Posted by: Singh Is King | Thursday, September 13, 2007

Growing Sikh community to build temple in Middleton

Growing Sikh community to build temple in Middleton
Members of the Sikh Society of Wisconsin-Madison practice Indian folk dances in a converted garage after their weekly summer lessons where they learn the Punjabi language, traditional Sikh hymns and history. The society, which now gathers in a one-story house on Century Avenue in Middleton, has plans to build a larger temple at the same location.

MIDDLETON ? In a small room off the kitchen, two boys endeavor to learn a traditional hymn, singing along with the melody played on a harmonium, bolstered by adults’ confident voices and rhythmic clapping.The music fills the modest, one-story house on Century Avenue where in every corner, teachers and students sit side-by-side on the floor, reading and writing the Punjabi alphabet, learning Sikh history and memorizing traditional hymns. When their lessons are complete, they end the evening with pizza.

It’s a typical summer gathering of the Sikh Academy of Madison, a group of about 35 children and parents of the Sikh Society of Wisconsin-Madison.

In addition to the summer education program, every Sunday 60 to 70 Sikhs from around Dane County and as far away as Wisconsin Dells and Spring Green come to worship at the Middleton Gurudwara, or temple, established in 1995.

These hours spent praying and teaching are crucial because young Sikhs “need to know their roots … where they came from” to keep the faith alive, said Harinderjeet Singh Sekhon, a member of the Middleton Gurudwara.

Young Sikhs need to understand the principals of the Guru ? founders of Sikhism ? who always believe in peace, he said. “We like to follow them to keep peace in this world.”

But space at the Gurudwara is limited and like a handful of other Sikh organizations in Wisconsin, the members of the Middleton temple are looking to expand. Leaders have proposed building a 6,200-square-foot, $700,000 temple to replace their current facility.

A larger temple, which would have a dining hall, kitchen, classroom and room for the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book, also will make the weekly langar, or community meal more accessible, said Gurwattan Singh Miranpuri, the temple’s president.

Plans for the new temple were approved by the Middleton Plan Commission last month contingent on several aspects of the design being resolved and approval of a stormwater management plan.

Besides being able to better accommodate the society’s various functions and provide visitors with more parking, a larger building will also allow for the growth of the local Sikh community, said Inderbans Singh Brar, a member of the committee that helped organize plans for the new temple.

“I think we should expect a 10 percent increase (in attendance) every couple of years,” Brar said.

That increase reflects similar growth of the Sikh community throughout the state.

“Overall in the last 20 to 30 years a lot of Sikh families have moved to Wisconsin,” said Gurmit Singh Kaleka, a member and volunteer of the Sikh Temple of the Fox Valley, many drawn to the area for professional reasons. “People like Midwest states.”

As one family member gets established in a profession or a business, others follow, said Satwant Singh Dhillon, the society’s past president of the Middleton temple.

Manmohan Singh Chima, secretary general with the World Sikh Council – America Region, estimates over 500,000 Sikhs live in the United States.

About half live in California, about 150,000 are in New York and the rest live in the Midwest and southern states, Chima said. State-by-state population totals are not available.

Chima said in the Midwest, the first Sikhs came to the Detroit area about 80 years ago for academics and to work in automotive industry. Since then other Sikhs have come to Wisconsin and other Midwest states for academic positions and other professional work, he said.

“Sikhs have a fairly long tradition even in the Midwest,” he said. “They’ve been there for quite some time.”

An inclusive religion

Sikhism is the youngest world religion, founded about 500 years ago in the Indian state of Punjab, and is the fifth largest world religion with 23 million followers worldwide.

The religion was founded by Guru Nanak, who demonstrated the ideals of love, selfless service and surrender to the Divine Will. Equality of sexes and castes was a cornerstone of his preaching as was the concept of humility and continuous remembrance of God.

It is an inclusive religion in which no one is separated into an upper or lower class. After Sunday prayer, everyone ? rich and poor ? sits on the ground and shares a traditional Indian meal.

As part of their faith, Sikh followers must cover their head as a sign of respect ? women with a scarf and men with a turban.

That has led to a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes about Sikhs, Dhillon said. In other parts of the world, Afghans, Iranians, and other Indian cultures wear turbans, while in the United States the vast majority of people seen wearing turbans are Sikhs, he said.

Another Sikh custom involves not cutting one’s hair and beard, a practice many Sikhs no longer follow.

The religion professes hard work, simple living and high thinking.

“We try to kind of make a superman, combine everything, that’s what we’re supposed to be,” Kaleka said. “Be a saint and a solider.”

Learning the language

Because the Sikh faith dictates that all religions are equal, Sikhs do not actively convert people to their religion. For that reason, Chima does not believe there will be a explosion in the Sikh population.

However, extended Sikh family members are continuing to come to the United States and families are teaching their children Sikh culture, language and customs that does expand the religion.

For Lakhvir Kaur, these lessons through the Sikh Academy of Madison for her children assuage a fear shared by several Sikh families.

“I’m worried they won’t understand Punjabi,” Kaur said of her children ages four and a half and six.

She also volunteers her time on Tuesday teaching young children the Punjabi alphabet, numbers and some simple words.

Beyond the language itself, these lessons ? taught by Sikh mothers ? work to instill an understanding and appreciation of Sikhism and Sikh traditions.

“It’s really amazing how much it brings them together,” Dhillon said.

Channi Kaur remembers when she started the classes in 2001 in her home with only two parents and about 10 children. Now the group has grown to about 35 children.

If the new generation of Sikh want to understand the Guru Granth Sahib, they have to learn the language first, she said.

What the students learn goes beyond understanding the language. They also learn about community service and how to apply Sikh teachings.

Teaching Sikh values

Jagpreet Sekhon, 14, who started starting Memorial High School this week, said while it can be hard to fit in the Sikh education lessons with cross country and violin practice, she enjoys learning about the religion.

“It’s nice learning about why we are here,” she said.

Sekhon, who dresses in traditional Indian clothes when going to the temple or an Indian party, says she dresses in American clothes at school. But she does get questions from other students about being Sikh ? and about her hair.

“I haven’t ever cut my hair,” she said.

Simrnjit Seerha, 8, began this summer learning the Punjabi alphabet and by mid-August she was able to write words.

“At first it’s hard to learn,” she said.

But she likes it anyway and others in her group say they like spending their Tuesday nights learning about Sikhism.

Dhillon said teaching Sikh values is a way to help children stay away from the trappings of modern western society.

“Our goal is to give the children a strong spiritual base from which they can catapult into the world and become active players in the foreign land and yet have strong spiritual base from which they can derive strength so they can become the best human beings they can be,” he said.

What is a gurudwara?

Gurdwara: A Sikh place of worship. People are asked to remove their shoes before entering and cover their head. The Gurdwara houses the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib and displays a triangular orange flag called the Nishan Sahib.

Most Sikh temples have a Langar Hall, a large dining room where communal meals are served; a Darbar Sahib, a hall that houses the Sikh holy book and visitors to the temple; a night room for the holy book; and various utility rooms, such as bathrooms and a kitchen.

Guru: Gu means darkness or ignorance and ru means light or knowledge that removes the darkness. A Guru is one who removes the darkness of ignorance.



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