Gurdwara in Monywa, Myanmar

Myanmar | Asia Samachar |14 June 2015
Malaysian Punjabi Bikerz with the local Sikh sangat at Monywa, Myanwar, during their epic bike trip from Malaysia to Amritsar in 2014. In the background is the local gurdwara - PHOTO RESHAM SINGH/ASIA SAMACHAR
Malaysian Punjabi Bikerz with the local Sikh sangat at Monywa, Myanwar, during their epic bike trip from Malaysia to Amritsar in 2014. In the background is the local gurdwara – PHOTO RESHAM SINGH/ASIA SAMACHAR

“We were in this town called Monywa in Myanmar where they have two gurdwaras within 3km radius. Both the Gurdwaras were build like 100 years back they have around 20 families in this town in Myanmar.”

That’s the short note from Resham Singh to Asia Samachar when sharing some photographs on the gurdwara located some 750km north of Yangon, the capital of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

Resham was one of the six members of the Malaysian Punjabi Bikerz that made a trip from Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, to Amritsar, Punjab, via Myanmar, in 2014.

The journey ended at Darbar Sahib, popularly known as the Golden Temple, in Amritsar, Punjab, on Nov 20, 2014.

Monywa was the only city in Myanmar with a  gurdwara that they had passed through in their 18-day journey. [See Punjabi Bikerz super ride to Amritsar].

The Monywa gurdwara would be one of the 48 gurdwaras that still existed (at least in 2011), less than one third of the 131 gurdwaras that existed in a 1931 census.

Sikh migration to Burma started in the 19th century with British Indian Army. At present only about 48 Gurdwaras exist, one third of which are non-operative and some are having just one or two families living and managing the place, according to an article entitled ‘A Tale of Exemplary Loyalty to Faith’ by Swarn Singh Kahlon, which appeared in The Sikh Review (Kolkata, February, 2014). [The article was sighted here].

The article goes on:

“In one or two instances two Gurdwaras located near to each other are being looked after by one granthi. All Gurdwaras in Military establishments and the various Sikh institutions such as Khalsa Schools have been taken over by the Government. In some locales where Gurdwaras are unattended and kept locked, the ‘Sangat’ from nearby areas makes an effort to visit at least once a year when they re-clothe the ‘Nishan Sahib’ thereby establishing the continuing Sikh ownership. It is helpful that many Gurdwaras have some property attached to it thus providing rental income which comes in handy for the upkeep of premises. There is a free dispensary still being run in the rooms attached with Yangon Gurdwara.”

The article, based on Swarn’s travels in 2011, also notes:

“As mentioned earlier, there were three major exoduses: the first in early 1940s when the Japanese occupied Burma during WW II. The second exodus was post-Independence of Burma in 1948 – anti Indian feelings had started simmering even prior to independence. Soon after the military coup of 1962, the Government decided to follow what came to be known as ‘Burmese way to Socialism’ whereby most businesses including retail trade were nationalised. This was a big blow for the Indians which resulted in the third exodus. When one morning the people went to open their shops, they were greeted by Army persons asking them to hand over the keys. They were told that all the goods now belonged to the Government from that moment onwards. They were free to work as Managers of the shops on paltry salary.

“The 1931 Census listed a total of 10,761 Sikhs in Burma with many more coming in subsequently until the War. Migrating to Burma in earlier times felt just as if settling in another province of India. According to Sikh Diwan of Burma’s Annual Report of January 1952 – December, 1953, there were a total of 136 Gurdwaras, 13 Khalsa Schools and Sikh Institutions such as Ashrams, Libraries, Langar Halls and Dispensaries spread all over the country. Where ever there was a Gurdwara in a Military establishment, there would invariably be another Gurdwara in the nearby town suggesting that many Sikh businesses were connected with servicing the Army requirements. Besides Gurdwaras in Military establishments and in various towns, there were Gurdwaras in Mining areas (Namtu and Mawchi Mine -Tin, Lead and Wolfram, and Mogok – Rubies), Dockyard (Dalla), Oilfields and Refineries (Chauk, YenanChaung, Magwe, and Minbu) indicating involvement of Sikhs in various professions and their presence all across the country.”


Punjabi Bikerz super ride to Amritsar (Asia Samachar, 5 Dec 2014)

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  1. Sikhs are everywhere in Myanmar. There are about 50 gurdwaras, large and small, grand and in poor state. Myitkyna and Taunggyi have really grand ones. Kengtung town (close to Thai-Burma border) has small timber gurdwara in town centre was damaged by the last earthquake. It is being looked after by the LAST Sikh family in town. Many Sikhs served in the large British garrison there before independence. Kengtung used to be part of Thailand at one time and the Thai language is still spoken there.

    This Sikh family will surely welcome help, support and assistance from any Khalsa able to visit this beautiful town.

  2. Notes of the Sikh bike riders who made into Amritsar from Malaysia.Salutes to the RIDERS.

    There is more about Sikhs in Myanmar.

    There are currently 48 active Sikh GURDUARAS in Myanmar,under the All Myanmar Sikh council,another 34 odd Gurduaras have fallen into disrepair,which the council is now actively taking stock of and repairing them.There are more photos of about 48 Sikh Gurduaras on the pages of South East Asia Sikh History.There are also many other photos of Sikhs in Myanmar,along with historical articles on Sikhs of Myanmar.It is estimated the Sikh population in Myanmar is currently about 22,000.The Sikh identity is very well preserved in Myanmar,something Sikhs in Malaysia can learn from.Yangon has 6 Gurduaras…only 4 currently used.

    Last december,I was invited to Yangon to partake in 1 month long celebrations after Sikhs had fully restored the central Gurduara in Yangon,after the fire,due to electric fault,it partially damaged the Gurduara early last year.The Granthi Sahibana at this Gurduara is a lady.Met her and were entertained to Guru langgar,in 2013,when I visited Myanmar for 12 days.Intend to visit it again later this year.Sikhs in Myanmar have had a glorious history.I have many interesting photos of their famous Burma Military Sikh Police.Sikhs started arriving in large numbers after many Sikh units arrived in the 1st and 2nd Anglo Burmese Wars,when the Ava dynasty rulers were defeated by 1842.

    Sikhs in Myanmar are known as Puncha [Punjabi].Other indians are called ‘kallar’.Sikhs in Myanmar too had attained very senior positions in govt departments,prior to the first military coupe in abt 1956/7.One recent famous Sikh lovingly refered to as ‘U Puncha’ -The Punjabi-Surinder Singh was one of the ring leaders of the mass protest movement led by the monks about 4 years ago.He found refuge in the US through Thailand.His family continues to remain in Mawlmeine,unmolested.Sikhi parcher is at its highest,and 90% -95% of Sikhs in Myanmar maintain their identity fully.Many Sikh Burmese marriages,have taken place.Largely between Sikh men and Burmese women.Most of the children continue in Sikh faith.The northern Shan state and Karen states too have many Gurduaras.