Transcript of speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the inauguration of Silat Road Sikh Temple on 3 July 2021.
Mr Baljit Singh, President, Central Sikh Gurdwara Board
Mr Malminderjit Singh, Chairman, Sikh Advisory Board
Mr Inderjit Singh, Chairman, Coordinating Council of Sikh Institutions
Sat Sri Akaal!
I am delighted to join all of you – both here in this hall and online – for the inauguration of the newly renovated Silat Road Sikh Temple, the “Gurdwara”.
This Gurdwara has special significance for Sikhs in Singapore, as you have just heard. It was our first Gurdwara built in the traditional Sikh-style architecture with domes and arches, like those found in Punjab. In the early years, it was also called the “Police Gurdwara” – because it was built with the help of Sikhs serving in the police force and many of the Sikhs who came to Singapore during that period came to join the police force. And as more Sikhs came here, the community needed a larger place to meet the needs of the growing Sikh population, not just to be a place of worship and community, but also to lodge and shelter newly arrived Sikh migrants. So the community chose this site at Silat Road – now it is called Jalan Bukit Merah Road – because it was near the harbour and train station. They raised funds from the Sikh Police Contingent in Singapore and Malaysia, then-Malaya, and received contributions from Sikhs in neighbouring countries too. So the Silat Road Gurdwara was completed in 1924, nearly 100 years ago. And for nearly a century, this Gurdwara has been a spiritual haven for the Sikhs in Singapore. They worshipped here and celebrated here. They found solace and sought refuge here. During the Japanese Occupation, the Gurdwara took in and looked after the widows and children of Sikhs who gave their lives defending Singapore. This Gurdwara took on even greater significance in the 1960s, when the Memorial for the revered Bhai Maharaj Singh, who was the first Sikh identified to arrive in Singapore, was relocated from Outram to within this compound, where it remains till today. The Memorial was later expanded, and officially opened by Mr Lee Kuan Yew on this very same date – 3 July, 11 years ago, in 2010.
In recognition of its significance and role in the Sikh community, the National Heritage Board (NHB) declared the Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road a Historic Site in 1999. It remains one of the most popular gurdwaras in Singapore, and devotees believe that an Akhand Path service performed at this Gurdwara, next to the Bhai Maharaj Singh shrine, will earn the devotee great merit.
During COVID-19, like places of worship of other faiths, Silat Road Gurdwara and the other gurdwaras have had to cope with the disruptions brought about by the pandemic, especially during the Circuit Breaker, when all places of worship had to close. It has been a trying time for the worshippers.
But the gurdwaras, like the other places of worship, have adapted. For instance, they introduced live-streaming services so that devotees could still be part of a congregation, albeit virtually. And I am glad that even older worshippers are active on Facebook and YouTube, participating online virtually in the worship services. And today’s ceremonies are being live-streamed too, so I would like to say hello to everybody who is participating but not physically here with us today.
I have been even more encouraged to see the gurdwaras rally the Sikh community to pitch in and help out during this difficult period. They organised charity drives, provided rations and lent a helping hand through various assistance programmes. They offered langgar – thousands of vegetarian meals freshly-cooked by the gurdwaras, by volunteers daily – to anyone in need, regardless of race, religion or background.
This reflects the Sikh tradition of Chardi Kala, the ability to maintain a positive state of mind in the face of adversity. It shows how our gurdwaras help preserve the Sikh culture and traditions in Singapore, while fostering mutual appreciation and respect across all other groups, and promoting religious harmony and multiculturalism, and thus they bring Singaporeans together, to support one another as one united people. That is why places of worship play such an important role in our society.
A big celebration like today’s inauguration would normally draws large crowds and rejoicing. However, we have had to scale down the events in accordance with our safe management measures. But while there may be fewer people physically here today, I am glad many more at home are able to join us online for the celebration of this significant and joyous occasion!
So let me again congratulate the Silat Road Gurdwara and everyone who has worked so hard on this project and on this inauguration, and I wish the Sikh community all the very best in the years ahead.
Thank you very much indeed.
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