SINGAPORE - In the past, volunteers at Silat Road Sikh Temple used to serve up to 1,500 vegetarian meals daily as part of langgar, a sacred religious practice of catering food for visitors and devotees at Sikh temples.
After renovation and refurbishment works that lasted close to a year wrapped up recently, the temple's kitchen and its food preparation and dining areas have expanded in size by about 20 per cent, allowing volunteers to serve up to 2,000 meals a day in what is also a safer and more comfortable environment.
On Saturday (July 3), the temple in Jalan Bukit Merah marked the completion of the works with an inauguration event, in which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was the guest of honour.
The budget for the refurbishment works was $2.5 million, with funds raised from donors.
The temple now has an expanded kitchen and a bigger main prayer hall. Ventilation has been improved and eco-friendly lights, as well as an additional ramp to improve access for the elderly, have been installed.
Mr Baljit Singh, president of the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board which oversees the temple, said the expansion of the prayer hall will allow for weddings to be held at the temple.
Previously, there was insufficient space to conduct some wedding rituals.
The works were due to start in March last year, but were disrupted due to the circuit breaker.
But it gave the temple management time to tweak renovation plans to better adapt to the coronavirus situation, such as ensuring better ventilation and reorganising spaces to reduce crowding, said Mr Singh.
"In the kitchen, for instance, the bigger space will allow us to have two counters to serve meals, which means that people queueing for food can be safely separated," he added.
Visitors used to have their meals in the dining area, but for now, meals are packed and distributed to them instead.
PM Lee said on Saturday that places of worship, including the Silat Road temple and other gurdwaras, have had to cope with disruptions brought about by the pandemic.
"It has been a trying time for the worshippers," he noted.
Gurdwaras, along with other places of worship, have adapted to the various Covid-19 pandemic management measures such as by live-streaming services so that devotees can still be part of a congregation, he said.
"I have been even more encouraged to see the gurdwaras rally the Sikh community to pitch in and help out during this difficult period," said PM Lee, noting that they organised charity drives, provided rations, and organised various assistance programmes.
The temple in Jalan Bukit Merah, which is also known as the Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road, was built by the Sikh Police Contingent in 1924.
It served as a safe home for the families of Sikhs who were killed during the Japanese Occupation and serves the Sikh congregation as well as the needs of the wider community today.
The temple houses a memorial dedicated to Bhai Maharaj Singh, the Sikh revolutionary who fought for India's independence and was transferred to a Singapore prison in Outram Road by the British colonial government in 1850.
The saint-soldier is the first Sikh in recorded history to set foot in Singapore.
The memorial has occupied its current spot since 2010. It was moved from its original position in the Singapore General Hospital compound, near where Outram Prison once stood, to the entrance of the temple in 1966, before a dedicated memorial building was built.