Build it big. If you had to sum up the appearance of the Gurdwara Sahib on the southern edge of Leamington it would, perhaps, be in those three words. This is a huge building. High, wide and undeniably solid. Beautifully designed and constructed and set in its own acreage of rolling car park. This really is faith done large.
As a member of the local press I remember this temple being planned, built and opened. I also remember the building of the sprawling out-of-town development it sits in - a collection of truly nondescript retail units, family eateries, roundabouts and a bowling alley. All of which makes the objections to this startlingly beautiful, skyline enhancing temple all the more daft.
You can see this building from miles around. I often catch sight of it when walking the slopes of Leek Wootton golf course the other side of Warwick. It’s a huge statement. But it’s not a statement of threat or intent; it’s one of pride and welcome. And it’s here to stay. How long will it be, I wonder, before we no longer talk about ‘that huge temple down by Sainsbury’s’ but ‘that supermarket just opposite the beautiful Gurdwara’.
As in so many walks of life, size isn’t everything. It’s what you make of that capacity. I’ve been in many cathedrals down the years when the towering vaulted interior has provided a cavernous backdrop to fewer than a dozen people. Many’s the time too I’ve been in vast football grounds only a fraction full, or sat on my own in a whole stand watching county cricket. And as for theatres - I’ve witnessed audiences in single figures. Sadly, it must be admitted, often from the stage.
The building can be as impressive as you like, but if the people don’t come, the open spaces and imposing architecture can hang very heavy indeed. Not so here. I began to get a suspicion that I wouldn’t be alone when, still a way short of the temple’s huge car park, I was firmly invited to leave the car on a grass verge and walk the rest of the way.
Inside, the place is packed and buzzing. As well as the normal Sunday morning gathering in the main hall, today sees the handing over of power to the temple’s new committee, bringing in even more to discover who will be in charge of what in the coming months. Oh, and there’s a also a full-scale wedding with a host of beautifully turned out guests going on. It’s testimony to the size of the place that the wedding carries on without any crossover of noise or people. I can’t think of many places that can boast that capacity.
The main hall is large and is filling up. A central aisle divides the men’s carpeted area from the women’s. Ours is a fine display of beards and head-coverings (obligatory inside), theirs a riot of fabulous colours. Nobody does colour quite like India. It is a literally a brilliant sight. There’s a bench along the back wall - the only alternative to sitting on the floor - but it’s already shoulder to shoulder. As are the spaces round the edge where you could sneakily lean back against the wall. I truly take my hat off to anyone over the age of eight who can sit cross-legged in apparent serenity for hour after hour. Ever since the days of school assemblies I’ve always found it absolute torture and I’m aware of having to shuffle about sticking out an arm in an attempt to stay upright and stave off the pain. Enlightenment may follow suffering, perhaps; I just wish I could suffer in more comfort.
Over the course of an hour or so, every space is taken up. There’s an odd informality to the morning as people come and go. We all approach the front and respect the holy book with a bow before taking a place on the carpet. The readings are observed and responses made but there’s little involvement required other than listening. The readings and the examination of their meaning and interpretation that follows then give way to the business of announcing committee names and roles. It’s a seamless transition from the holy to the secular and underlines that this is a community not just a congregation.
It’s a community in the wider sense too. As part of the proceedings a party from Myton Hospice steps up to receive a generous cheque raised by the Sikhs. I’m not the only non-Sikh here this morning. My guide is keen to point out that the Gurdwara also numbers Hindus and Muslims among those who regularly attend. I feel welcome throughout. Perhaps it’s just recognising a fellow back-sufferer but there are smiling invitations for me to shoehorn myself into the already sardine-like bench at the back. And no end of smiles accompanied by prayer hands and a bow.
After the committee business we get music - always a bonus for me. Three musicians provide a very traditional soundtrack as - having observed closely what others do - I join a succession of people placing an offering by the band, and an offering and bow before the Guru Granth Sahib and then heading out to be offered food in the form of a warm sweet piece of karah prasad as I go.
As a postscript, as I head home through the roundabouts and drive-thru burger joints I pause at some pedestrian lights to let a group of senior Sikh ladies cross. Catching eyes for a moment I try out a version of the nod and prayer hands greeting and I’m rewarded with three beaming smiles and laughter. It could be that I’ve struck an interfaith chord, but as I discover when prowling the salad shelves at Morrisons later, it probably has more to do with me forgetting to remove the bright orange head-covering I’ve accidentally wandered off with. A buffoon is clearly a buffoon in any religion.