Members of the Sikh Center of San Antonio pride themselves on hospitality, and on welcoming everyone to prayer, regardless of race, caste, gender, religion, or ethnicity. Visitors will be surprised to hear, in this quiet Gurdwara in the San Antonio suburbs, the music of professional Tabla and Harmonium players accompanied by children singing traditional Sikh hymns in Punjabi. Here, over a hundred local Sikhs gather each Sunday, many of them newly in America, to maintain the traditions of their Punjab roots.
The San Antonio Sikh Community contains some 200 to 250 Sikh families, most of them in the country for no more than fifteen years. For some time, local Sikhs simply circulated from private home to private home to worship. That changed in 2001, when San Antonio Sikhs pooled their resources to build the San Antonio Sikh Center, a spacious Gurdwara on Hollyhock road. Today, 100 to 150 families worship here each Sunday, with several men gathering every morning for the early Parkash that takes place in the main prayer hall. The once simple household prayer services have now been transformed into a colorful, crowded affair, stretching through Sunday morning and into the afternoon, with traditional religious music, readings from the scripture, a communal meal and afternoon Sunday school classes on Sikh traditions.
Activities and Schedule
Every morning, the Parkash is held early, from 6:30 to 8:00 a.m. Each evening, the kheertan is held from 7:00 to 8:00. The Sunday program begins early and continues all day. The Gurmukhi Class Punjabi reading is held from 10 am to 11 am. followed by the Keertanand Katha by the professional preachers, and Ardas. Young Sikhs join in to celebrate at 12:30. The service is followed by a communal meal, served in the hall adjacent to the main prayer hall. Visitors are strongly encouraged to attend this meal, where over a hundred Sikhs sit side by side on the floor, representing humility and total equality. On Saturday evening, there are keertan classes for the local Sikh community. Sikh children attend Sunday school classes following the communal meal.
The Sikh Center is located on Hollyhock Road, off Babcock, in a quiet neighborhood. It appears much like a house from the outside, but upon entering, the visitor encounters another atmosphere altogether. Some hundred Sikhs, the women wearing long dresses and bright scarves and the men wearing the traditional Sikh turban, gather in the main prayer hall, with men on the right side and women on the left. All of them face the Guru Granth Sahib, the Holly book, which is kept under a canopy. In a small room behind the main prayer hall, a bed is kept. Following the service, a procession from the main prayer hall takes place, and the Guru Granth Sahib is carried out and placed on a pillow. Beside the prayer hall, a large kitchen provides room for Sikhs to gather and cook the communal meal, called the Langar, a traditional Sikh ritual initiated by Guru Nanak, who recognized the need for his visitors to be provided with food. The communal meal came to be known as Guru-ka-langar. At the San Antonio Sikh center, this meal is eaten by all on the floor of a large banquet hall with the concept that every human being is equal.
Almost all of the families who attend the Sikh center come from the Punjab region, and the languages spoken are Punjabi and English.