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Singapore: Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday lauded the local Sikh community for providing support to people through various assistance programmes during the COVID-19 pandemic regardless of race, religion or background.

Wearing a white Sikh turban, Prime Minister Lee, who attended the inauguration ceremony of Silat Road Sikh Temple which was renovated during the pandemic, greeted the community members with a “Sat Sri Akal”.

Prime Minister Lee said that places of worship, including the Silat Road temple and other Gurdwaras, have had to cope with disruptions brought about by the pandemic.

“It has been a trying time for the worshippers,” he noted.

Gurdwaras, along with other places of worship, have adapted to the various COVID-19 pandemic management measures such as by live-streaming services so that devotees can still be part of a congregation, he said.

“I have been even more encouraged to see the Gurdwaras rally the Sikh community to pitch in and help out during this difficult period,” Lee said, noting that they organised charity drives, provided rations, and organised various assistance programmes.

Like other religious groups, Sikh leaders helped their worshippers adjust to disruptions caused by the pandemic.

To address the stresses caused by the pandemic, the Coordinating Council of Sikh Institutions commissioned a taskforce called ‘Project Akaal’ to provide support for mental health within the Sikh community of about 13,000 Sikhs.

“Our Gurdwaras rallied the Sikh community to help those in need during this difficult period, regardless of race, religion or background,” said Lee in his Facebook post after the inauguration ceremony.

“These initiatives set a good example for the wider community, as we move towards a new normal of living with an endemic virus. Silat Road Sikh Temple is not just a sacred place of worship, but a shining icon in the multi-religious and multi-racial landscape of Singapore,” he said.

In the past, volunteers at Silat Road Sikh Temple used to serve up to 1,500 vegetarian meals daily as part of langgar, a sacred religious practice of catering food for visitors and devotees at Sikh temples.

After renovation and refurbishment works that lasted close to a year wrapped up recently, the temple’s kitchen and its food preparation and dining areas have expanded in size by about 20 per cent, allowing volunteers to serve up to 2,000 meals a day in what is also a safer and more comfortable environment.

On Saturday, the temple in Jalan Bukit Merah, just on the outskirt of central business district, marked the completion of the works with an inauguration event where the Prime Minister was the guest of honour.

The budget for the refurbishment works was SGD 2.5 million, with funds raised from donors. The temple now has an expanded kitchen and a bigger main prayer hall.

Baljit Singh, president of the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board which oversees the temple, said the expansion of the prayer hall will allow for weddings to be held at the temple.

Previously, there was insufficient space to conduct some wedding rituals.

The works were due to start in March last year, but were disrupted due to the COVID-related circuit breaker. But it gave the temple management time to tweak renovation plans to better adapt to the coronavirus situation, such as ensuring better ventilation and reorganising spaces to reduce crowding, said Singh.

The temple in Jalan Bukit Merah, which is also known as the Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road, was built by the Sikh Police Contingent in 1924.

It served as a safe home for the families of Sikhs who were killed during the Japanese Occupation and serves the Sikh congregation as well as the needs of the wider community today.

The temple houses a memorial dedicated to Bhai Maharaj Singh, the Sikh revolutionary who fought for India’s independence and was transferred to a Singapore prison in Outram Road by the British colonial government in 1850.

The saint-soldier was the first Sikh in recorded history to set foot in Singapore.

The memorial has occupied its current spot since 2010. It was moved from its original position in the Singapore General Hospital compound, near where Outram Prison once stood, to the entrance of the temple in 1966, before a dedicated memorial building was built.

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