Carli Berry/Capital News The annual Vaisakhi festival is celebrated in April of each year at the Okanagan Sikh Temple.

Carli’s Cultural Connections: Sikhism in the Central Okanagan

The Capital News visited the Okanagan Sikh Temple in Rutland

The Okanagan Sikh Temple is a place of sanctuary and camaraderie for the Sikh community.

Public relations secretary for the Okanagan Sikh Temple, Amarjit Singh Lalli spoke with the Capital News about the Sikh community in the Central Okanagan and the history of the Okanagan Sikh Temple or Gurdwara, a place of worship.

Q: Can you tell me about how the Sikh Temple came to be here?

A: I personally came to the Valley in 1975, we landed in Vancouver and bused to Kelowna. The reason we were here is my dad came in 1971 and he came here because his sister was living here and she was here because her in-laws were here back during the 1950s.

There was a big influx of East Indians to Kelowna around 1978 with relaxed laws regarding immigration. What ended up happening was everyone wanted a place where they could worship so a few seniors and well-settled members got together and said ‘let’s hold functions on a weekly basis.’ They used to be held at the German Canadian Harmonie Club, and eventually there was enough of a base here that a Gurdwara was warranted.

The original building that’s right next to this one was opened in 1982. It just built on from there.

Q: Why is the place of worship important?

A: What the Gurdwara really represents, is a place of sanctuary; where people would come if they needed food or shelter. Whether they were being persecuted and needed safety, medical attention, or they wanted to come learn about the Sikh religion, that’s the concept of the Gurdwara.

It’s basically built on the need for the community, a place where they can get together. In Sikhism, everywhere you go is the Gurdwara, you don’t need any one place of worship, so when we as humans try to limit everything, what Sikhism teaches us to do is broaden the mind and see the bigger picture.

Q: Why did Sikhs migrate to the Okanagan?

A: It was always the want to have a better life for your kids. Canada being a just society where it lays the foundation for anyone to succeed and it’s up to you how hard you want to work. If you work hard, the possibilities are endless.

Q: Why is there such a large Sikh community in Rutland compared to other parts of Kelowna?

A: The Gurdwara is a beacon and I think people want a place where they can go relatively easily. It’s easy to access for the seniors, if it’s a nice day they can walk here. As you drive to or from work or maybe shopping you can drop by. I think that’s the reason why.

Q: What about traditional wear?

A: Some people get their hair cut, some don’t. So when you see a Sikh wearing a turban that person is usually following a more traditional path. To become a Sikh when a person is baptized they have to have five articles of faith with them at all times and one is uncut hair covered by a turban, it just keeps the hair neat and it’s a sign of respect.

Then there’s the kara, a steel bracelet as a reminder not to preform prohibited acts. Then the gunga, a small wooden comb; kaccha to remind the Sikhs of sexual purity and for swiftness and defence. The last thing was the kirpan, which is a small dagger you carry on you at all times to basically protect yourself and the weak.

Q: Is there something you wish the public knew more about within the Sikh community?

A: That education factor is key to make sure we break down the barriers to understanding more about the religion. Sikhs, like those of any other religion, are non-threatening to any particular individual.

Q: Where can people find more information on the Sikh community?

A: Sikhism is not a closed faith. Usually, our functions are held on Sundays, the Gurdwara is open, we have screens that provide translations. You can come sit upstairs and have a free meal, there’s no obligations regarding the meal. We get quite a few people that come to the Gurdwara that just want to learn.

Every two weeks, Carli’s Cultural Connections publishes a video segment on culture and history in the Central Okanagan at kelownacapnews.com. Email carli.berry@kelownacapnews.com to find out how to get involved.

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