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£14 million temple is festival tsar

PUBLISHED: 15:40 21 April 2010 | UPDATED: 11:38 23 August 2010

THOUSANDS from across the country celebrated one of the biggest festivals in the Sikh calendar at a new £14million temple paid for entirely by the community. The streets of Gravesend town centre came to a standstill on Saturday as about 10,000 Sikhs par

THOUSANDS from across the country celebrated one of the biggest festivals in the Sikh calendar at a new £14million temple paid for entirely by the community.

The streets of Gravesend town centre came to a standstill on Saturday as about 10,000 Sikhs paraded from their new temple in Khalsa Avenue around the town centre and back to the beautiful building.

Football fans chanting while drinking beer in the spring sunshine were silenced by the massive procession led by six men holding ceremonial swords followed by floats with schoolchildren singing and playing instruments.

Kiran Gill, 15, came from Birmingham to celebrate Vaisakhi in Gravesend.

She said: "I feel very proud about our culture and about how many people have turned up. It is really spiritual.

"Our temple in Birmingham is probably about half the size of this one. The more you know about your culture, the more proud you are. Me and my family often celebrate Vaisakhi in Gravesend as there is such a big Sikh community here."

The ancient harvest festival hails from the Punjab region and marks the beginning of a new solar year.

Construction worker Surinder Singh, 45, of Wellington Street, Gravesend, said of the new temple: "It is wonderful. It is a big effort by the community. There is so much space. The last temple we had in Clarence Place had no parking, which made it hard for some of the community to reach. I feel privileged."

Work began on the temple in 2002 and is due to be finished by the end of the year. The beautifully crafted woodwork used throughout the building was made in India and shipped to Gravesend.

The two large kitchens were in full use for the festival, providing food for the worshippers gathered outside and throughout the procession route.

Gravesend mayor Bronwen McGarrity said: "It is a wonderful achievement. The Asian community really put everything into this. It is a wonderful building.

"When you look at what they have achieved, it is fantastic. It is a wonderful day of colour."

Bus driver Suphminder Singh, 50, of Beaumomp Drive, Gravesend, said: "Everybody is happy. This is a big addition to the community. It is a nice building which is unique."

Celebrations started on Friday morning when the main hall of the new temple was filled with worshippers listening to readings from the Sikh holy book the Guru Granth Sahib.

A team of six readers took turns reciting verse from the scriptures from 10.30am to 10.30am on Sunday, 48 hours of non-stop reading.

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