Novellara, the most important Sikh temple in Italy: “We welcome everyone here”

Gurdwara, the temple, literally the door of the Guru. The large white and blue vaults lead to an area where the boundaries between spiritual life and social life are mixed. The doors of Sikhism, a monotheistic oriental religion founded on the teachings of the 10 Gurus. A faith that has in Novellara (Reggio Emilia) one of the most important centers of worship in Europe.

The Gurdwara Singh Sabha of Novellara

The migration of Sikhs, from Punjab (India) to Italy, has greatly affected Emilia-Romagna. The followers of this creed they are 1.5% of foreigners residing in the region, circa 10,000 people (Observatory of religious pluralism, 2019). A cult rooted also thanks to 7 temples located on the territory, including the Gurdwara Singh Sabha di Novellara, which has become the center of gravity of the Sikh people. Camouflaged in an industrial area, a few steps from the highway, Gurdwara Singh Sabha has more than 5,000 regulars and the most important place of worship of Sikhism in Italy, the second in Europe. It was inaugurated 20 years ago, in 2000, by Romano Prodi, then president of the European Commission. The first Sikhs arrived from Punjab in Rio Saliceto in the late 1980s. For a long time we did not have our own space – says Iqbal Singh, vice president of the association that manages the activities of the temple – Before founding the temple, we gathered in a rented shed, destroyed by the earthquake of ’96. After long searches and no received, we found a person willing to sell us a structure here in Novellara.

The teachings

Venerate the name of god everytime, work honestly e share with others what one possesses are the three teachings of Sikhism. Harwinder Singh has 31 years and lives in Correggio. Of Indian origins, he graduated in mechanical engineering in Modena and he is a member of the national council of all Sikh associations in Italy. The history of his family is intertwined with that of the Novellara temple, of which his uncle Singh Tarlochan was one of the founders. I started going there as a child. I experience this space as a place to be together, helping each other, he says, as Gurdwara Singh Sabha fills up for Sunday prayer. Everyone has their heads covered – with a bandana, a turban or a veil in the case of women – as required by religion in places of worship. Climbing the stairs to the prayer room, Harwinder reaffirms the importance of take off your shoes and wash your hands and feet before entering the temple. In respect of the god and the sacred book which is located on the first floor of the temple, kept under a canopy structure.

The holy book

there, in the Guru Granth Sahib, the teachings that every Sikh (literally disciple) must follow are written. Its pages cannot be touched, for this reason the celebrants keep a cotton cloth in their pockets that they lean on the neck and use to change the page, covering their hands, explains the secretary of the temple, Satnam Singh |, stroking his long gray beard. He too among the readers of the prayer. Prayer that begins on Friday and goes on day and night, sung continuously by the priest and some collaborators, who take turns so as not to stop reciting it together with the faithful. Men and women pray in the same room, the first on the right, the second on the left.

The offers

The reading does not stop even at the moment of offers. Who brings money, who a hot dish, who puts his time at the disposal of the community. Sikhism requires that 10% of everyone’s honest work earnings should be donated to the community, but the faithful can decide how to make their own contribution, continues the secretary. A mother who holds her newborn son in her arms, reaches the holy book, kneels and place the baby on the ground, in contact with the ground, to sanction the dedication to god, explains Satnam. The other daughter imitates her, crouches down to touch the carpet with her forehead, then follows her mother in a circle around the altar.

Breakfast and lunch for 500 people

As the prayer goes on, a scent of spices. Before starting the prayer and once it is finished, everyone passes into the langar, the community kitchen, where you get a free meal because if one has a full stomach, he can concentrate better in prayer, the religious continues. In the large hall, six very long carpets are unrolled in parallel rows to welcome the faithful who take their seats. About 20 volunteers of all ages prepare breakfast and lunch for more than 500 people every Sunday. In neat rows, expect a cup of chai, some curried vegetables, a chapati (a kind of flatbread) and some legumes.

Lions and lionesses

The temple is responsible for welcoming and feeding everyone, regardless of religion professed, nationality and social background – underlines Harwinder, for all Harwy -. Sikhism originated as a form of rebellion against the caste system, which excluded some people from society. On the contrary, our religion welcomes everyone. A principle of equality also enshrined in the relationships between man and woman, to which the same rights are recognized; and between people of all origins. Hence the decision to use all the same surnames: Singh (lion) men, Kaur (lioness) women.

The teachers of the temple

Gurdwara Singh Sab has a microcosm of colors, people of all ages, including children. They chase each other around the fountains at the entrance to the room, help parents serve the dishes in the langar, imitate their parents in the gestures of worship. In one corner, there a small shop, where the faithful can make an offer to buy books on Sikhism and kara, the steel bracelets of important sacred value. Rachhpal Kaur and two friends lean on the table fabrics colored in orange, blue, pink, and inlaid with gold threads. They are presented as the teachers of the temple. We embroider the fabrics and place them in the prayer room every Saturday. They serve to surround and preserve the Guru Granth Sahib, Rachhpal says. Arrived in Italy in 1998, she taught English before dedicating herself to the art of embroidery and the plants of her garden, recognized by everyone in Novellara.

Education as a pillar of the community

a passion that originates from an important teaching of religion: to take care of and respect every form of life. Teaching that also translates into vegetarianism and the rejection of animal meat. Everyone at the temple speaks with reverential pride about the career of Rachhpal’s son, a manager in a multinational company in Dubai. The reason soon explained. The obligation of education is the first teaching of our Guru. Sikhs have a duty to receive a solid education, an even more important step than baptism. Community dictates come first, rather than religious ones. This is also why we want our children, girls and boys, to complete all the schools and, whoever wishes, enrolls at the university, the secretary of the temple, Satnam Singh still specifies.

A history of integration

Engagement in honest work is another of the precepts of the people who migrated from Punjab. In Emilia-Romagna, Sikhs operate in the areas of excellence of the territory, from the Parmigiano-Reggiano chain to agriculture and the textile industry. The agricultural sector is the one in which we are most present, but over the years we have also become an essential workforce in industry. We work hard to earn honestly. Essential for the system and economic, they have become one of the best integrated communities in the area. Not a coincidence if they have well 7 temples in the region. One in the province of Piacenza, two a Parma, two in the campaigns of Reggio, one to Castelfranco, one seventh to Bologna. But the relationship between the Indian community and Novellara , more than the others, a story of friendship and collaboration. In Novellara we have always been listened to by the authorities and citizens – recalls the vice president of the temple, Iqbal Singh – Any initiative to support the needy that we organize, we look for points of contact with the Italian community. Whether it’s giving support to hospitals during the pandemic, of donate a medical car to the Red Cross, or to host a vaccination point in a wing of our temple open to the whole city.

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