“It’s like we’re in a foreign country”, my wife commented as we stood inside the dining hall of the Sikh temple in Yuba City, California on Sunday afternoon, April 17, 2016.
As far as I could tell, we were the only white people, or as Dr. Shumate from the Sutter County Library might say, “Caucazoids”, in that room of well over two hundred people.
We were visiting the temple because the Sikh Community Outreach of Yuba City had invited the public to join them in celebrating Family Day, and to learn about the meaning of Vaisakhi, or the birth of Khalsa.
This was not our first visit. On one earlier occasion an official of the temple had asked us how they could get more people like us to come.
“You mean white people?” I commented.
“Not just white people, but people that aren’t Sikhs”, he replied.
I didn’t have much to say at the time, but since then I’ve visited a multitude of places of worship while researching material for my blog, LeavingLinda.com. In doing so I have observed how other groups handle their new guests. Hopefully I can offer some insights into how the Sikh temple can get more visitors, and also enable those visitors to gain more from their experience.
On our recent visit, after parking our car, we walked over to where several canopies were set up, and looked around. We were treated to some servings of “golgappa” at one booth, where the mostly young volunteers were friendly and informative. We then passed the “Pagh Project” where a turban-tying demonstration was taking place. After visiting a few more booths and wondering what to do next, I happened to recognize a temple member, whom I know from my Toastmasters Club, walking by.
“Inder!” I called out.
“Bob! what brings you here?” she replied.
“I heard there’s free food.” I chuckled.
“Did you go to the dining hall?”
“No I didn’t. I’m really not here just for the food, I like to visit places of worship and write about them for my blog. I would like to visit the dining hall though. How do I get there?”
After getting directions my wife and I began walking towards the dining hall and knew we were close when we could smell the pleasant aromas of Indian food cooking. We walked inside, stood in a short line and, after having our Styrofoam plates piled generously with naan bread and other items, we looked for a place to sit. The right side of the room was lined with mats where mostly women and children were sitting. I opted to sit at the cafeteria style table and bench at the left side of the hall, and my wife followed. As we started to sit down, my wife noticed that only men were seated at those tables and, anxious to comply with temple etiquette, she asked if it was alright for her to join them. Several men nodded their heads yes, assuring her it was fine.
Even without knowing the name of anything we were eating, we agreed that the food experience was outstanding. (This colorful vegetarian feast, combined with delicious memories of Punjabi Pizza at Dhillon’s, also in Yuba City, inspired an Indian food cooking phase in the Gauper family kitchen, which is still in progress. More about that in future posts.)
After eating, we weren’t able to linger much longer because of another commitment. While our overall temple experience was pleasant and memorable, I believe it would have been even more valuable if just a few features were in place to aid newcomers, e.g.,
- Visitors Parking Area
- Information Booth with maps and brochures about the temple and Sikhism
- Docents to answer questions and guide guests around the temple
- Recipe cards with details about the food being served
During my brief visit to the temple, I didn’t get a chance to discover the meaning of Vaisakhi and what the birth of Khalsa was about. However, subsequent research revealed that Khalsa is essentially the tenets of what’s required to be a true Sikh. http://www.sikhs.org/khalsa.htm
A true Sikh is required to worship one god, give to the poor, abstain from drug and alcohol use, never commit adultery and live by many other noble virtues. The Christian Bible tells us you can know people “by their fruits”. Personally, I never doubted that the Sikh religion was inspired by God; my visits to the temple and interactions with local Sikhs have only confirmed that.