San Jose $10 million gurdwara is the largest and
most expensive in the country
San Jose, Jan 20, 2004
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
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
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
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
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
The ceremony, which drew about 7,000 guests, signified
a happy chapter in a rocky journey that began in the
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.''
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
``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.
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.
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,''
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.''
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