Gurdwara design: A Sikh lantern in Far East

With Chinese New Year around the corner, Asia Samachar design columnist conjures a gurdwara infused with Chinese art culture and culture. This is his 7th in a series on Gurdwara Design


| Vishal J Singh Gurdwara Design | 6 Feb 2016 | Asia Samachar |


We human beings are fascinating creatures. 

All across this beautiful planet, human beings have developed a wealthy myriad of amazing cultures and customs throughout the centuries, that are so visually striking. At times, we drop our jaws in awe, admiring how splendid the many facets our different cultures can be, especially through art and music. Creative acts in the expression of the human spirit through the arts and music can hold us spellbound in their manifestation, and we admire such marvelous skill and talent of the performers of these individual global cultures.

One of the more fascinating aspects of this human condition, however, (the development of a culture that is) is the consequence of what happens when different cultures start intermingling, permeating their uniqueness from one source to another. This influences each other with its philosophies and ultimately creating a fusion of identities that clearly borrows from its individual sources, but establishing a whole new intriguing identity of its own. 

One good example of how interesting the outcome of the intermingling of cultures can be is through the observation of people of mixed parentage, or people who have adopted other cultures as their own even though initially they were brought up with a different culture entirely.

SEE ALSO: Gurdwara docked by the riverbank

SEE ALSO: Rethinking gurdwara design

Such individuals enrich the rich tapestry of humanity itself and are vivid examples of the notion that culture is not static and fixed, but living, robust and dynamic, capable of evolving to surprising levels with the influence of time and serendipitous occurrences.

I find “fusion” an interesting concept. If people can be an expression of such a lovely combination of things represented in human form in such a striking way, could the industry of architecture do the same for buildings, that is create a fusion of styles from different cultures and create a new architectural hybrid? 

When it comes to architecture, other than the possibility of fusion, there is a philosophy in design called “Genius Lochi”, which is an Italian term meaning “the spirit of a place”. It refers to the idea that for a design to be truly successful, an architect should study the surroundings and the history of a specific site very carefully and find ways to incorporate particularly interesting elements into the building design to give the building a sense of “place”. That sense of “place” gives a building an identity of sorts and allows the building to connect with the social and historical context of its location so that the building feels like it “belongs” in its proposed location.

Taking this idea of “fusion” and “spirit” to the next level, I wonder that if we could design a modern gurdwara (Sikh place of worship) in a place that seems so distinctively different from where we usually picture our gurdwaras at, and come up with a design that creates a fusion of different cultures and create something totally new.

Gurdwara Design: A Sikh lanter in the Far East - ARTIST IMPRESSION BY VISHAL J SINGH / ASIA SAMACHAR
Gurdwara Design: A Sikh lanter in the Far East – ARTIST IMPRESSION BY VISHAL J SINGH / ASIA SAMACHAR

And so, in conjunction with the Chinese New Year and the arrival of the year of the fire monkey, I dream of designing a gurdwara that combines elements of Chinese art and culture into our gurdwara design and create a radical new design for the future, imagining a place somewhere in the mountains in the Middle Kingdom where this gurdwara can be located. (On a personal note, there is also a sizeable group of individuals who are born of Chinese-Punjabi heritage. So I’d like to dedicate the conceptual design of this gurdwara to them, as a testament to how unique they are being part of Sikh faith and culture.)

Gurdwara Design: A Sikh lanter in the Far East - ARTIST IMPRESSION BY VISHAL J SINGH / ASIA SAMACHAR
Gurdwara Design: A Sikh lanter in the Far East – ARTIST IMPRESSION BY VISHAL J SINGH / ASIA SAMACHAR

This gurdwara is designed to be placed by the gorgeous, ethereal mountains somewhere in China. The perspectives below represent the idea of a fusion of architectural styles between East and Far East (North India and China) represented in spirit through the usage of Oriental Landscape Ink paintings as a backdrop for the conceptual gurdwara, christened Gurdwara Chiraagh. The word “Chiraagh” means “Lamp”, but here it is taken to mean “Lantern”, which is very closely representative of Chinese culture, which is also the inspiration behind the design of the gurdwara in terms of its quality to softly glow through red-tinted glass walls.

Gurdwara Design: A Sikh lanter in the Far East - ARTIST IMPRESSION BY VISHAL J SINGH / ASIA SAMACHAR
Gurdwara Design: A Sikh lanter in the Far East – ARTIST IMPRESSION BY VISHAL J SINGH / ASIA SAMACHAR

This gurdwara incorporates several Chinese architectural elements, namely the screens (which are a combination of both Punjabi – based and Chinese – based patterns and ornamentation styles on the doors and windows), the banners with the Ik Ongkar and Khanda symbols, the stone walls and timber floors, and the play of red, white, black and grey (reminiscent of royal Chinese architecture) are used as the main scheme of the gurdwara. The Nishan Sahib Plaza still acts as the main public area for the gurdwara and the darbar sahib and langgar hall are contained with the main hall of the building, as it would be in any relatively typical gurdwara complex along with a water pond for washing one’s feet before entering.

Gurdwara Design: A Sikh lanter in the Far East - ARTIST IMPRESSION BY VISHAL J SINGH / ASIA SAMACHAR
Gurdwara Design: A Sikh lanter in the Far East – ARTIST IMPRESSION BY VISHAL J SINGH / ASIA SAMACHAR

This main design feature of this gurdwara, however, is its ability to gently glow like a lantern in the solitude of the night, bathed softly by the moon above, and illuminated internally beginning from the main entrance. The idea behind this design was to create a spiritual atmosphere radiating from that soft glow of light that envelopes the gurdwara complex, lending an ethereal feel to the building’s form and appearance.

Gurdwara Design: A Sikh lanter in the Far East - ARTIST IMPRESSION BY VISHAL J SINGH / ASIA SAMACHAR
Gurdwara Design: A Sikh lanter in the Far East – ARTIST IMPRESSION BY VISHAL J SINGH / ASIA SAMACHAR

By allowing a surreal aura of gentle light to emanate softly from the gurdwara, a meditative and blissful ambiance can be achieved architecturally. Indeed, the gurdwara begins to truly act like a lantern placed on a serene Chinese landscape beneath the glare of a full moon in the east. Truly the gurdwara takes on otherworldly appearance once illuminated at night, contributing to a mystical atmosphere to help the Sanggat achieve a peaceful state of bliss and calm once the sun sets in the Far East.

Of the many beautiful aspects of our faith, the one that I hold particularly dear to me is the idea that Sikhi says that its noble teachings are open to people from all corners of the world. It accepts, without hindrance nor discrimination, many a weary soul that seeks its shelter for spiritual guidance and strength. This statement of complete acceptance of anyone who seeks the divine guidance of the Guru undeniably testifies that our faith welcomes everyone into its fold and the conceptual gurdwara that I’ve proposed here manifests the idea of the oneness of humanity in architectural form through the notion of fusion between cultures, despite our varied origins by adopting and incorporating various elements into a single complex for the benefit of the followers of the faith.

So, let us, in good faith, wish all our Chinese brothers and sisters a very happy new year in the same spirit of joy and sincerity as our Sikhi faith accepts everyone in complete joy and deep sincerity.


NEXT ARTICLE: We review how a modern gurdwara can act as a monument to a rich local culture based in Bali, Indonesia, placed in the tropics, while incorporating building strategies that are environmentally friendly for its daily operations.



Vishal J.Singh, an aspiring architect, holds a Bachelor of Architecture from Infrastructure University Kuala Lumpur


Gurdwara design: A Sikh lantern in Far East (Asia Samachar, 6 Feb 2016)

Gurdwara docked by the riverbank (Asia Samachar, 23 Jan 2016)

Designing a gurdwara for Sikh youth, where pray meets play (Asia Samachar, 25 Dec 2015)

Gurdwara design that listens to earth (Asia Samachar, 1 Oct 2015)

Creating deeper social connections (Asia Samachar, 13 July 2015)

A sanctuary by the sea (Asia Samachar, 7 June 2015)

Rethinking gurdwara design (Asia Samachar, 21 Apr 2015)


Are our Gurdwaras Dysfunctional? The Assessment. (Asia Samachar, 9 Jan 2016)

Gurdwara Titiwangsa to serve daily 3 free meals (Asia Samachar, 2 Jan 2016)

Shah Alam new gurdwara is now operational (Asia Samachar, 11 Dec 2015)

Roles and functions of a gurdwara (Asia Samachar, 11 Dec 2015)

Lessons in building a gurdwara (Asia Samachar, 9 Dec 2015)

‘Gurdwara of learning’ coming to Shah Alam (Asia Samachar, 3 Dec 2015)

JAGIR: Without guidance, all gurdwaras would be on their own (Asia Samachar, 20 Nov 2015)

MGC passionately protects religious rights of Sikhs, others in Malaysia (Asia Samachar, 19 Nov 2015)

Potential tussle for MGC presidency, Jagir to serve last term (Asia Samachar, 16 Nov 2015)

Lawyer challenges Akal Takht order on new gurdwaras (Asia Samachar, 27 Sept 2015)

Akal Takht approval for new gurdwaras worldwide edict comes under question (Asia Samachar, 12 Sept 2015)

Ipoh gurdwara opens spanking new library (Asia Samachar, 1 Sept 2015)

Engage youth on what matters to them – MGC seminar tells Sikh gurdwaras (Asia Samachar, 23 Aug 2015)

Bayan Baru new gurdwara short RM1m (Asia Samachar, 13 Aug 2015)


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