Most trusted Name in the NRI media
Serving over 22 millions NRIs worldwide

The San Jose $10 million gurdwara is the largest and
most expensive in the country

San Jose, Jan 20, 2004
Alan Hess
The Mercury News

With all due respect to the old saying, form follows culture more often than it follows function.

The new Sikh temple (called a gurdwara) in San Jose's Evergreen foothills, which opened in August, proves the powerful influence of memory and tradition shaping local architecture.

The gurdwara sits foursquare on a rise with a spectacular view of the valley, one of several prominent monuments (including Evergreen Valley high school, a retail area designed as an old-fashioned town center around its plaza, and a planned library) gracing the Evergreen district.

A tall promenade rings the structure; colonnades link it with two auxiliary buildings. The columns are fluted with lotus capitals. The decorative scallops of the arches were originally created to catch the light and shadow of hot India, and they work just as effectively in our warm, sunny climate.

This is Phase 1; a larger, 70,000-square-foot addition is scheduled to break ground in the spring. The gurdwara (which means ``the gateway through which the guru can be reached'') serves as a gathering place for the South Bay's large Sikh community.

A century ago Japanese and Indian architecture inspired the enormously popular craftsman bungalow; the craftsman style is Japanese-inspired, and bungalow is an Indian word. So we might see a glimpse of Silicon Valley architecture of the future in this new-old architecture -- if today's architects let themselves create a new fusion architecture. That doesn't mean that the temple's golden onion domes and scalloped arches will be the fashion of the future. It means that Santa Clara County's extraordinary ethnic diversity is introducing new styles and types of buildings that should enrich us all.

The gurdwara design by architect Malkiat Singh Sidhu doesn't imitate any particular historic temple but echoes many of the Mughal style temples in the Punjab region of India, the home of the 500-year-old Sikh religion. Their domes and ornamental arches are a dignified classic style that matches the High Renaissance style of St. Joseph's cathedral downtown.

The temple's main building topped by the large gold dome is a reception hall. It identifies the building from afar; inside it is painted with a blue sky and clouds, and the words ``God is One.'' Like the Golden Temple of Amritsar, India, this building has doors on all four sides, symbolizing that all are welcome from all directions. On the second floor is a large hall, now used for reading the scriptures, as well as a small museum on Sikh history and beliefs.

As at the temple at Amritsar, water plays a major role in the design. The temple sits in a large artificial lake that sets off the gilded building and provides a long causeway approach for visitors. In the Evergreen neighborhood the water is not so extensive, but pools with fountains flank the main building, and a waterfall plunges down the steep hill at the main entry.

But of course this is California in 2005, and the stone buildings of India are translated into stucco. They are ornamented with the disabled-accessible water fountains, glowing green ``exit'' signs, fire safety doors and embossed-acoustic-tile dropped ceilings of contemporary California buildings. The fruitful process that blends ancient architecture with modern times is a two-way street: the ethnic architecture of immigrants influences California, and California influences the ancient ways of architecture. This is how architecture progresses.

Everyone made a fuss a few years ago when Mayor Gonzales asked Richard Meier to add a dome to his city hall design; modern architecture isn't comfortable with adding something for purely symbolic reasons. But such symbolism is usually accepted in religious buildings.

The temple's elegant, shapely dome rises in a light and airy gesture to the sky. It is fluted in the traditional manner, giving it a plastic energy quite different than the static European domes of St. Joseph's cathedral, sitting weightily on its base. Smaller domes, more akin to fabric canopies, perch on the temple's corners; they are made of glass fiber reinforced concrete.

Clerestory windows at the dome's base bring light down into both levels of the building. In the reception area, rooms for storing shoes are provided, as shoes are removed and heads covered before congregants attend services. Marble floors inside and granite pavement outside reflect the rich patterns of the Punjabi temples, adding rich tones of green, rose, mustard and alabaster.

Sikh religious services are relatively simple. Readings by priests or lay people from their holy scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib, constitute most of the service, along with hymns. Though the words are sacred, the space is not, in the way that a Catholic church's altar is dedicated as sacred space for the priests and the ritual. The Sikh temple includes several large halls that can be used interchangeably for several purposes, including scripture readings, weddings, anniversary celebrations and dining. There are no seats or pews; everyone sits on the floor, underscoring the equality of all. Men and women attend the same services, though they sit on opposite sides of the room. The person reading the scriptures sits on a platform adorned with flowers and offerings, indicating the honor given the holy word.

From the reception hall, doors lead out to the two one-story halls on either side. Finished much like the ballroom of a modern hotel, with a folding wall down the center to divide the space for convenience, the rooms are filled with light from windows on all walls.

In a religion and culture like the Sikh's, tradition is not a dead hand but a living presence in the lives of its adherents. From its iconic dome to its pewless, flexible gathering rooms, the new gurdwara is shaped to reflect the needs and beliefs of the people using it. Growing out of an ancient culture, it shows us another way to look at architecture. Here's the lesson for us: the past has a place in the present. Symbolism, meaning, history and memory should be in every architect's tool box.

$10 million gurdwara, or 'house of God,' opens with
festive joy in San Jose's Evergreen district

Posted on Mon, Aug. 30, 2004
By Lisa Fernandez
Mercury News
Sikhs celebrate new temple

A slice of San Jose transformed into an Indian oasis Sunday when the nation's most expensive Sikh temple officially opened, drawing thousands to its onion-domed rooftops and cascading waterfall.

The daylong event, which closed traffic for two hours on Quimby Road as Sikhs and their neighbors marched joyously to the new $10 million gurdwara on Murillo Avenue, took many visitors back to their native homeland. And, they said, the grand structure perched high in the hills further welds the South Bay's Sikh community into the fabric of Silicon Valley.

``I'm very emotional,'' said Amrit Singh Sachdev, 49, a computer engineer. ``This is bringing back memories for me, when the whole street shuts down, just like in India.''

The ceremony, which drew about 7,000 guests, signified a happy chapter in a rocky journey that began in the early 1990s.

Plans for the 40-acre property sparked controversy when Sikhs first unveiled their goal to move from the old temple on Quimby Road. A vocal minority of neighbors feared there would be traffic and noise headaches and criticized the magnitude of the project, which was scaled back to meet some of the concerns. Public hearings in San Jose lasted late into the night and at times erupted into name-calling. Protesters carried signs reading ``No Sikh Jose.''

Interfaith parade

None of that past acrimony was apparent on Sunday.

For the most part, the non-Sikhs who came to see what all the pomp and circumstance was about had smiles on their faces. Neighbors came out of their homes to watch a two-hour, interfaith parade where barefoot men swept the streets to make way for their beloved gurus, and the Evergreen Valley High School marching band played ``Louie, Louie.''

``We think it's great,'' said Karen Skulley of San Jose, whose 16-year-old son played saxophone in the parade. ``All the controversy? That was so long ago. No one even talks about it any more.''

San Jose Planning Commissioner Jim Zito, who lives in the neighborhood and was one of the most vocal critics of the project in its early days, said in a phone interview that he didn't attend the ceremony. He declined to comment about the opening.

Pattie Cortese said she still hears a smattering of complaints from people in the neighborhood, but she doesn't share their concerns.

``This place is so beautiful,'' she said, as she searched for her husband, San Jose City Councilman Dave Cortese, among the throngs of people on the temple site. ``One of the things I love about living here in the Evergreen district is the rich cultural diversity. If we want peace here, we need to be tolerant of each other.''

Tolerance lies at the heart of Sikhism, which was founded about 500 years ago in the Indian state of Punjab by Guru Nanak Dev, who taught egalitarianism and monotheism. Today, there are about 25 million Sikhs worldwide, 500,000 in the United States and about 50,000 in Northern California, according to Sikh Mediawatch and Resource Task Force, headquartered in New York. The Bay Area's Sikh population is about 10,000.

The parade and party at the new gurdwara -- which means ``house of God'' in Punjabi -- was smoothly run, with more than 200 volunteers helping direct parking, hand out free ice cream bars and water and clean up garbage.

Quiet Sunday

The Sikhs worked long hours with San Jose police to hash out a parade route that wouldn't disrupt the neighborhood too long. An hour after the parade ended, traffic and noise were back to their usual Sunday quiet. Residents in the flatlands would have seen no signs that there was a madhouse of people up in the hills eating, praying and admiring the new temple.

At the temple site, however, the excitement was palpable. Kids with blue and saffron-colored balloons scampered about. An airplane flew overhead towing a banner that wished the new gurdwara well. Long lines snaked around the property as visitors waited for free saag spinach fritters and sweet, buttery chick pea cubes in the langar, or community kitchen.

Men and women took off their shoes, washed their feet and kissed the ground before entering the prayer hall. There, they bowed before an altar and dropped dollar bills onto a pile.

Annual donations to the San Jose gurdwara total about $1 million, money that temple leaders said is crucial to finishing the next stage of construction. In the next four or five years, the community hopes to raise another $10 million to build an additional 74,000 square feet for a permanent prayer hall, a Sunday school and museum. Today, the gurdwara stands at 20,000 square feet and includes three building.

Sikh custom

In one sense, building a gurdwara and holding such an event is not unusual for the world's Sikhs, said Shamsher Singh, a religious leader at the temple. In the United States alone, there are 250 gurdwaras.

``Wherever Sikhs live, the first thing they do is make a temple, that's where we pray and gather together socially,'' he said.

But for the Sikhs who live in the South Bay, knowing they have such a grand house of worship to call their own is a major milestone.

``This is a little parade,'' said Bhupinder Kaur Saini, 19, of San Jose. ``But it's a big thing that we're doing.''


Any comments on this article or you have any news: Click here