By Hamish Mackay
Aberdeen’s Lord Provost Barney Crockett has given an official welcome and blessing to the UK’s newest and most northerly Sikh Temple (Gurudwara).
The Lord Provost toured the converted former children’ nursery In the Seaton area of the city with its trustees and sampled Sikh delicacies during a largely informal two-hour visit.
The Gurudwara had held its own full ceremonial official opening in its permanent new home following a year-long delay because of the strictures imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Following a two-year refurbishment of the former Timber Kinder Garden Nursery at 1 St Ninian’s Place, Seaton, Aberdeen, a Sikh Holy Book (Guru Granth Sahib) was brought north from Sikh Temple Dundee to be placed on a throne inside the Aberdeen Gurudwara.
This is the final and most important step that officially signified the inauguration of the Aberdeen Gurudwara. Prior to the arrival of the Holy Book, the orange Sikh flag (Nishan Sahib) was erected and flown.
The flag signifies the spiritual, political and all-pervading universal sovereign power which belongs to the Sikh people. Every Gurudwara in the world flies such a flag.
Since the Aberdeen Gurudwara has been established, the previously small Aberdeen and North-east of Scotland Sikh community of around 40 families has now grown to approaching 100 families. The Sikh community had its roots in Aberdeen in the mid-to- late 1900s – thanks to Indian students attending Aberdeen University and Robert Gordon’s Institute of Technology (RGIT). This provided the stimulus for Sikh families in the area to gather together informally for worship.
For decades these families and students had to hold worship meetings in each other’s homes. However, three years ago the Aberdeen Sikh Sangat (congregation) paid £138,000 to buy the former Timber Kinder Garden Nursery which is surrounded by four residential multi-storeys – Inverdon Court, Lord Hay’s Court, St Ninian’s Court and Balgownie Court – in a quiet cul-de-sac just off King Street, Aberdeen, close to Aberdeen Beach and the mouth of the River Don.
The senior trustee of the Aberdeen Gurudwara and the Aberdeen Sikh Sangat Charity, which was set up in 2012, is Bradford-born Suki Singh Pooni. Suki, a process engineer who moved with his family to Aberdeen in 2011, explains: “Our auspicious opening was marked with a joyous welcome of the Holy Book by our Sangat (congregation) – showering it with flowers and singing hymns.
“This was followed by a full week of ceremonial activities, with the reading of the full scriptures of the Guru Granth Sahib, concluding with a final celebration of hymns and sermons.”
A limited number of guests from Scotland’s other Sikh Temples – including Glasgow and Edinburgh, and further afield, from London and Birmingham, travelled north for the final day’s celebrations.
“We had planned for a much grander celebration”, relates Suki. “This would have involved inviting many guests from around the UK. However the Covid-19 pandemic meant we had to vastly scale down numbers to maintain social distancing as our space is quite limited as we only have a modest building footprint.”
The Sikh faith was founded by Guru Nanak in the 15th century in northern India when there was division and hatred between the Hindu and Muslims – leading to a culture of oppression of the poor.
Around the world Sikh gurudwaras provide millions of free meals “Langar” via its congregations. Some gurudwaras in big cities – for example Birmingham, provide this 24-hours -a-day for anyone who is hungry and needy.
The Aberdeen Gurudwara has an extensive new kitchen and its trustees are in talks with charitable bodies in the city with a view to working in tandem with them in providing free meals for the needy and the homeless.
Adds Suki: “Performing Sewa (selfless services) is a fundamental tenet of the Sikh faith, and, with our new base, there can now be greater efforts from the Aberdeen Sangat to engage with community projects and perhaps help fund such projects”.
The Gurudwara maintains a daily morning and evening prayer schedule and generally a main congregation day on Sundays. Shortly it is planned to start up musical and Sikh language (Gurmukhi) classes for all ages of the congregation.
The Aberdeen Gurudwara draws its members from an area stretching from Dundee to Shetland. The congregation took possession of the former nursery in November, 2018 and undertook a major renovation and refurbishment costing £70,000. his included developing a prayer hall, a large community kitchen (langaar), an activity room for youngsters, and a residential facility for the priest and his wife.
Plans have been lodged with Aberdeen City Council to reorganise the Gurudwara’s forecourt and improve the landscaping on its boundary.