During the construction period at Schachenstrasse 39, a tent served as dining room temporarily. The the bunting-shaped flag on the pole shows the way. (Photo: Naomi Ruef)

The Gurdwara («gateway to the Guru») of the Sikh community in Däniken is located unobtrusively in the commercial district, a short walk from Däniken railway station and directly on the border with neighbouring municipality of Gretzenbach. It is surrounded by garages, and sits opposite a factory producing concrete. The temple is slightly set back from Schachenstrasse, with parking in front. The approximately 1.5-meter high wall makes the building appear even more discreet. The flat rood is visible from the street, with two corner towers and an onion-shaped gold coloured dome typical of a Sikh temple. It is these that gives the sense that this cannot be just another industrial building. Further evidence is provided by the Sikh religious symbols: the Khanda, which adorns the facade, and the Nishan Sahib, the bunting-shaped flag on the pole in the forecourt of the temple. Behind the temple is visitor parking, guarded from above by two further onion-shaped domes. The edge of the property meets agricultural land. The cooling tower of the nuclear plant at Gösgen stands prominently a kilometre away.

Architectural History and Reasons for Development

The corner towers of the Gurdwara are less prominent than the cooling tower of the nuclear power plant at Gösgen, a kilometre away. (Photo: Martin Baumann)

A Sikh association was established in Basel in 1986. For personal reasons, two distinct groups soon emerged, which each built its own Gurdwara. In October 2002 the Swiss Sikh Association was established, as was able to purchase the property at Schachenstrasse 39. The group converted the former garage into a large hall, kitchen and entrance area so that it could be used as a temple. Karnail Singh, the current president of the association, was a driving force in the foundation stages.

Shortly before the 10th anniversary of 2012, the architect Arjuna Adhihetty was asked to present a project for the anniversary event. The possibility of a new temple had already been discussed, but it had been decided that the project was not feasible. The next attempt was more successful. Adhihetty presented the project for a three-storey building with a trapezoidal layout. However, the groundbreaking ceremony did not take place until 9th April 2014, because, as the architect explained in his speech for the inauguration, all decisions were made as part of a «grassroots democracy». According to spokesman Jorawar Singh, it was important to the association that the members of the Sikh community at Däniken were involved in the decision making, and were able to make their ideas and wishes known. In this way, members were able to identify with the temple. Perhaps because of this, they assisted in the financing of the temple, either through donations, interest-free loans or volunteer labour.

Faces of the Building

Karnail Singh is president of the association’s executive board. (Photo Erich Debrunner)
Jorawar Singh is responsible for public relations. (Photo Erich Debrunner)

Karnail Singh came in 1988 in Switzerland and applied for asylum because of the unrest in India. He is the chairman of Parbandak Committee, the Executive Board of the Association for the Sikh community in Switzerland. He can usually be found in the temple, and is a representative for the Sikh community in the area. He attaches great importance to good relations with the neighbourhood.

Jorawar Singh left India in 1992, also because of the unrest there and because it was difficult for a Sikh to study there. His brother was already living in Switzerland which made it easier for him to decide to come here. Jorawar Singh studied economics. During the planning and construction of the Gurdwara he was the intermediary between the club members, the various authorities and the architect. He is also the contact person for the media.

Neighbourhood and conflict

Counsellor Remo Ankli brings greetings from the Solothurn government at the inauguration. (Photo: Martin Baumann)

It is of great importance to the Sikh association in Däniken that they are accepted by the local population and there are no conflicts. Spokesman Jorawar Singh explains: «We wanted to create an integrative object, not anything special, such as would be found in India, which is a foreign culture.» That the building is a temple should only be recognizable symbolically. The four onion-shaped turrets at the corners serve this purpose. Functionality is the primary purpose of the building. The large space is important for the Sikh community.

The Community is particularly proud that there were no objections from the local population to the construction. Only an objection from the immediate vicinity about the use of the parking spaces needed to be addressed.

How well the association is accepted in Switzerland was demonstrated at the inauguration ceremony no 19th April 2015. Several politicians and diplomats were present as guests. The Sikh association was congratulated by the Indian ambassador to Switzerland M. K. Lokesh and the Solothurn M.P. Remo Ankli, among others.

The Sikh association maintains good contact with the neighbourhood, and strives to maintain a mutually agreeable relationship. For this reason President Karnail Singh regularly meets with the local community. 

Religious Tradition

A Sikh fans the holy book with fresh air at the inauguration. (Photo Martin Baumann)
For the inauguration the congregation hang the flag, the Nishan Sahib to the new mast. (Photo Martin Baumann)
The kitchen team ensures that no one leaves the Gurdwara hungry. (Photo Martin Baumann)
The venerated holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, is placed in the pedestal beneath the canopy. (Photo Martin Baumann)

The Sikh religion originated through the work of Guru Nanak (1469-1539) in North-West India, in the Punjab. India. He saw himself as a reformer of what was, in his opinion, a «meaningless, ritualistic Hindu tradition» and a «congealed Islam», but not as the founder of a new religion. Nanak saw his task as creating a synthesis between Hindu piety and the Muslim belief in one God. Nanak is quotes as saying: «God is neither Hindu nor Muslim, and the path which I follow is God» (1499). He rejected both the caste system and ascetic renunciation of the world, although he maintained belief in rebirth and an image-free monotheism. The religious goal of Sikhs is liberation from the cycle of births and union of the soul with God. The word «Sikh» means «student» (from the Hindi «shishya»). Characteristic of the foundation of the Sikh community is the sequence of the ten Gurus. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru, denoted the holy book Adi Granth («First Book») as a guru, naming it Guru Granth Sahib, and founding the Khalsa Panth community attached to it. He set five symbols of «purity» (khalsa) for the Sikh community: uncut hair, a comb, a sword, a bangle and knee length underwear. With admission to this tight community which is committed to an ethical and moral life, men receive the surname Singh (lion) and women the surname Kaur (princess, or prince to be grammatically correct).

Male Sikhs are mainly recognisable by their large, often colourful turbans and long beards, usually bound, while the women wear no distinguishing attire. In 1984 after unrest in the Punjab, many Sikhs came to the West. There are large Sikh communities in the UK and Canada.

The Sikh association in Switzerland has a board (the Parbandak Committee) with five statuary members. It is not only the number of members which is constituted on religious grounds. The members of the board, as followers of Khalsa, must live strictly according to Sikh principles: They must not cut their hair, among other things, nor smoke or drink alcohol. Their way of life should serve as a model to others. This board is supported and monitored by an advisory committee made up of nine to eleven members. Also important is the Langar Committee, which is responsible for the kitchen and catering of guests. Hospitality is central for Sikhs: Anyone is welcome in the temple regardless of faith, and no visitor should ever leave a Gurdwara hungry. The temple is always open.

Before the Gurdwara is entered, visitors must remove their shoes and cover their head. Anyone who has drunk alcohol or is carrying tobacco may not enter. The focal point of the Gurdwara is the platform which is under a canopy (palki) as a sign of dignity. On it is kept the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book, resting on cushions and precious cloth. Visitors pay homage when entering by bowing to the book, and often by leaving a small offering, which is used for the maintenance of the temple. Visitors sit on the floor to symbolise the equality of all people. One’s back may not be turned on the book, nor the soles of the feet face it.

There is usually a Ragi Jatha group living at the temple, religious musicians who are invited from India. They stay in Switzerland for three months, and are then replaced by a new Ragi Jatha. Every morning at five o’clock they ceremonially carry in the holy book, open it and read from it. It is read from again at dinner time, after which it is put away for the night.