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Gurdwara will be a spiritual home for Sikhs in Vancouver

After years of construction, the temple is nearly ready to serve its community

By , Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
4 Photos
Darshanpreet Singh Pataria, president of Guru Ramdass Gurdwara Sahib, in plaid, and Sarabjeet Teja, chairman of the board, work inside the gurdwara’s main hall. The gurdwara, which has been under construction for years, is nearly complete.
Darshanpreet Singh Pataria, president of Guru Ramdass Gurdwara Sahib, in plaid, and Sarabjeet Teja, chairman of the board, work inside the gurdwara’s main hall. The gurdwara, which has been under construction for years, is nearly complete. Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian Photo Gallery

Above the front foyer of the nearly complete Sikh temple in northeast Vancouver is a mural of the stunning Golden Temple, formally known as Sri Harmandir Sahib Amritsar. Located in Pawneet Sethi’s hometown of Amritsar in Punjab, India, it’s essentially “the Vatican for Sikhs,” he said, the spiritual and cultural headquarters of Sikhism.

Sethi, spokesman for the local Sikh community, learned a lot of English talking with foreigners visiting the Golden Temple, which serves about 150,000 vegetarian meals daily to anyone who’s hungry. The new Guru Ramdass Gurdwara Sahib in Vancouver’s Landover-Sharmel neighborhood will similarly serve the local community (albeit on a much smaller scale).

There are about 250 Sikh families in the Portland metro area that can choose from a few different temples. The new Vancouver building is about a month away from completion, capping what’s been a nearly decadelong process for a new gurdwara.

The congregation purchased the site of the shuttered Landover Athletic Club and nearly finished remodeling the building when it burned down. Since the fire, which federal investigators determined was not arson, it’s taken about five years and $5 million to construct the new gurdwara. Sikh-owned Barrier Construction is the general contractor.

“For such a small size of a community to produce something this beautiful in this town, we are just very thankful to the one almighty to give us the strength in order to accomplish something so big,” Sethi said.

11 Photos
Pawneet S. Sethi of Guru Ram Dass Gurdwara Sahib looks over the new building's sanctuary Wednesday morning, April 3, 2019.
Gallery: Guru Ram Dass Gurdwara Sahib Photo Gallery

More golden domes will be added to the roof, the carpet in the main hall will be installed and the whole place will get a thorough cleaning before it opens.

“We’re just waiting for a few inspections to be final,” said Sarabjeet Teja, the temple’s board chairman.

Sethi said they’re also working out security arrangements. The congregation invested in a high-definition surveillance system and training.

“What happened in New Zealand is worrisome for any minority community,” Sethi said. “So how do we learn from that lesson, and help create and maintain security measures that protect the community and still maintain the policy of an open-door relationship with the outside community?”

That open-door policy will include a walking track and basketball court the community can use.

Sethi hopes to open a dialogue to bring about awareness of the Sikh community; Sikhs are often misidentified as Muslims due to the turbans and head scarves they traditionally wear. Sethi has been volunteering with the Department of Justice educating law enforcement around the country on Sikhism, a fairly new and progressive monotheistic religion that rejects the repressive caste system.

‘Auspicious year’

At about 21,000 square feet, Guru Ramdass Gurdwara Sahib will be the second largest gurdwara in Washington, after Gurudwara Singh Sabha in Renton.

Sethi said the congregation outgrew its current facility at 3600 O Street in the Rose Village neighborhood and plans to sell the property, which he thinks would work for a small faith-based community.

As people enter the gurdwara, they remove their shoes and wash their hands. There’s also a foot-washing station for older congregants who believe people should clean their feet before entering “the court of the guru,” the darbar sahib or main hall. It’s a large carpeted area where people gather for services. People sit on the carpet in whatever way is comfortable, so long as their feet do not point toward the guru, or spiritual teacher. Some practitioners circle the takht, or sovereign seat, before sitting down.

Television screens display the order of the day from the scriptures, along with community news and events. There’s a podium for announcements, a stage for musicians and room for storing the scriptures.

A boardroom and living quarters for three priests are upstairs. Downstairs is the community kitchen where langar, or a large community meal, takes place. Scripture says you cannot meditate on an empty stomach, Sethi said. Typically, there are tea and snacks people can have before service and a full meal after service. No meat, eggs, alcohol or recreational drugs are allowed in the gurdwara.

The large community kitchen may also be used to feed the homeless or otherwise be used in collaboration with community organizations to tackle hunger. One of the golden rules of Sikhism is to share your earnings and selflessly serve others. The other rules are to earn an honest living and to remember God always.

“It sounds really nice from what we’re hearing,” said Ken Stryker, Landover-Sharmel Neighborhood Association vice chair. “We’re so excited for it to be open and to have that relationship with them.”

Samantha Moullet, the neighborhood association’s chair, said she was treated to a tour two weeks ago.

People are already interested in attending a big open house and using the building for weddings and interfaith gatherings, but the congregation is focused on opening first. After all, it’s taken so long to get to this point.

The Vancouver gurdwara’s opening coincides with Sikhs worldwide, celebrating 550 years of their faith. Founder Guru Nanak was born in 1469.

“A lot of the gurdwaras around the world are celebrating this, and we’re just excited to open our doors again to the community on this auspicious year,” Sethi said.

Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith