Here are 10 things we bet you didn’t know about the Sikh community in Singapore. By Jagdish Singh
You know plenty about the four main races in Singapore – Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Others – but how much do you know about the various denominations within the races? Allow me to share some interesting tidbits about the Sikh community.
1. The origins of Sikhism can be traced back to 1469
Sikhism originated with the birth of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji in 1469. Over the years, Guru Nanak and nine other Gurus established and advanced the religion. Before his death in 1708, Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the last Guru in human form declared that the Holy Scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, would be the final and eternal Guru of the Sikhs.
2. Sikhism arrived in Singapore 135 years ago
In 1881, following a recommendation by a Commission of Enquiry of the Straits Settlement Police Force in Singapore, 165 Sikhs arrived on the island from the British Indian province of the Punjab to form the backbone of a new police contingent. Prior to this, there was little evidence to indicate the presence of a sizeable local Sikh Community. Since then, the Sikh community in Singapore has only grown in number!
3. We’re not just identifiable by turbans!
There are Five Ks that Sikhs wear: Kesh (uncut hair), Kangha (a wooden comb), Kara (a metal bracelet), Kachera (a specific style of cotton undergarment) and Kirpan (a strapped curved sword). These Five Ks are not just symbols but articles of faith that collectively form the identity of the Sikh way of life.
4. Singh is King (of the Jungle, that is)
On top of the Five Ks, the more common and easier way to identify a Sikh male or female is through their names. All Sikh males take the name Singh, which means lion, behind their given name; while all Sikh females take the name Kaur, which means princess, behind their given name.
5. Place of Worship
A Gurdwara is the place of worship for Sikhs. It can be easily identified from a distance by tall flagpoles bearing the Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag. The most well-known Sikh temple is the Harmandir Sahib (popularly known as The Golden Temple) in Amritsar, Punjab. There are 7 Gurdwaras across Singapore and members of all faith and those who don’t profess any faith are also welcomed in the Gurdwara. The biggest and most popular one is the Central Sikh Temple located at Towner Road, next to Boon Keng MRT.
6. We don’t actually celebrate Deepavali
It’s a common misconception that Deepavali is also the celebration of the New Year for Sikhs. However, Sikhs celebrate Vaisakhi, the harvest festival of the Punjab region with the Punjabi New Year falling on the same day. Vaisakhi is celebrated on 13 April and it marks the birth of the Khalsa in the year 1699.
7. Punjabi cuisine consists of …
Many of us are familiar with Indian cuisine but may not be exactly sure of authentic Punjabi food. For starters you could have the Pakoras (pea and potato pastry) dipped in green chutney. Punjabi’s favourite mains would be Butter Chicken, Sarson Da Saag (cooked mustard with spinach leaves) eaten together with Makki di Roti (corn flour bread). A Lassi (yoghurt drink) would complete the meal. And when it comes to Punjabi desserts, rest assured you will be spoilt for choice! If you’re already salivating, head on down to Riverwalk Tandoor for some good Punjabi food.
8. Prominent Sikhs in Singapore
Amongst all the Sikhs in Singapore, three are better known outside of the Sikh community. Kartar Singh Thakral, chairman of the Thakral Group of Companies, has seen his multi-million dollar and worldwide group of companies grow from its humble beginnings, guided by his principles of integrity, resilience and humility. Major General (Retired) Ravinder Singh, served as the Chief of the Singapore Army from 2011-2014; he is the highest ranking Sikh officer in the history of the Singapore Armed Forces. And finally, Inderjit Singh, former MP with the PAP who served four terms in parliament from 1996 to 2015 before stepping down.
9. You can see Sikh statues at Bukit Brown Cemetery
Chew Geok Leong’s grave site is probably the most popular grave site in Bukit Brown – not just because it’s located right beside the road, but also because of its iconic Sikh guards. Chew’s grave is a “living tomb” as he played a part in the design of his grave, buying the coffin and painting the Sikh guards when he was still alive. He chose the Sikh guards to guard his final resting place because they were seen as brave and loyal. It is seen as degree of reverence and respect that the Sikhs have received from people of other faiths.
10. Not all Sikhs are Punjabis!
Majority of the Sikhs around the world are Punjabis, but in recent years, cultural assimilation means that it is not uncommon to see Sikhs from different ethnicities. In Gurdwara in Singapore you may occasionally meet a Sikh Chinese and in other countries you may find Sikhs who are not Punjabis. Regardless of faith or ethnicity, anyone and everyone is welcomed to the Gurdwara.