Dubai's grand gurdwara brings religion, tradition alive in style

Dubai, July 3 (IANS) Ornate 24-carat gold canopies for the Guru Granth Sahib religious text of Sikhism, Italian marble on the walls and floor, stunning chandeliers and a five-star kitchen - Dubai's first gurdwara is a grand realisation of the aspirations of 50,000 Sikhs in the UAE.

Gurunanak Darbar is a heady mix of spirituality, tradition, modernity, opulence and the determination of a man.

On entering the building, one is in awe of its sheer grandeur and the attention to detail. A sense of calm descends as strains of "Tu Prabh Daata," a popular 'kirtan' or devotional chants, fill the air.

As the ambience sinks in, NRI businessman Surender Singh Kandhari, the man behind the Sikh temple, walks in, urging devotees to use the lift instead of taking the stairs to the main prayer hall.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, who donated a piece of land in the Jebel Ali area for the gurdwara about six years ago, wanted it to be iconic. The opulent building is worth every bit of the 65 million Dirhams spent on it - a large part of it contributed by Kandhari himself.

"We didn't want to compromise on anything. It has the latest Italian marble and best lights. I told the contractor I want a 100-year guarantee for the building so that our future generations are able to utilise it," Kandhari told IANS in an interview.

"I told the ruler, 'Well, one can't surpass the Golden Temple.' But what we have is the most modern gurdwara in the world," said Kandhari, chairman of the Al Dobowi Group that manufactures and distributes automotive batteries and tyres.

The idea of the building was born 11 years ago with the growing need of a proper place of worship for the Sikhs, who until January this year shared space in the cramped temple premises in Bur Dubai.

The permission came through six years ago when the ruler of Dubai gave 25,400 sq feet of land to build the temple, said Kandhari.

On the grand opening of the gurdwara January 17, Kandhari compared Sheikh Mohammed, also the vice president of the UAE, to Muslim saint Hazrat Mian Mir, who had laid the foundation stone of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest shrine for Sikhs.

Six months on, as many as 10,000 people visit the temple with three floors of parking space on Fridays.

"On Baisakhi, we served food to around 40,000 people visiting the gurdwara," Kandhari said proudly, adding that several Pakistani Sikhs also come to offer prayers besides many Sindhis and Hindu Punjabis.

The state-of-the-art kitchen, which churns out food for devotees through the day every day, is worth a peek. It is complete with a dough-kneader, a chappati-maker and large dishwashers. And along with the rest of the building, the kitchen too is spotless.

Apart from a large carpeted prayer hall, there are three smaller rooms for private functions, a meditation room, a library and the spacious 'langar' or common kitchen hall.

Gurunanak Darbar is modelled on both the Golden Temple and the gurdwara in Southall, London. Interior designer Paul Bishop was sent to both these shrines "to get the feel" of gurdwaras.

To develop religious values among the next generation of NRIs, special three-hour sessions are held for children on Saturdays at the temple where they are taught Punjabi, 'Kirtans' and how to behave in places of worship.

"There are already 55 children attending these classes. All four of my grandchildren, one of them just two years old, go there," he said.

"The women are keen on sending their children to learn kirtans. When you are out of India, your desire to connect to your roots becomes stronger," he said.

Having grown up in Andhra Pradesh and later studying in Chennai's Loyola College, Kandhari admitted that he learned about his language and religion when he came to Dubai in 1976.

Thus, he understands the need for children to know about their culture in a foreign land.

"They can't learn without getting proper lessons. In Vijayawada, I had no one to teach me Punjabi. While in Loyola College in Madras, I used to go to church every Sunday. I started learning about Sikhism and Punjabi after coming to Dubai."

Although the NRI businessman had to borrow from friends to complete the gurdwara, he calls the income generated by it as "unbelievable".

He already has plans to use the money. "I want to build a hospital for the poor. Healthcare is so expensive in Dubai... Labourers living in camps nearby can't afford the high medical costs."

Kandhari says the gurdwara now attracts visitors from across the world.

"We have visitors from the UK, the US, France and Canada... They get surprised that in an Islamic country, we have the most modern gurdwara."

(Malavika Vettath can be contacted at malavika12@gmail.com)