Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road (Silat Road Sikh Temple)
Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road (Silat Road Sikh Temple) is a Sikh temple located on Jalan Bukit Merah.1 It houses the samadh (Punjabi for “tombstone”) of Bhai Maharaj Singh, the Sikh freedom fighter, after it was brought to the gurdwara from the Singapore General Hospital on 12 October 1966.2 The National Heritage Board declared the Silat Road Sikh Temple a historic site in 1999.3
The Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road was originally located at Pearl’s Hill, where the barracks of the Sikh police contingent were situated. The early Sikhs who came to Singapore from Punjab, India, during the 19th century were mostly employed with the police force;4 others worked as security guards and watchmen.5 The Sikh policemen soon saw the need for a gurdwara. Besides being a place of worship, a temple was also where they could meet their friends and family. A Sikh temple was subsequently built at Pearl’s Hill.6
In 1920, the Sikh policemen sought to build a larger temple. In addition, they wanted a halfway house within the new grounds to provide shelter for newly arrived Sikh migrants. A location near the harbour was favoured because new migrants arrived from the harbour.7 Previously, the Sikh policemen had allowed the migrants to put up at their barracks until the migrants found lodging of their own. With the Sikh community in Singapore growing, however, this practice became untenable. Moreover, there were rigid rules that the policemen themselves had to adhere to in the quarters.8
In 1922, the land at Silat Road, which was near the harbour and the railway station, was leased from the Singapore Harbour Board to build the new temple and lodging house. The foundation stone for the temple was laid by the inspector-general of police of the Straits Settlements, Alexander Richard Chancellor, on 18 December 1922.9
Establishment of Silat Road Temple
The Police Gurdwara, as it was commonly known in the Sikh community then, was built at a cost of $54,000.10 The sum was raised mainly by Sikh members of the police force in Malaya and Singapore. Sikhs in neighbouring countries also contributed to the fund.11 Completed in 1924,12 the temple had arches and domes.13 It was named after the road on which it was located, though Silat Road has since been renamed Jalan Bukit Merah. A part of the former Silat Road, however, still exists nearby.14
Bhai Maharaj Singh Memorial
Bhai Maharaj Singh was an Indian revolutionary who came to Singapore in 1850 as a prisoner. Singapore was then a penal colony. Detained in Pearl’s Hill Prison, Maharaj Singh became blind and developed cancer. He died on 5 July 1856 and was cremated outside the prison complex. His tombstone, which was located within the grounds of the Singapore General Hospital, saw many visitors, and it eventually became a small memorial to the freedom fighter.15
In 1966, the tombstone of Maharaj Singh was moved from the hospital grounds to be placed in the Silat Road Temple.16 Following the relocation of the tombstone, the temple grew in popularity.17 Some Sikhs in Singapore believe that prayers would be answered through the divine intervention of Maharaj Singh.18
Japanese Occupation (1942–45)
During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, Silat Road Temple served as a refuge for war widows and orphans.19 In return, the widows assisted the temple in the preparation of food for langar (free kitchen).20 After the ended, the widows and their children were sent back to India for free with the assistance of the local Sikhs community.21
The present Silat Road Sikh Temple, managed by the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board, was constructed after a S$8.3-million facelift.22 Built as an annex to the main building, the Bhai Maharaj Memorial, a seven-storey shrine, is one of the striking features of the temple. Opened on 23 October 1995, the newly renovated temple saw 4,000 worshippers congregate for its opening ceremony.23
The temple has the largest palki (a palanquin where the Holy Book is placed and where a priest conducts prayers) in the world measuring 3 m long, 1.5 m wide and 4 m high, and weighing 10 tonnes. It was made in India in 30 pieces and put together in Singapore. The temple’s larger dome, which spans 10 m in diameter, is the largest dome on a gurdwara outside India, while the smaller dome is from the old temple. The pinnacles are gilded in pure gold leaf.24
The renovation was supported mainly by a S$7-million donation by members of the Sikh community. 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 other items. Apart from the gurdwara and the shrine, the building also houses the Sikh Heritage Centre, which focuses on general Sikh history and culture as well as the Sikh community in Singapore. It provides Punjabi language classes and organises Sikh cultural activities.25
Balbindar Kaur Dhaliwal
1. Rav Dhaliwal, “Temple Restoration Scores Some Firsts,” Straits Times, 10 October 1995, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Central Sikh Gurdwara Board (Singapore), Bhai Maharaj Singh Ji 150th Anniversary 2006 (Singapore: Central Sikh Gurdwara Board, 2006), 64–65. (Call no. RSING 294.661 BHA)
3. “Sikh Temple Now a Historic Site,” Straits Times, 15 November 1999, 42. (From NewspaperSG)
4. T. Y. Tan, “A Historical Sketch of the Early Sikhs in Singapore,” The Varsity Sikh Journal, 25, (1992): 24–25. (Call no. RSING 305.69460095957 VSJ)
5. Central Sikh Gurdwara Board (Singapore), Bhai Maharaj Singh Ji 150th Anniversary 2006, 43–44.
6. Central Sikh Gurdwara Board (Singapore), Bhai Maharaj Singh Ji 150th Anniversary 2006, 51–52.
7. Tan, “Historical Sketch of the Early Sikhs in Singapore,” 24–27; “Farewell to Capt. Chancellor,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 8 April 1920, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Tan, “Historical Sketch of the Early Sikhs in Singapore,” 24–27.
9. “Silat-Rd. Sikh Temple,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 19 December 1922, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Saran Singh Sidhu, Sikh Gurdwaras in Malaysia and Singapore: An Illustrated History, 1873–2003 (Malaysia: Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia, 2003), 406. (Call no. RSING q294.635095957 SID)
11. Central Sikh Gurdwara Board (Singapore), Bhai Maharaj Singh Ji 150th Anniversary 2006, 57.
12. Dhaliwal, “Temple Restoration Scores Some Firsts.”
13. “Sikh Temple Now a Historic Site.”
14. “Silat-Rd. Sikh Temple”; “OneMap,” Singapore Land Authority, n.d.
15. Central Sikh Gurdwara Board (Singapore), Bhai Maharaj Singh Ji 150th Anniversary 2006, 18, 23–27.
16. Rav Dhaliwal, “Donations Pour in for Silat Road Sikh Temple,” Straits Times, 3 November 1994, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
17. C. S. Sidhu, “SRST history,” accessed 18 September 2016.
18. Dhaliwal, “Temple Restoration Scores Some Firsts.”
19. “Sikh Temple Now a Historic Site.”
20. Central Sikh Gurdwara Board (Singapore), Bhai Maharaj Singh Ji 150th Anniversary 2006, 59.
21. Sidhu, Sikh Gurdwaras in Malaysia and Singapore, 406.
22. Dhaliwal, “Temple Restoration Scores Some Firsts.”
23. “Sikh Temple Moves to New Building in Style,” Straits Times, 24 October 1995, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
24. Dhaliwal, “Temple Restoration Scores Some Firsts.”
25. Dhaliwal, “Donations Pour in for Silat Road Sikh Temple”; Rav Dhaliwal, “Sikh Fund-Raising Drive to Rebuild Temples,” Straits Times, 12 September 1994, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
The information in this article is valid as at 2013 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.