Central Sikh Temple
The Central Sikh Temple, or Central Sikh Gurdwara as it is known to the Sikhs, is a place of worship for the Sikh community in Singapore.1 Established in 1912, it was previously known as the Queen Street Gurdwara Sahib, due to its former location on Queen Street. Currently located at Towner Road, the gurdwara (which means place of worship) holds a particular significance for Sikhs, as it also houses the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, the holy scripture of the Sikhs.2 In Sikhism, it is the presence of the Sahib (holy scripture) that gives the gurdwara its religious status.3 Besides serving as a temple, the gurdwara also functions as a community facility for the Sikhs in Singapore, with facilities such as dining halls, a library and a dormitory.4
In 1912, a group of Sikhs decided to move out of their former temple, the Sikh Police Gurdwara Sahib at Pearl’s Hill, and build a new one to better serve the growing Sikh community. This initiative was supported by the Sindhis (an ethnic group native to the Sindh province of Pakistan) and the Straits Settlements Police, Singapore Branch. Funds were raised by seeking donations from the Sikh community. With a combined area of 13,032 sq ft, the newly built temple was named Queen Street Gurdwara Sahib, later also known as Wadda Gurdwara.5
During its formative years, the temple was plagued by leadership problems. At the time, the Sikh community was split into three factions: the Majha, Malwa and Doabha Sikhs. On 12 June 1917, the government intervened by taking control of the temple from the Sikhs, locking up the Gurdwara Sahib safe box and taking away the keys. Management of the temple was then handed over to the Muslim and Hindu Endowment Board, which the Sikh community viewed as an insult.6
Gradually, the attendance of the Sikh Sangat7 (a holy assembly in a gurdwara or any other place to recite or listen to the recitation of Guru’s hymns in praise of God) deteriorated and donations for the Guru Ka Langgar, or the Guru’s Kitchen, declined. The institution of Langgar (originally meaning anchor) was instituted by Guru Nanak, to cater food for visitors and devotees who came to meet the Guru. This institution, in its present form, provides community service and assistance to the needy, in addition to its original purpose of food distribution, funded by donations from the Sikh community.8
In the 1930s, the Sikh community, led by General Sham Singh Rumi, held a public protest, calling for the control over Gurdwara Sahib to be returned to the Sikh community.9 The government eventually passed the Queen Street Gurdwara Ordinance on 24 October 1940, which allowed the Sikh community to appoint their own board of trustees. On 1 November 1940, the Queen Street Gurdwara Sahib Board of Trustees was established, and it was represented by the Majha, Malwa and Doabha factions of the community.10
In 1955, an all-faction building committee was established to discuss the construction of a new temple. Following this, the committee bought a property comprising nine houses on Queen Street, adjoining the Central Sikh Temple. Architectural plans were drawn up in 1963 for the new temple, but the project came to a halt as internal disagreements surfaced.11
In 1977, as part of its urban redevelopment programme, the government acquired the land where Queen Street Gurdwara Sahib was situated.12 In return, the Sikh community was provided with an alternative piece of land on Towner Road (at the junction adjoining Serangoon Road), where the temple stands today.13
Two years later, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji was moved temporarily to the former Bukit Ho Swee Community Centre at Seng Poh Road, while the temple was to be constructed.14 On 1 April 1983, Sant Baba Nahar Singh Ji Sunehranwale, a priest from Punjab, laid the foundation stone for the new temple.15 Construction began in 1984 at a cost of S$6.5 million and was completed in 1986, coinciding with the 518th anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh religion.16 The Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji was then moved to the new temple premises at Towner Road in April that year.17
The Central Sikh Temple consists of a prayer hall, an open-air pool, a dining hall, a kitchen and a sub-basement. The prayer hall, which has of seating capacity of 400 to 500, is located on the second floor of the temple under a 13-metre wide hemispherical dome. It is free of columns, fully carpeted and air-conditioned. The dining hall and kitchen are located below the prayer hall on the first floor. The sub-basement serves as a parking lot that can accommodate 50 cars.18
Adjoining the temple is a seven-storey slab tower that serves as a community facility.19 It consists of an office, a dormitory, a library-and-museum, several rooms for visitors, classrooms for conducting religious classes, and Granthi’s (equivalent to a priest) quarters. In addition, the annex of the Gurdwara Sahib is also home to the Dr Amar Kaur Memorial Clinic, as well as several Sikh organisations such as the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board, Singapore Sikh Education Foundation and the Sikh Youth Centre. The Darbar Sahib, holiest shrine of the Sikhs, is also located within the temple.20
The temple’s exterior features primarily Sardinian pink granite, while the interior is constructed with a variety of marbles. White, grey and gold mosaics adorn the internal part of the main dome, while the external part features plain, white mosaics. The dome of the temple represents a reference to traditional architectural forms, while the rest of the building departs from tradition and is constructed with a more contemporary look.21
The Central Sikh Temple was officially opened by then President Wee Kim Wee on 16 November 1986.22 It was designated a historical site by the National Heritage Board on 8 May 1999. Apart from being a place of worship, the temple also conducts daily religious programmes for the Sikh community and serves the communal needs of Sikhs living in Singapore.23
Nuradilah Ramlan & Neo Tiong Seng
1. Saran Singh Sidhu, Sikh Gurdwaras in Malaysia and Singapore: An Illustrated History, 1873–2003 (Malaysia: Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia, 2003), 386. (Call no. RSING q294.635095957 SID)
2. S. V. Krishnan, “Focal Point for Sikhs,” Straits Times, 6 December 1985, 27 (From NewspaperSG); Sidhu, Sikh Gurdwaras in Malaysia and Singapore, 387.
3. “Religions: The Gurdwara,” BBC, updated 27 October 2009.
4. Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 134. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
5. Sidhu, Sikh Gurdwaras in Malaysia and Singapore, 386.
6. Sidhu, Sikh Gurdwaras in Malaysia and Singapore, 386; G. Uma Devi, Singapore’s 100 Historic Places (Singapore: Archipelago Press in association with National Heritage Board, 2002), 22. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
7. Sidhu, Sikh Gurdwaras in Malaysia and Singapore, 449.
8. H. Singh, “Guru Ka Langar: Purpose, Idea and Concept,” accessed 26 May 2017.
9. Sidhu, Sikh Gurdwaras in Malaysia and Singapore, 386.
10. Uma Devi, Singapore’s 100 Historic Places, 22; Sidhu, Sikh Gurdwaras in Malaysia and Singapore, 386.
11. Uma Devi, Singapore’s 100 Historic Places, 22.
12. Surinder Singh, “Oldest Sikh Temple to Make Way for Development,” Straits Times, 2 January 1980, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Sidhu, Sikh Gurdwaras in Malaysia and Singapore, 386.
14. Sidhu, Sikh Gurdwaras in Malaysia and Singapore, 386.
15. “Sikh Community to Get New $8.5 M Temple,” Straits Times, 2 April 1983, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Thousands at Sikh Temple’s Colourful Opening,” Straits Times, 17 November 1986, 16 (From NewspaperSG); Uma Devi, Singapore’s 100 Historic Places, 22.
17. Uma Devi, Singapore’s 100 Historic Places, 22; “Golden Touch for Sikh Temple Opening,” Straits Times, 16 November 1986, 15; “Thousands at Sikh Temple’s Colourful Opening”; Sidhu, Sikh Gurdwaras in Malaysia and Singapore, 386–87.
18. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 134; Rav Dhaliwal, “Grace of a Dream Come True,” Straits Times, 25 May 1986, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 134.
20. “Sikh Religious Titles, Duties and Related Skills,” Sikh Missionary Society (U. K.), 2011; Sidhu, Sikh Gurdwaras in Malaysia and Singapore, 387.
21. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 134.
22. “Thousands at Sikh Temple’s Colourful Opening.”
23. Sidhu, Sikh Gurdwaras in Malaysia and Singapore, 387.
The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.