Photographs by Melissa Chia
Located in the corner of Mandurriao,Western Visayas, the Sikh temple of Iloilo -'Nanark Darbur'- is one of the very few non-Catholic/ Christian establishments in the province, and has stood for 50 years. With an incense-infused scent upon entrance, you are introduced to a completely new side of Iloilo- away from the countless churches and Dinagyang festival fever to a little touch of India. Initially, we were greeted by the devotees who were already present for their daily prayers, who instructed us to wear headscarves before entering. We were then directed towards the prayer chamber, where we all sat respectfully before the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book.
While sitting on the floor, Granthi Amrik Singh, the current ceremonial reader of the Guru Granth Sahib at the temple came in wearing white robes with a black turban and a belt with a small dagger on it. He immediately performed a ritual with the chaur (a type of fan) to show respect to the Guru Granth Sahib- a custom usually performed by devotees. Despite not being able to speak very fluent English, a devotee who was also present aided us in translating Punjabi into Tagalog, and Granthi greeted us with a warm smile and welcomed us not as strangers but as friends. He has been the Granthi for five years in Iloilo at this particular Sikh temple. We were curious to know why and how Sikhism arrived in Iloilo in the first place, considering the widespread Catholicism in the city. The answer was simple, however - fifty years ago, a Sikh lady who was quite regular in attending temples in Manila realised that making a trip all the way was too troublesome and instead resorted to building a temple in Iloilo to cater for the rest of the community.
When asked about the Sikh community itself, Granthi stated that the Sikhs originally arrived in Western Visayas due to the scarce economic opportunities and unfavorable living conditions in India but presently 'have assimilated well into Iloilo culture without any issue'. Although they may not participate in or attend the Dinagyang festival itself, one thing he was proud to say on behalf of the community was that they do feel a sense of belonging and do not face any discrimination from the locals. As one devotee (name witheld) present at our session stated, "My wife is Filipino and a convert following Sikhism, both our families and friends are very accepting."
Granthi explained the importance of the Guru Granth Sahib to us
Additionally, the travellers were more curious to find out exactly what they do in Iloilo - in what area of work they deal with specifically, and it seems that they are bankers or money lenders. From what we understood, they are economically comfortable in Iloilo. They lend money to the locals on the basis of a '5-6 method' - this meant that, for instance, if one borrows 500 pesos today one would pay 600 pesos tomorrow. The devotee said that this is how the Sikh community put their children through school and is their main source of income.
Granthi explained to us that in the Sikh temple both women and men pray together, but on two different sides of the prayer room. He went on to show us pictures of the origin of the religion, depicting the torture and struggles of early Sikhs who were condemned and burned by Muslim rulers in India. He emphasized that the Sikh religion respects all other religions, and therefore everyone is welcome to the temple. After approximately an hour of questions and answers, we were now able to understand the presence of the Sikh community in Iloilo. Although the existence of a Sikh temple in Iloilo is very unexpected, it goes to show how accepting the city is of the many religions.
Kushmin is currently in her final semester at Monash and is terrified of what is yet to come! Despite worrying about her very scary yet exciting future beyond Monash, she enjoys travelling, coffee runs and the beach! Upon graduation she wishes to pursue the area of International Relations.