FROM providing shelter after the Albert Drive fire to hosting Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson, the Glasgow Gurdwara’s have been in the public eye a lot this week.

With around 20,000 Sikhs living in Scotland, and around half of the population residing in Glasgow, this should come as no surprise.

The Evening Times was invited to the Berkeley Street Gurdwara for an official tour prior to this month’s celebrations, where Sikhs all over the country have come together to celebrate the 550th birthday of their prophet and founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak.

The Gurdwara Singh Sabha, or Central Gurdwara found on Berkeley Street, is one of the largest and most ornate Gurdwara’s in Scotland - a long way from Glasgow’s first Gurdwara, which was a tenement flat on South Portland Street in 1947.

“I remember, as a young boy, I knew the man who would deliver milk. He would have to run up all the stairs from the close - I think he was exhausted” laughs DR Amarjit Singh Nijjar.

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Finished in 2016, the Central Gurdwara took 16 years of planning and fundraising, 6 years of building and cost around £8.5million. Among the four in Glasgow, the Central Gurdwara will host the weekend long celebrations from the 21st-23rd of November where Sikhs travel from all over the country to pray and celebrate in the name of Guru Nanak.

“The site was bought in 1999, and the Gurdwara was built on top of the original Gurdwara’s carpark” says Surjit Chowdhary, Vice President of the Committee.

“In 1981, a trust was set up by a group of 20 Sikhs who purchased the existing Berkeley Street building through donations gifted from the Sikh Sangat.

“The Gurdwara also purchased the building at 134 Berkeley Street, which became the Mel-Milaap Elderly Day Care Centre that catered for many elderly and disabled people from both the Sikh and wider communities.

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“But as more Sikhs were coming to Glasgow and families were growing, we needed a bigger site. The current Gurdwara was the old car park, which was originally Glasgow’s old Eye Infirmary” added Ravinder Kaur Nijjar.

“It has changed the skyline in Glasgow completely. Modelled off historic Gurdwaras in India, as all Gurdwaras are, you can see the gold dome from any higher vantage point. It has our universal symbol for One God on the side also, stressing the nature of interfaith within Sikhism”.

The Gurdwara serves as the hub of the Scottish Sikh community, where many Glaswegians gather to practice their faith, gain religious and social education. The word ‘Gurdwara’ translates into ‘Doorway to Enlightenment’, and on Sundays’ students ranging from 3 years old to 18 years old learn how to read, write and speak in Punjabi in the Gurdwara classrooms on the ground floor, so they may read the scriptures. Remarkably, although there are around 23,000 Punjabi speakers and 15,000 Sikhs in Scotland, a Scottish examination in the language does not exist.

“We used to learn Punjabi in the Gaelic school across the road” remembers DR Sharandeep Singh, who at 27 is one of the younger members involved in the Gurdwara. “It was a funny collision of two cultures, languages, histories”.

Outside the language classes, an exhibition curated by Ravinder herself surrounds the walls of the Gurdwara describing the multiple facets of the religion and the community.

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“It took me a while, but there are so many parts of Sikhism that are important - I want someone to come in knowing nothing, and leave with as much knowledge as they can”.

Whilst education is one of the key facets of Sikhism, so too is the tradition of Langar - providing a free community kitchen, designed to uphold the principle of equality between all people, eliminate extreme poverty in the world and bring about the birth of ‘caring communities’.

On the first floor of the Central Gurdwara is the Langar kitchen, where anyone from any walk of life - not only from the Sikh community - can have a free vegetarian meal provided by the Gurdwara. All the food is provided by donations, and cooked, cleaned and served by volunteers.

“Everyone eats on the floor, on the same level” says Ravinder. “Even the Indian Emperor Akbar was expected to sit on the same level as everyone else.”

With shoes off and heads covered, the spiritual atmosphere of the Gurdwara permeates. Scriptures sang over music are played, guiding you to the Gurdwara’s top floor which houses the prayer hall. The Darbar Sahib, painted a deep royal blue, houses the Holy Scriptures, Guru Granth Sahib, which are read everyday from a raised platform with accents of gold.

The presence of the Central Gurdwara is the visualisation of a wide and happy community with strong bonds to the city it resides in. I ask Amarjit what it means to him, to have a place as big and beautiful as the Gurdwara to come to.

"It's just so nice - say something upsets you, you know that you have a place to go to, to just find some peace.

"I've been to Gurdwaras in other cities, but the Glasgow Gurdwaras are run at such a standard that they are entirely accessible, and always there. When I was younger, it was more limited. Now, it seems that there are no limits."