayer hall for the blessings. The Poojary blesses the food and the Prasada is then offered to the devotees. The Sikhs consider Guru Granth Sahib as a living thing and the first offering is offered to the Holy Book as per the tradition. Similarly once the evening prayers are done the holy book is shifted to a separate room specifically made for its resting. There is a bed in the room with a canopy and the holy book is kept on that with enough ventilation and a night light is kept on.
The best aspect I noticed in the Gurudwara is that all members including youngsters volunteer to work in the kitchen be it preparing rotis and other food, cleaning the floor after Langar, washing the plates and utensils and other related work. They all share the work and leave the Gurudwara only after the work is completed.
I was for once taken aback when Karmendar Rathore tried to strike a conversation with me in Tulu during my visit to the Gurudwara. He tells me local people often took at him awe when he speaks in these languages.
Despite small in number the vibrant Sikh community of Mangalore has added luster contributing to its progress and to the cosmopolitan nature of Mangalore.