Visit to a Sikh Temple

Off of HWY 290, near Fairbanks North Houston, down what looks like a country road, you'll find a large building that belongs in northern India. Melisa Galvez visited the community that's quietly thrived there for almost forty years. It's the third story in the KUHF NewsLab series, "Exploring Houston" where we journey through the neighborhoods that make up our city.

ornate wooden canopy(Chanting)

"It's called Gurmukhi…"

Manpreet Singh and I are sitting cross-legged on the floor, listening to a man read from a large book. Another copy of that book lies in splendid display, under an ornate wooden canopy, and blue cloth.

"Our Guru Granth Sahib is treated like a king. So this new blue material that's been out here, clearly it's lavish, there's a lot of embroidery on it."

The man and other members of the community will read the Guru Granth Sahib from start to finish, twenty-four hours a day, for three days.  At the end, there will be a huge celebration.

"Back in the ‘70s about ten to twenty families had come from India, and they bought this piece of land out here on Prairie Drive, off of 290, so they all band together and built the structure that's behind us now, and that's the Sikh Center of Houston."

Manpreet's talking about the Sikh (Sik) community-which we in the West usually call Sikhs (SEE-ks). Manpreet, her friend Jagi Katial and I are sitting outside on the wide white staircase which leads into the temple.

"Basically, it's a religion that originated in Punjab, the land of 5 rivers.  We believe in one god. We think about, every single person we interact with, they're an image of God. And the one thing about Sikhism is that, it's not like you have to choose Sikhism or you're done for. It's actually, whatever religion you decide to choose, just be a hundred percent about it. Your mission is to merge with God.  That's it."

About 500 years ago, 10 gurus — or teachers — wrote down their advice for becoming one with God.  That became the Guru Granth Sahib.  Sikhs read from it every day. If this sounds a lot like other religions, Jagi Katial says that it is—on purpose:

"The Sikh belief is that all religions, or all schools of philosophy, are fundamentally good. So, there's lots of things that have been taken. And it's because, I guess, as a fundamental belief, we don't find anything wrong with those things..."

But Sikhs wear five symbols that distinguish them-the most noticeable of which is long, uncut hair. Sikh men bind their hair in a distinctive turban and wear beards. Women can wear turbans too, if they want.  All Sikh customs apply equally to men and women.

Sikh kitchen(Sounds from the kitchen)

On the bottom floor of the temple there's a kitchen that can serve one thousand people at a time.  Every week, different families sponsor and make meals here for the whole community.  Anyone is welcome to eat-non-Sikhs, travelers—anyone:

"Our gurus made a big point in having people of every level sitting on the same floor and eating the same food and doing everything together. So this is a very community oriented, and give back to your community society."

(Sounds of the kitchen)

"I'm really lucky to have been born here, and to have experienced this religion here…"

Manpreet and Jagi are children of the very first immigrant families to this community.

"Just as America represents freedom and opportunity, it doesn't always work out that way. Same way in this religion, we have all these great things, and in practice, sometimes they don't work out that way, but the potential, the core beliefs of America are that way, and also in this religion…"

Jagi says that even though Sikhism calls for class and gender equality, Sikh families sometimes carry on Indian cultural traditions, like valuing boys over girls. But Manpreet and Jagi's generation is changing that-Manpreet is a lawyer; Jagi, a concert producer. They see their temple as a part of the multi faceted American landscape.

Manpreet and Jagi

"And across the street, I just keep looking at it ‘cause I think it's so awesome, this guy's built one of those ranch entrances with the longhorn and the Texas flag and across the street you've got this really weird area where guys in beards and turbans hang out all the time."

Manpreet says that relations with the neighborhood have generally been good, as long as the crowds at festivals don't park on neighbors' lawns.

From the KUHF NewsLab, I'm Melissa Galvez