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Gurdwara tells colourful story of Sikhs’ service in Malayan police force

By September 21, 2020 September 29th, 2020 No Comments

Gurdwara tells colourful story of Sikhs’ service in Malayan police force

Published on September 17, 2020 | by
The Petaling Street police gurdwara, built in 1898, is dedicated to the Sikh officers in the Malayan police force.

KUALA LUMPUR: Over 100 years ago, the Sikh community at Petaling Street here set up one of the first gurdwaras (Sikh temple) in the country. It was dedicated to the Sikh officers in the Malayan police force.

According to Hardev Singh, president of the Gurdwara Sahib Polis, Petaling Street, their history goes back to the 1870s when Captain Tristram Speedy, a former police superintendent, began recruiting Sikhs from India to work in the Malayan police force.

Hardev, a retired assistant director of the Special Branch secretariat at Bukit Aman, said the Sikhs were initially brought in to help Ngah Ibrahim, the territorial chief of Larut, Perak, restore law and order in Larut.

He said as the Sikhs managed to reduce the fights between the Ghee Hin (Cantonese) and Hai San (Hakka) triads, more were brought into the country to join the police force.

The original facade of the gurdwara in Petaling Street.

Hardev, who was also involved in the signing of the 1989 Hat Yai peace agreement marking the end of the Communist insurgency in Malaysia, said Speedy knew the bravery and loyalty of the Sikhs when he was in India.

“After the success in Larut, more Sikhs were brought in to serve the force in the Federated Malay States (FMS).

“Later, they were also employed in the non-Federated Malay States, including Sabah and Sarawak,” he told FMT.

The inside of the gurdwara where the Guru Granth Sahib (holy book) is kept.

He said many from the Sikh community also worked as operatives to obtain information about the Communists as they knew the jungles like the back of their hands.

After more Sikh policemen were deployed from India, he said, the Works Department under the FMS built the Petaling Street gurdwara in 1898.

It was the second police temple in Malaya. The first was built in 1890 at Jalan Parlimen, also in Kuala Lumpur.

Gurdwara president Hardev Singh holds a large copper tray used by the Sikh police officers 100 years ago to knead dough for chapatis.

“The Petaling Street police station was in the gurdwara compound,” Hardev said, adding that the temple also served as the first Punjabi school in Malaya for children of the police officers in the 1930s.

According to Hardev, there were about 200 Sikh families in the Petaling Street area back then.

The temple also acted as a transit home for police personnel to stay in temporary accommodation between their postings. It had seven or eight rooms.

Until today, the original walls of the gurdwara still stand firm, painted in white and blue to signify its history. Every Sunday morning, retired police officers and their families visit the temple to cook breakfast, pray and to mingle with one another.

“Our grandfathers and fathers grew up here. We know each other well. We are almost like an extended family, knowing each other’s grandchildren, too,” Hardev said.

The gurdwara’s longest-serving priest, Sham Singh, served for 56 years from 1910.

Volunteers wash dishes after Sunday morning prayers.

Because the temple was built on government land, Hardev said the temple committee had not carried out any renovations even though some parts of the wooden ceiling and walls had been eaten up by termites.

He said the situation worsened during the movement control order in March when the temple was shut down.

“Our wish is for the temple to be given heritage status. Once we have a heritage title, we can start doing renovations,” he said.

Hardev shows a window at the gurdwara damaged by termites.

He said the temple has also become a popular tourist spot along Petaling Street. It is a must-see religious site in the area with Masjid Negara, the Maha Mariamman Temple and St Mary’s Church nearby.

“Tourists visit these places as part of the religious heritage trail. It is, therefore, our hope that the government will turn the gurdwara into a heritage building, ” he said.

What can we do at Kwai Chai Hong?

Plenty! Let’s take a look at what the founders suggest:

1. Start at the Entrance of Kwai Chai Hong

Buildings built during the British colonialism. Image: Kwai Chai Hong

Beside the entrance arch, you will see four unique buildings built between 1884 and 1906. Although these buildings were built during British colonialism, they are believed to be built in the Guangdong Xi-Guan style with the narrow doors and windows and the lack of a five-foot walkway.

These four quaint looking buildings were famous for their blue doors and windows for many, many years. Today, they have been restored from their dilapidated state with some of the original windows still being displayed on the walls of Kwai Chai Hong.

2. Next, walk through the Arch which was built to look like it had been there with the original building but in fact, was newly erected in November 2018

The arch entrance to Kwai Chai Hong. Image: Kwai Chai Hong

This arch serves as a welcoming structure, the signature entrance to Kwai Chai Hong and one of the many perfect photo spots.

3. Beyond the arch is the famous ‘Red Bridge’ (Hong Qiao).

The two lovers on the bridge. Image: Kwai Chai Hong

Contrary to the critics’ comments about this bridge not being the part of Kwai Chai Hong’s original makeup, this bridge was built to mask the back entrance of the restaurants that open outwards to Kwai Chai Hong’s entrance walkway.

With the building of the bridge and clever placements of bamboo plants, visitors will now be welcomed by a ‘Red Bridge’ beyond the Arch Entrance without the unpleasant distractions from the restaurants’ back doors. This is to ensure that all parties can co-exist and make the laneway work for everyone.

4. On the top of the bridge, the first interactive mural is presented.

Visitors testing out the QR code. Go check the place out for yourself to see what pops up on your phones! Image: Kwai Chai Hong

Here, you will see a couple seated on the bridge and an audio – played via scanned QR Code – plays a conversation between the couple, reminiscent of the dating scene in the 1960s.

5. At the end of the bridge are a dozen of original windows from the Lorong Panggung 4 units of shops, hung up on display.

6. 15 steps form the bridge on the right is Kuala Lumpur’s Oldest Lamp Post, dating back to 1903-1904 when electricity first arrived in Kuala Lumpur.

This is called the ‘Century Old Lamp Post’. It was restored to be in a functioning state, by the way.

7.On the left side of Kwai Chai Hong – beyond the bridge, are several other murals (‘Er Hu Uncle’, ‘Kids Playing’, ‘Calligrapher’ and ‘Prostitute’) each depicting a scene from the 1960s.

The ‘Calligrapher’ by a local artist. Take a seat next to him. Image: Kwai Chai Hong

An artwork entitled ‘Prostitute’. Image: Kwai Chai Hong

The Landlady at the top of the stairs. Have you paid your rent? Image: Kwai Chai Hong

At the end of the lane is a set of staircases that lead our visitors to a stunning two-and-a-half-storey mural – the signature look of Kwai Chai Hong. This giant-sized mural depicts the 1960s era of residences and businesses sharing a small unit.

This part also introduces the character of The Landlady, a common character, who would usually divide a single unit into many tiny rooms, and then go around collecting rent.

The giant-sized mural showcases significant buildings of the Chinese Community at the top of the mural  – the Chin Woo Stadium being one of them. There are many other hidden messages within the mural such as our Hari Merdeka – study it long enough and you will spot it.

One can also see the livelihood of the people in the 1960s in the mural as well – coffee shops and other businesses on the ground floor, and residences on the first floor. You can also spot other installations for an interactive photo experience, such as the Barber (and his antique chair), a basket hanging down from the first floor, and a couple of kids playing a game of skipping rope.

8. Have a meal at the Bubble Bee Café.

This is definitely the best place to end the Kwai Chai Hong visit. Why? seriously yummy desserts and great coffee, that’s why! They’re also famous for their healthy wraps and juices.

So, there you go. You’ve got options for your #ootd, #potd and healthy doses of culture and history while you’re at it! Check out the place the next time you’re free, or if you’ve got nothing on this weekend, and take a trip down memory lane.