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Sikh temple a community hub open to all

Published: 1 April 2019

Motorists see Gurudwara Sri Kalgidhar Sahib Temple’s domes looming at Takanini, but few realise what goes on inside.

"People call it the Sikh temple, and us the Sikh community, but we just call it temple and community because everyone is welcome," says Supreme Sikh Society spokesperson Daljit Singh.

As New Zealand’s largest Sikh temple, things are done on a grand scale at Gurudwara Sri Kalgidhar Sahib Temple. It’s nothing for the kitchens to feed a couple of thousand guests every weekend.

So skilled are the kitchen volunteers that vast amounts of food is prepared regularly and sent to other temples, struggling families and the homeless. Food trucks are on the horizon to take food into the city.

Many of the ingredients are grown on site, with hundreds of fruit and nut trees sustained with water from the temple’s two bores.

The kitchens, solar power, huge halls and its own water supply, means Auckland Council has earmarked the temple as a community hub in the event of a disaster.

"They have so many facilities for the community in a time of emergency," says Council's emergency management department senior resilience and welfare advisor Melanie Hutton.

"It's precious to have a place with so many aspects of resilience, like the water, gardens and kitchen, but especially the generosity of the people."

Thousands already use the area’s walking tracks and sports fields. An early childhood education centre and housing for the elderly are all already planned or in construction nearby too.

Papakura Local Board member George Hawkins is a strong supporter of the temple community.

"What they do is actually help create a stronger and better New Zealand," he says.

South Auckland is better known for its active Maori and Pasifika communities than Sikh ones, but Daljit says working together has bought acceptance and understanding.

"In Maori and Pasifika cultures serving others is central, and that is the same as our desire to serve our neighbourhood."

Interaction, he says, has shown people the Sikh religion is not what they thought. "Anyone can come here. No one is going to ask you to become a Sikh, or what you believe, or judge you. There is only one humanity."

Papakura Local Board member Katrina Winn says the generosity that flows out of the temple is extraordinary.

"Nobody could go into that temple and not be overwhelmed by the kindness and warmth of the welcome."

Central to the faith is gifting ornate fabrics known as Rumala Sahib, often to acknowledge a birthday or wedding - offerings that are traditionally burnt or thrown away. Takanini was burning a tonne of them every year.

Cook Island Mamas group leader Tepori Teariki is grateful that during a cultural exchange, the temple gifted them fabrics for their hand-stitched quilting craft tivaevae. Today the fabrics are gifted to many groups to reuse and upcycle.

Tepori says meeting with the Sikh community opened her eyes.

"When I heard their stories, I went, 'wow they're doing more than we are'. It gives me a good feeling."

That’s great news for Daljit, who arrived in 1989 and remembers thinking his turban attracted funny looks. "My generation came here, but our kids were born here and don’t feel any different to other New Zealanders."

The only rules when entering the temple are that you must remove your shoes and cover your head. Once inside there’s no need to worry about protocol – everyone sits on the mat.

Watch a video about the temple here and see one about saving Rumala Sahib, the decorative fabrics, here.

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We're focusing on local diversity, how empowered communities are shaping the future of their neighbourhoods, making the most of local amenities and facilities, as well as caring for their environment and those who are struggling through tough times.

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