Resplendent Spirituality beyond Boundaries
In July 2013, I had an opportunity to visit Kenya (East Africa) on the invitation of Sikh Youth Makindu and the management of Gurdwara Makindu Sahib, situated on Nairobi Mombasa highway, Kenya. The sole purpose of this visit was to share discourse on the ethos of the Sikh Religion, with the Sikh youth at Makindu Sahib, drawn from schools, colleges and universities in Kenya and some other countries. This was my first visit to East Africa. A weeklong sojourn at Gurdwara Makindu sahib, blessed with resplendent spiritual environment, was certainly a blissful experience and an exploration worth sharing.
The origin of the 'Sikh Temple Makindu' in Kenya can be traced back to early 1900s, when the British built the Uganda Railway to open up the interior of East Africa in order to exploit the natural resources of the continent and carrying them overland to the sea port for export. Kenya and Uganda, both were British protectorates since 1894/5, dependent for their external trade on the port of Mombasa. To link the port with hinterland, a meter gauge railway was started in 1896. The trains running out from Mombasa to Nairobi had its first major stop at Voi and then at Makindu, where an encampment was established which soon blossomed into a robust town by 1920. It was an era of steam locomotives, chugging along slowly across the dreadful terrain, where the lions reigned supreme at one time and now the famous elephants of Tsavo. The steam engine used to get timber fuel and water at Makindu Railway station.
Among the host of Indians that were recruited by the British authorities to construct the railway track, there were many pioneering Sikhs who later became part of the larger history of the Sikh contribution, to the overall development of Kenya. They were great men of clear vision with farsighted perspective embedded with firm determination. Unfortunately, many of them were lost in the tropical wasteland or attacked by the man-eating wild animals such as marauding lions of Tsavo forests. It is pertinent to mention here that these famous man-eating lions seemed to have had a great partiality for Sikhs as their staple diet. Most of the drivers and co-drivers on the locomotives of East African Railways were the Sikhs and these stout sons of Punjab continued to push the twin line of steel forward despite the threat of lions and leopards.
A secure place of shelter and service was the only answer to provide help and relief to all men working with East Africa Railways since 1896. It is believed that those early Sikhs used to gather under a huge tree near the railway station Makindu every weekend to offer their prayers and gratitude to Waheguru, for their protection and well being. And these humble and enduring Sikhs resolved to set up a Gurdwara with their savings. Their yearning to establish a Gurudwara was understood as the same establishing a church by their bosses, the colonial rulers. Perhaps that was the reason that they not only gave green signal to the endeavor of the Sikhs, they also gave a piece of land for the purpose near the railway station. The Sikhs were more than happy and with the active contribution of their non-Sikh fellows; contractors, suppliers and rich community members, they laid the foundation of Makindu Sikh Temple with the installation of one of the archaic edition of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The doors of the new temple were opened in 1926 and ever since then this Sikh place of worship has continued to bless millions of visitors as a source of mystical inspiration. Visitors to the Sikh temple included devotees from all communities and people from all walks of life irrespective of their color, cast and creed.
Makindu thus became a significant stop for Sikhs and other Indian train passengers, who would especially come off the train to pay their obeisance in the house of the God. Among the founding fathers of the Temple, names of Bhai Tara Singh Ahluwalia, a Railway Shed master at Makindu, Bhai Lachman Das, commonly known as 'Deputy' and S. Teja Singh, a guard with the railways, deserve a very special mention in the narrative, because they performed the opening ceremony of the Sikh Temple. Fortunately, during my recent visit I had the privilege to pay obeisance at the shrine where the aforementioned archaic edition of Sri Guru Granth Sahib is reverently preserved.
As per a common belief in the whole of East Africa, the legendary narrative goes that at one point in time, almost all the Sikhs had to leave Makindu, after the completion of the work on the rail link. Thereby they had to close the Sikh Temple in the absence of Sikh devotees moving to faraway destination, but they hired an African called 'Gwalo' as a caretaker of the Gurudwara. However a small window was left open so that the travelers between Nairobi to Mombasa could stop to pay their obeisance to Sri Guru Granth Sahib, through this small opening. It is reported that in the early 1950 a terrible fire broke out and destroyed the main Temple building, leaving only the Sri Guru Granth Sahib undamaged. At another time a pestilence of deadly ants ravaged the entire building of the Temple but again Sri Guru Granth Sahib remained untouched. Interestingly, oral history accounts reveals that a huge python was always seen in the attendance of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, which did not even allow 'Gwalo' the care taker, to tinker with the heap of the offerings in the form of the currency notes, by any manner whatsoever. Gwalo as care taker used to sit outside the Temple, however, the inside care taker by all means, was the scary reptile, that was seen busy all the time pushing the stacks of the offerings from near the small window, closer to Guru Granth Sahib.
One day Gwalo saw a miracle, which he immediately revealed to a Sikh farmer of the area, known as Dhanna Singh. He told him that he had seen some Sikhs on horseback, riding down from the sky towards the Temple. Gwalo was anxiously exhilarated to see this miraculous and wonderful image in the sky. In order to ease his intense curiosity he was shown the painting of Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji riding on the horseback at Dhanna Singh's house. He immediately confirmed and said "yes, it was this very person that I saw coming down from the sky on a horseback". Fascinated Gwalo in a state of momentous excitement uninterruptedly began chanting in his Kiswhilli dialect (local Language), "Mee Na Ouhna Mungu Haapa Haapa!....... Mee Na Ouhna Mungu Haapa Haapa.......!", which literally means, "Yes this is the God that I saw! Yes this is the God that I saw!"
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2017, All