In the early days of Singapore, there were only two Gurdwaras in Singapore. Members of the Sikh Contingent of the Straits Settlements Police Force had their Gurdwara on Pearls Hill. The Civilian Sikhs had their Gurdwara in Queen Street.
Upon the completion of the new building of the Queen Street Gurdwara in 1921, the members of Sikh Contingent, seeing that the civilian Sikhs had now a large new Gurdwara, petitioned the Government for the grant of a piece of land for the building of a new Gurdwara. Their original Gurdwara building in Pearls Hill was too small and was inadequate for the Contingent which had grown in size.
Another reason for building a new Gurdwara was to have a building with not only a Prayer Hall, langgar and dining hall but also many rooms on the ground floor which could be used to accomodate new arrivals from Punjab for a short period, until they found employment and moved to other destinations, like Malaysia, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Indonesia or Manila.
In December 1922 the Singapore Harbour Board leased, for 20 years, to the Inspector-General of Police, the site of the present Silat Road Gurdwara comprising an area of 23,725 square feet. The Gurdwara building was completed in 1924 at a cost $54,000 of which 70% was raised by members of the police force in Singapore and Malaya and the balance was donated by Sikhs in neighboring countries.
One, Bhai Wasawa Singh, a member of the Sikh Contingent was greatly responsible for raising funds for this Gurdwara. He was given leave and sent to Malaya, Hong Kong and Shanghai on a fund raising tour. Later he performed the duties of Granthi at the Pearl’s Hill Gurdwara.
The first Granthi of this Gurdwara was Giani Nand Singh, a graduate of Mahindra College in Patiala. He was especially recruited from India. He was a Preacher from the Panch Khalsa Diwan, a reformist movement based in Bhasaur Village in Patiala Satte. Giani Nand Singh was a native of Bhasaur. He was the father of Mehervan Singh, a well-known public accountant who did sterling sewa (service) as the Sikh representative on the International Inter Religious Organisation. Mehervan Singh died in Singapore on 2 January 1999.
In October 1926, the Singapore Harbour Board surrendered the fee simple in the land occupied by the Gurdwara to the Government on payment of $16,800.
Although this Gurdwara has been built by the members of the Sikh Contingent, the Sangat (congregation) at this Gurdwara used to be mostly civilian Sikhs and hence money for the maintenance of the Gurdwara came from civilians. The management of the Gurdwara used to be in the hands of a committee of policemen with the Subedar as the Chairman. After sometime there was agitation for civilian representation in the management committee.
I was present at the official opening of Silat Road Gurdwara in 1924. I was then 13 years old and was a student at Outram Road School. The honours at the opening ceremony were done by the Inspector-General of Police, a Britisher, in the presence of Subedar Sunder Singh, the President of the Gurdwara and other British and Sikh officers. Originally this Gurdwara was known as the “Police Gurdwara”. It was much later that the name was changed to “Gurdwara Sahib, Silat Road”.
In 1937 the Government vested the Gurdwara property in the Silat Road Gurdwara Board of Trustees on payment of $16,800. The Board of Trustees was to be nominated by the Sikh Advisory Board and was to consist of ten members, three to represent the Majha Sikhs, three the Malwa Sikhs, three the Doaba Sikhs and the tenth member was to be a Sikh member of the Singapore Police Force or the Naval Police Force.
This was the position until the enactment of the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board by The Parliament which is now the governing authority of both the Central Sikh Gurdwara and the Silat Road Gurdwara. It was at the request of the Sikh community that the administration of both these Gurdwaras was vested in a single Statutory Board.
Silat Road Gurdwara has fallen on hard times. Attendance at the Gurdwara had fallen. There was only a handful of devotees as sangat (congregation) at the weekly service on Sundays. There was no Granthi.
A resident at the Gurdwara named Sarban Singh performed the morning and evening service. The committee found it difficult to maintain the Gurdawara. There was no money to carry out the necessary repairs. The committee requested the Government to amalgamate the Gurdawara with the Queens Street Gurdwara.
The government consulted the Sikh Advisory Board and all Sikh religious societies functioning as Gurdwaras. Convinced of the general desire of the whole Sikh community, the Government introduced in Parliament, on 19th November 1960, a Bill entitled “An Ordinance to amalgamate the Queen Street and Silat Road Gurdwara and to place them under an Incorporated Board.” The Bill was referred to a Select Committee of Parliament for the public to give their views.
A large number of Sikhs and Sikh societies made representations to the Select Committee. Thirty Sikhs gave oral evidence before the Select Committee. Eventually, Parliament enacted the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board Act which incorpoarted the Central Sikh Gurdwara which was to govern the Queen Street Gurdwara as well as the Silat Road Gurdwara. This Statutory Board now administers both these Gurdwaras.
The Management Committee of Silat Road Gurdwara is now appointed by the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board.
Before the second World War, some Sikhs lived in the Silat Road Gurdwara as tenants, occupying small rooms on the ground floor. They paid small mon
thly rents. In 1937, I visited a relative and his wife who occupied a small room on a rental of $5 per month. Rather than keeping the rooms vacant, the Committee decided to rent out the spare rooms.
During the second world war, some Sikh widows with their children were granted refuge in Silat Road Gurdwara. They were maintained by the Sikh Community through the 3.5 years of the Japanese occupation of Singapore. Provisions and other necessities of life were provided. Langgar was prepared by the widows.
When the war was over and sea passage to India became avaliable, the widows and their children in Silat Road Gurdwara were given priority. They were given free passage to India by the Sikh community. One person who did great humanitarian sewa (service) in this matter was the late Sadhu Singh Khaira, the well known money lender. He was incharge of repatriation.
Soon after the end of the second world war, many young English educated Sikhs came to Singapore from Malaysia in search of employment. Quite a few of them stayed in Silat Road Gurdwara in rented rooms. They did not mind three or four of them sharing a room in order to save costs. As and when they found employment they moved out. Most of them became Teachers. Some joined the Police Force of Singapore.
It is only after the tombstone, found in the ground of General Hospital, was brought to Silat Road Gurdwara, on 12th October, 1966 that this Gurdwara became very popular with the Sikhs. The Samadh (tombstone) is believed to be that of the Sikh Saint-Solder, Bhai Maharaj Singh, the hero of the Sikh resistance to the British occupation of Punjab. The attraction of Silat Road Gurdwara is the Shrine of Bhai Maharaj Singh containing his Samadh. It is believed that prayers are answered and vows are fulfilled when a devotee worships at this shrine.
It is because of Bhai Maharaj Singh’s shrine that Silat Road Gurdwara has acquired overwhelming popularity. At one time totally neglected, it is now undoubted the most popular Gurdwara amongst all the seven Gurdwaras in Singapore. Deep veneration of the shrine and the adjoining Gurdwara has resulted in the belief that an Akhand Path service performed on behalf of a devotee at this Gurdwara earns the devotee great merit. Consequently there is long booking list for performance of Akhand Paths. This is also the only Gurdwara in Singapore where langgar (food) is prepared and served everyday, throughout the day.
Before I close, a few words about Sardar Kartar Singh Dalamnangal. Politely adressed as Jathedar (Chief) he is often referred to as Jarabanwala (The stocking man). For the last fifty years that I have known him, I have always seen him in the uniform of a British Admiral.
Sardar Kartar Singh has done yeoman service at Silat Road Gurdwara. Since the end of the second world war, he has put his heart and soul into sewa (service) at this Gurdwara. He supervised its renovation and recontruction. A retired man, he had not only time but also the passion to see the glory of the new Gurdwara taking shape day by day. Silat Road Gurdwara became his second home.
Humility is the essence of Sikhism, and in Kartar Singh we saw a living example of it. Some may consider it indelicate on part to single out one person’s sewa, when there are hundreds doing sewa at Silat Road Gurdwara. However, it has been said that Kartar Singh is an extra-ordinary person who has done extra-ordinary sewa at Silat Road Gurdwara. I do not think any one will disagree. Men like him serve to inspire.
By Justice (Retired) Dr Choor Singh Sidhu