Healing Continues In Sikh Community

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MTT News Desk's picture
Mike Drew
Rep. Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton), left, joined members of the Sikh community for a march against gun violence in Middleton last week.

Upon entering the Sikh temple in Middleton, a visitor quickly learns at least a few of the basics of the faith. 

For instance, the importance of covering one’s hair to show respect, and the requirement that visitors take off their shoes when they enter.

There is also the overall sense of generosity and kindness, which is demonstrated through the large meal that is served and offered to anyone who wishes to attend on Sundays, or through the eager willingness to help those who ask for it. 

Sikhism is a monotheistic faith that promotes an honest lifestyle, sharing, meditation and selfless service among its basic beliefs.  Sikhism also upholds the idea that all humans are equal in the eyes of God regardless of gender or caste, and lists three duties as being sacred: praying, giving and working. 

A number of ceremonies are common to Sikhism, such as Nam Karan, the Naming of a Child, which is typically conducted as soon as the health of both the mother and newborn allow after the child’s birth, along with Amrit Sanskar, a Baptism and acceptance into the faith that is conducted only when a person is fully aware of the commitment they are making.

Additionally, there are a number of important days on the Sikh calendar each year such as Diwali (the Indian “festival of lights”) in October, and Baisakhi (the anniversary of the founding of the Khalsa order) in April. 

Services take place almost every day at the Gurdwara in Middleton, though weekdays have a much smaller attendance than weekends.  The most important day of the week at the Middleton Gurdwara is Sunday, when prayers and hymns are heard throughout the day, and a meal is served to regular attendees and newcomers alike. 

The Sikh community is Middleton and Madison is a steadily growing one.  Before the existence of a centralized Gurdwara in town, the earliest Sikh services that were held were conducted in private residences around the community, and as early as 1987 there was a Sikh community of 15 families that would participate in weekly prayers. 

The current Gurdwara located in Middleton was first built established in 1996, and is operated by a committee and board of directors. The current building itself was constructed in 2008. It is a two-story building, with a community room, lobby and kitchen on the first floor, and a worship hall that fills the upper level. 

“On a regular basis,” commented Balwinder Seerha, current vice-president of said board, “about 150 members come here on a Sunday.”  The atmosphere is a welcoming one, and anyone interested in the faith is welcome inside the door, and to share in the meal that is served from the Gurdwara’s own kitchen. 

“Anybody can attend,” added. Seerha, “As long as when they go upstairs they take their shoes off, cover their hair, wash their hands, things like that.”  Hygiene is a universal sign of respect in the Gurdwara - shoes are disallowed because they can track dirt, and dirty hands can carry germs; the Middleton Gurdwara conveniently has shoe racks placed in the lobby along with sinks and mirrors, and will even provide head coverings for the unprepared. 

“We sit on the carpet,” explained Dr. Gurwattan Miranpuri, current secretary of the group’s board. “We sit on the floor, but for those who are too old or unable to sit cross-legged, we do provide chairs.”

Wisconsin Sikh communities were rocked last year when members of their faith were targeted in a shooting tragedy in Oak Creek that killed six and wounded four in the middle of a Sunday service.  In the aftermath of the shooting, Middleton and the greater Madison area provided an outpouring of support for the local Sikh community. The City of Middleton passed a resolution in support of the community, the Middleton VFW Post 8216 honored the local Gurdwara by installing flags around the building, and many members of the public attended a candlelight vigil to honor the shooting’s victims.

“About 100 other people from the town came and shared that [Sunday] evening with us.” explained Seerha,  “Then we had a vigil Tuesday night here and many people came … so there was a good response from the community.” 

It was not readily clear in the aftermath of the shooting whether it was a single perpetrator or part of something coordinated.  “For at least a month,” commented Middleton alderman Gurdip Brar, who was born in the region of northern India where Sikhism is prevalent, “the Middleton Police provided at least one person in a car for each meeting [at the Gurdwara].”

While members of Middleton’s Sikh community said they were heartened by their neighbors’ outpouring of support, the shock that followed the shooting remained, even after the threat of a second attack seemed to fade.

“This is Wisconsin,” said Brar, “this just can’t happen ... we couldn’t believe it.” 

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