By Asia Samachar Team | MALAYSIA |
Why move? This was the most common question raised when the Butterworth Sikhs were on the fund raising trail for a new gurdwara building.
On Saturday (19 Jan 20190, Sikhs of this northern city of Peninsular Malaysia made the 4km move, bringing the Guru Granth Sahib to the new building in a symbolic gesture of kick starting life at the spanking new two-storey building costing more than RM5 million.
“When we went out for our donation drives, the Sanggat had raised the question again and again: Why the shift?” Gurdwara Sahib Butterworth (GSB) president Narinder Singh told Asia Samachar.
Narinder and his team had wrestled hard with the question.
The move, he said, was driven by a combination of factors. First, the state government had designated a new religious enclave for places of worship with the Sikhs, too, purchasing a piece of land. Second, the old building was dilapidated and needed major repairs for safe and proper continuous use. Third, part of the land of the old building had already been acquired by the state for development works. Fourth, the old building would be leased to provide the gurdwara a new source of income.
The land where the new gurdwara building sits on today, measuring 1.01 acres (45000 sq feet), was bought for RM250,000 in 1988.
It is part of a religious enclave earmarked by the Penang state government. In the area today stands a church, two Hindu mandirs, a Buddhist temple and a Chinese temple. The Sikhs are the last to build and occupy their place of worship.
“The state government has been kind enough to give us extension over the years from having to move to the new location,” said Narinder. “But we felt we could no longer drag it further. Hence, in 2014, we started work on the new building.”
The Butterworth gurdwara history dates back to the 1920s.
By the beginning of the 20th Century, there were a few Sikhs employed as watchmen by the Straits Trading Company Ltd. in Butterworth. These Sikhs and their families were provided with living, quarters in the ‘Sikh Lines’ near the vicinity of the company’s smelting works along what is now known as Jalan Pantai, according to an entry at the GSB website.
In the 1920’s, the British management of the company allowed one of its quarters in the Sikh Lines to be used by the Sikhs as a place of worship, according to the article. “This small Gurdwara Sahib was able to accommodate the Sikhs and their families during prayers. There were no regular Granthis, and as such, the Sikhs managed the Gurdwara Sahib by rendering voluntary service,” it said.
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In 1934, a piece of land, was purchased along Chain Ferry Road. The Sikhs built a Gurdwara Sahib building, a single storey brick structure with a tiled roof, which was completed by the end of 1934. Gradually, the Sikh sangat started to grow and this Gurdwara Sahib could not accommodate everyone. Finally in 1968, this Gurdwara Sahib was demolished to make way for a new building.
In 1968, building plans were approved to construct a three-storey building, which was declared open in 1971.
So, for the last 47 years, Butterworth Sikhs were centred in their three-storey building gurdwara. At least three generations had grown with the building playing a role at crucial points of their life – be it janam sanskaar of a newborn or marriage or death. Many Gurmat camps were also conducted here.
However, the changes to the old town around the gurdwara were beginning to show. The aged gurdwara building was also starting to stare at the local community.
After the 1988 land purchase, the Butterworth gurdwara committee and congregation had always been faced with the question of when they would want to develop it.
Things finally fell into place in 2014, the same year when entrepreneur Narinder was elected as GSB management committee president.
There was also the land acquisition by the state in the 1980s. A part of the gurdwara land – still sitting within the gurdwara fenced area – had actually been acquired by the state for a planned road widening. However, the proposal did not happen, though the land had already been acquired by the state.
“So, on paper, that part of the land is no longer ours,” he said.
More importantly, Narinder said the old gurdwara building required substantial funding for its upkeep.
“The building is old. The [electrical] wiring is old. We had a small fire at the switchboard while kirtan was going on sometime ago.
“We were mulling minor renovation while raising funds for the eventual new building. In 2014, we decided to go ahead with the new building. We had RM1 million which was raised earlier,” he said.
After much effort, Butterworth finally has a new gurdwara building. The total built-up area is 27,000 sq ft, making it the largest darbar sahib in the north of Peninsular Malaysia.
“We decided to built as large a gurdwara as we can. We don’t know what kind of restrictions may be placed in future, if any,” he said.
The new gurdwara complex also houses the weekend Punjabi school, one of the largest in terms of student numbers in the north of Peninsular Malaysia.
“At the peak, we had about 130 students. Now its about 110,” he said.
The gurdwara is also active when it comes to organising programmes for visiting ragi jathas. “We are ready to hold Samelans functions. We will work with everyone,” he said.
Moving forward, the gurdwara plans to hire full-time professional music teachers to conduct table and waja classes for the north region.
The new area is strategically located, with many of the businesses from the older part of the town having moved into the area.
“We bought the land four decades ago. The land value has certainly gone up,” he said. One estimate had put the new gurdwara land value at RM3 million.
Across the road from the gurdwara, the Sunway Group is building a 180 bed hospital to be ready in two years. There is also the Sunway Carnival Mall and Sunway Hotel nearby.
Todate, GSB has spent about RM5.4 million. The team had collected about RM4 million over the years from the Sanggat in Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, UK and other countries.
In the recent months, the gurdwara committee had raised another RM600,000 in soft-loans from the local congregation to bring up to speed the final part of the building construction. They also have in hand a commitment for RM200,000. All in, GSB is still short of some RM500,000.
The new complex marks another chapter in the long, cherished history of Sikhs in Butterworth.
Butterworth Sikhs all set to welcome spanking new gurdwara building (Asia Samachar, 3 Jan 2019)
Butterworth gurdwara hearse to serve Sikhs in Penang, Kedah (Asia Samachar, 20 Feb 2018)
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