Dubai: Ornate 24-carat
gold canopies for the Guru Granth Sahib religious text of Sikhism,
Italian marble on the walls and floor, stunning chandeliers and a
five-star kitchen - Dubai's first gurdwara is a grand realisation
of the aspirations of 50,000 Sikhs in the UAE.
Gurunanak Darbar is a heady mix of spirituality, tradition,
modernity, opulence and the determination of a man.
On entering the building, one is in awe of its sheer grandeur and
the attention to detail. A sense of calm descends as strains of "Tu
Prabh Daata," a popular 'kirtan' or devotional chants, fill the
As the ambience sinks in, NRI businessman Surender Singh Kandhari,
the man behind the Sikh temple, walks in, urging devotees to use
the lift instead of taking the stairs to the main prayer hall.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, who
donated a piece of land in the Jebel Ali area for the gurdwara
about six years ago, wanted it to be iconic. The opulent building
is worth every bit of the 65 million Dirhams spent on it - a large
part of it contributed by Kandhari himself.
"We didn't want to compromise on anything. It has the latest
Italian marble and best lights. I told the contractor I want a
100-year guarantee for the building so that our future generations
are able to utilise it," Kandhari told IANS in an interview.
"I told the ruler, 'Well, one can't surpass the Golden Temple.'
But what we have is the most modern gurdwara in the world," said
Kandhari, chairman of the Al Dobowi Group that manufactures and
distributes automotive batteries and tyres.
The idea of the building was born 11 years ago with the growing
need of a proper place of worship for the Sikhs, who until January
this year shared space in the cramped temple premises in Bur
The permission came through six years ago when the ruler of Dubai
gave 25,400 sq feet of land to build the temple, said Kandhari.
On the grand opening of the gurdwara January 17, Kandhari compared
Sheikh Mohammed, also the vice president of the UAE, to Muslim
saint Hazrat Mian Mir, who had laid the foundation stone of the
Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest shrine for Sikhs.
Six months on, as many as 10,000 people visit the temple with
three floors of parking space on Fridays.
"On Baisakhi, we served food to around 40,000 people visiting the
gurdwara," Kandhari said proudly, adding that several Pakistani
Sikhs also come to offer prayers besides many Sindhis and Hindu
The state-of-the-art kitchen, which churns out food for devotees
through the day every day, is worth a peek. It is complete with a
dough-kneader, a chappati-maker and large dishwashers. And along
with the rest of the building, the kitchen too is spotless.
Apart from a large carpeted prayer hall, there are three smaller
rooms for private functions, a meditation room, a library and the
spacious 'langar' or common kitchen hall.
Gurunanak Darbar is modelled on both the Golden Temple and the
gurdwara in Southall, London. Interior designer Paul Bishop was
sent to both these shrines "to get the feel" of gurdwaras.
To develop religious values among the next generation of NRIs,
special three-hour sessions are held for children on Saturdays at
the temple where they are taught Punjabi, 'Kirtans' and how to
behave in places of worship.
"There are already 55 children attending these classes. All four
of my grandchildren, one of them just two years old, go there," he
"The women are keen on sending their children to learn kirtans.
When you are out of India, your desire to connect to your roots
becomes stronger," he said.
Having grown up in Andhra Pradesh and later studying in Chennai's
Loyola College, Kandhari admitted that he learned about his
language and religion when he came to Dubai in 1976.
Thus, he understands the need for children to know about their
culture in a foreign land.
"They can't learn without getting proper lessons. In Vijayawada, I
had no one to teach me Punjabi. While in Loyola College in Madras,
I used to go to church every Sunday. I started learning about
Sikhism and Punjabi after coming to Dubai."
Although the NRI businessman had to borrow from friends to
complete the gurdwara, he calls the income generated by it as
He already has plans to use the money. "I want to build a hospital
for the poor. Healthcare is so expensive in Dubai... Labourers
living in camps nearby can't afford the high medical costs."
Kandhari says the gurdwara now attracts visitors from across the
"We have visitors from the UK, the US, France and Canada... They
get surprised that in an Islamic country, we have the most modern
(Malavika Vettath can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)