Sikh Temple Makindu is located about 100 miles (160km) from Nairobi on the main Nairobi to Mombasa Road. It was built in 1926 by the Sikhs who were working on the construction of the railway line from the coast (Mombasa) inland to Lake Victoria and beyond to Uganda. Today, all types of people visit this Gurdwara everyday and it is a 'must-see' Gurdwara for any Sikh travelling to Kenya and East Africa. It provides a peaceful atmosphere where one can meditate and calm ones mind before proceeding to join the "rat-race" again. The Gurdwara complex is very large and has facilities for langar around the clock and living accommodation for travellers.
Set in the forest off the main road, the Makindu Gurdwara is the only convenient rest stop for weary motorists on this busy and long road to and from Mombasa. So the Sikh community of Kenya have done something special. They have built a beautiful edifice and campus where anyone of any religion or of no religion can withdraw from the mundane and reflect on the spiritual. This large complex houses a huge dining facility which provides free langar 24 hours a day as determined by their founder Guru, Guru Nanak Dev.
Rooms with beds - several with attached bathrooms - are available for tourists to stay for up to two nights. Everyone in Kenya seems to know of it and most tourists stay to rest and eat. Most are non-Sikhs. There is no charge for this service, but most people donate to the Gurdwara. Apparently it is run by a consortium of the Nairobi Gurdwaras. The aura at Makindu would calm the most tormented mind; one automatically drifts away from the mundane and towards the spiritual and peaceful.
Article by Lakhvir Singh, Nairobi
Sikh Temple Makindu was built in 1926, though its roots are believed to have been present way before then. When the Uganda Railway was completed in 1902 at Port Florence (which is now Kisumu, Kenya), Makindu played a prominent role as a service point on the railway's advance from Mombasa. Dozens of artisans and train drivers were Sikhs and the station at Makindu became a place of religious fervour. Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims would gather together in the evenings and sing the praises of God. They did so under a tree, the spot where the current Gurudwara now stands. It is also believed that the Gurudwara was funded by non-Sikhs along with Sikhs.
In the years before 1926, the Gurudwara was a tin-roof little hut where the Sikhs used to pray everyday, and the Guru Guru Granth Sahib was housed there. But when the Railway moved on from Makindu, the service point went into disuse and became unimportant. The Sikhs naturally moved along too, leaving the tiny Gurudwara behind, under the watchful eye of an African servant who would clean the Gurudwara. Sikh devotees who passed along the Gurudwara would leave offerings of money by dropping it through the locked Gurudwara's window.
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Click on the photo to see them enlarged
As the years rolled on and the Railway was complete, many of the Sikhs who had came to Africa to work on it settled in Kenya. Slowly, they began to contemplate the idea of reviving the small Gurudwara in Makindu. Akhand Paaths began to be organised on regular weekends, with families travelling 200 miles or so, in rough murram red-soil earth. There, they would gather and pray, prepare langar and socialise. Over the years, the Gurudwara began to be developed. It was in 1926 that a solid foundation was laid. The Gurudwara then became a fully-functional one - with a langar hall, prayer hall and tiny rooms of accommodation for the gyanis and sevadaars of the Gurudwara. It also began to provide free food and rest for weary travellers who would stop by at the Gurudwara for a night or two on their journeys to and from Nairobi and Mombasa.
Legend have been connected to this magnificent Gurudwara. It has truly been referred to as the 'Harmandir Sahib' of Africa. It is so amazing that even now, as i pen these lines, an electric current runs through me, just thinking about the power of that Gurudwara.
A copy of the Guru Granth Sahib that survived a mysterious fire which burnt down the whole Gurudwara (probably before 1926) is still there today. I was fortunate to obtain the darshan of the Guru Granth Sahib at a Sikh's residence in Mombasa. On it's first page, the then - Granthi of the Gurudwara recorded, in his own handwriting, exactly what had happened that day, and how miraculously, the Guru Granth Sahib was untouched by the tragedy to the Gurudwara.
An African sevadar of the Gurudwara once claimed that he saw, in the night awoken from his sleep, a figure on a white horse. The horseman approached him and spoke to him, telling him not to speak to anyone about the incident of his visit. The startled and shaken man could not believe his eyes and was so scared that he he told the first person he saw the following morning. Asked who the man on the horse was, the African man pointed to a painting of Guru Gobind Singh which was displayed in the Gurudwara and said, 'That was him! He was exactly like the man is there and so was his white horse!'
The news of the man's vision spread through the Sikh community like wild fire and soon people began to come more often to the Gurudwara, regardless of the miles that separated them from it. The incident also prompted the Sant Baba Puran Singh Kerichowale (founder, Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha) to lead Gursikhs to gather at the Gurudwara regularly, and serve it by prayer, langar and cleaning. The Gurudwara had been almost forgotten and neglected when Guru Gobind Singh's incident occurred.
That was not the only incident of the darshan of Guru Gobind Singh at Makindu Sahib. People claim to have have heard, in the silent of night, to have heard the approach of horses, just outside the Gurudwara. The sounds were akin to an army, stopping for the night. They claimed that they heard sounds of a kitchen being put in place, like langar was being prepared. Evidently, the incident was believed to be another darshan of the Guru, stopping by the shrine.
In yet another event, an amazing first-time encounter happened with a member of the Istri Sabha during the early years of the Gurudwara. A lady who was reading the Guru Granth Sahib in the night, by the light of a kerosene lamp (there was no electricity there at the time), witnessed in the flickering light a moving shadow which fell across the pages of the Guru Granth Sahib. The figure, she recalled, was of someone doing the 'chaur' over the Sikh Scriptures. The figure was, by description, none other than Guru Gobind Singh.
Most Unique and beautiful
The Gurudwara today is among one of the most unique and beautiful ones outside India. Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike describe the same feeling when they step into the Gurudwara - that of peace. It is an indescribable peace and bliss. An aging European stranger i met at an art exhibition just the other day, began talking to me about the Gurudwara when she saw me wearing a branded jacket of the Gurudwara. 'Oh, I've been there,' she told me, 'a beautiful temple, i must say.' She explained how a decade ago, she had stopped there for the night on her journey from Mombasa back to Nairobi, and said she had never felt so peaceful in her life before. She even felt the presence of someone seated in the passenger seat as she prepared to drive on the following morning. 'I'm not sure who that was, but I am certain there was someone there,' she explained. 'I didn't get scared, though, I took it as a good omen, like someone was keeping a protective watch over me as i embarked on my journey.'
Like this lady, there are thousands of people who stop by the Gurudwara on their journeys along the busy Mombasa Highway. The Gurudwara attracts people of all races and colour - Hindus, Muslims and Christians. They all drive in like it was home. They always find a meal waiting for them and accommodation to take rest in. They feel no discrimination, or even the slightest hesitation that they are walking through a Sikh temple. It's a power there, I believe, that brings them here - a power that sees no differences. All feel the same bliss, as though they are visiting a Sikh Temple, but walking through God's very own garden.
A favoured shrine
As for the Sikhs, it is a favoured Gurudwara. Politics have not touched this Gurudwara. Here, even the Managing Committees have been known to be part of the sangat and sevadaars. Every weekend, there is someone or the other, making their journey to pay their homage to the Gurudwara, or simply to be at one with the Guru. Whole families travel there, unlike witnessed in Nairobi. Sikhs from not only all over Kenya, but from as far as Uganda and Tanzania who make regular trips to this beautiful Gurudwara, built on the common African soil.
It is to be believed by the individual, and there are plenty of testimonies, that whatever one asks for at this Gurudwara, it is granted. Wishes have come true, prayers have been answered, if you come with a clean heart, cloaked in humility. Akhand Paths are regularly done there, and requests come from as far away as Europe and Australia where ex-Kenya Sikhs are now settled, who yet remember the beloved Gurudwara they had to leave behind. Had it been in their power, they surely would have taken it with them!
The setting of this Gurudwara is indeed a wonder. It is set in the wilderness, deep in the wild. Settlement has only recently sprang up around the Gurudwara. It is about 200 kilometers from Nairobi and yet you will find Sikhs gathering at the Gurudwara almost every weekend. Here they spend the whole day, resting, praying and simply witnessing the still air in its extremely well-kept gardens. Right across the road is the new Sikh Hospital - Mata Veera Kaur Hospital - which is a community establishment, serving the locals who have no immediate professional health care for hundreds of miles around.
On my most recent visit there in 2001, I could see the Gurudwara through the thorn bushes at the Railway Station. The sight was one to behold. There, right before you was a white structure, in the midst of all the browns and greens of the wilderness, standing tall, yet humble. The Gurudwara stands like a lotus flower, unbelievably beauty that grows out of the mud of murky waters. The only way to describe the sight when I saw it was 'Bliss in the Bush'.
A note to make here is that there's not a single Sikh family resident in Makindu and yet the Gurudwara continues to flourish, through the goodwill of non-Sikhs, the devotion on it by Sikhs and the abundant blessings of the Guru, who ceaselessly watches over this shrine that was built on a foundation of sincere faith, love and dedication to the WORD of GOD. And yes, do visit this Gurudwara, no matter what part of the world you come from, and you will experience all that we have, and who knows, the Guru awaits you too!
Lakhvir Singh, NAIROBI, KENYA. Read the full article: www.sikhnet.com
.....Among the Gurdwaras in Kenya, the pièce de résistance is the one in Makindu, about two hours drive from Nairobi on the road to Mombasa. It deserves attention for many reasons. When the British colonized Kenya, the railroad was built by Indian workers, primarily Sikh. Makindu was halfway to Mombasa and became a center for railroad workers. A Gurdwara was built at the turn of the century, which later went into disuse and disrepair. In 1926 the site was rediscovered and a permanent place built. It is now more than a Gurdwara.
Set in the forest off the main road, the Makindu Gurdwara is the only rest stop for weary motorists on the road to Mombasa. So the Sikh community of Kenya did something special. They built a beautiful edifice and campus. Attached to it is a huge dining facility which provides free langar 24 hours a day. Rooms with beds - several with attached bathrooms - are available for tourists to stay for up to two nights. Everyone in Kenya seems to know of it and most tourists stop here, often going out of their way, just to soak in the fabled ambience of the site, take a few days rest and enjoy the Gurdwara's wholesome food. Most are non-Sikhs. There is no charge for this service, but people often donate. Apparently it is run by a consortium of the Nairobi Gurdwaras. How I wish the Gurdwaras in New York too could cooperate in a like manner for a common cause. Now the Sikhs at the Makindu Gurdwara are planning to build an adjoining hospital. The atmosperic aura of Makindu would calm the most tormented mind; one automatically drifts away from the mundane and towards the spiritual and peaceful.
At the Makindu Gurdwara another thought came to mind. No matter where you go in this world the Christian Gideon Society has placed a Bible in almost every hotel room room. The Makindu Gurdwara gives its visitors no information on the religion of those who provide this unique facility to rest and recuperate. I am sure visitors would appreciate a small booklet which could present:
- 1) a brief history of the Makindu Gurdwara
- 2) something on the Sikh presence in Africa and their contributions to Kenya
- 3) a brief account of the Sikh religion.
Such a booklet becoming available to all tourists who stop there would surely serve the Sikhs of Kenya.
And why not a similar Phamplet at all Gurdwaras?
While Sikhs might never feel comfortable with placing a free copy of the SGGS in the many thousands of rooms available to tourists and pilgrims around the world in Sikh Gurdwaras, why couldn't such a small phamplet be put together? Currently in many Gurdwaras the method of introducing non-Sikh visitors to the Gurdwaras and Sikh History are the paintings of historic events of Sikhi, in the same manner as was common in Europe in ancient Christian Cathedrals when the religion's followers were largely illiterate. (thoughts added by a sikhiwiki user)
Read the full article by I.J. Singh at: www.sikhreview.org
- Makindu Sikh Temple, P. O. Box 43, Makindu. Phone: 11
Kenya’s Makindu Gurdwara: A Traveller’s Paradise Rupinder Singh (Canada)
The name Makindu is borrowed from the palms that grow along the crystal clear streams from the volcanic hills of the nearby Chyulu’s and Kilimanjaro. But the fame of this tiny roadside town, on the Nairobi - Mombasa Highway, has spread amongst the Sikhs worldwide - and yet its story started so simply in the 1920s.
By the early 1900s, the Uganda Railway was complete and railway stations built along the line. The train running out of Mombasa had its first major stop at Voi, and then Makindu. Those were the days of the steam engines chugging along slowly across the nyika where the lions still reigned supreme just as the famous red elephants of Tsavo. “The steam engines required water and timber as firewood to fuel the engine,” narrates Tejpal Singh, the white turbaned chairman of the Gurdwara committee, which has the task of maintaining the smooth operations of the Gurdwara.
In the event, “there was a railway engineering workshop at Makindu, and many Sikhs worked there,” continues Tejpal Singh. By 1926, the Sikhs living in the ‘landhies’ (housing estates for the railway workers) built a simple structure, a prayer hall which housed the Guru Granth Sahib. The Guru Granth Sahib is the eternal Guru for the Sikhs - it contains the sacred teachings of not only the Gurus but also Muslim and Hindu sages of the time. Just before he died, the Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, instructed the Sikhs to revere the Granth as their Guru, which Sikhs do to this day.
Going back through the records of Gurdwaras of East Africa, the opening ceremony is described, “The opening ceremony of the Gurdwara Makindu took place on Sunday 27th April, 1930.” About 150 Sikhs and others traveled to Makindu from the far-flung towns of East Africa. “The Temple, where Sikh religious services are held is a magnificent stone building with fine arches at the front and back. A beautiful garden is also attached to the building. The building has cost the few promoters Sh15,000, for which splendid effort, the community is to be congratulated. Within a few minutes of the opening ceremony done by Teja Singh, Guard of the Kenya and Uganda Railways, donations from the audience amounted to Sh3,250. A free grant of land was made by the Railway Administration, for which the community is grateful.” The short article printed in 1963 to commemorate the opening ceremony of Siri Guru Singh Sabha, Nairobi, is complimented by a simple black and white photo of the Sikh congregation of Siri Guru Singh Sabha, Makindu.
The railway kept everyone busy - and since it was the major means of affordable fast transport in modern times, Makindu became a popular stopover for travellers to and from the coast. One of the fundamental principles of Sikhism is the free ‘langar,’ or meal. The founder Guru of Sikhi is Guru Nanak Devji and Nine other Gurus followed. All of them were travellers, and there is an endearing story of Guru Nanak who, on one of his travels, preferred to share a meal in the abode of a poor man’s hut, instead of the mighty king’s lavish feast. The offended king ordered that the Guru be brought to his mansion by force. He then asked him why he chose the poor man, Lalo’s meal and not his sumptuous table. At that the Guru asked for sweets from the rich man’s kitchen. He then squeezed the sweets and the dry crust of bread from Lalo’s kitchen which he had brought along - he drew blood from the one, and from the other, drops of milk fell. The rich man’s meal was the sweat and blood of the poor people. Bhago, the rich man became contrite, promising to spend the rest of his days serving the poor.
In the passage of time, the significance of sharing a meal is a cornerstone of Sikh hospitality.
Back to Makindu: By the 1950’s things began to quieten down. The railway workshop was moved to Nairobi and gradually there was no Sikh community living in Makindu. The Gurdwara became quieter, with only a Kamba caretaker to maintain the little roadside facility.
But a few miracles happened around that time. One was that a fire gutted the structure and the only thing that was saved was the Granth Sahib. Then red ants attacked years later, nibbling their way through anything edible, except for the Granth Sahib. And then, finally, the simple caretaker saw a man in a “kilemba” appear in his dreams riding a horse - much like the last living Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji. With this there was renewed interest in the Gurdwara and, again, donations started to pour in and it expanded to its present state - a stark white structure on the red African soils of Tsavo.
In the morning, we climb the winding narrow staircase of the outer facade. In the pure freshness of the morning, the Chyulus and Kilimanjaro are a distant haze. The minarets of the facade are pure craftsmanship of fine filigree carved in stone and the ceiling, a tapestry of mirror work. Neglected over the years, it is being renovated, but the skill of the craftsman cannot be doubted. “Hari Singh was a true artist. You couldn’t tell him anything. He had worked on the mosques in Nairobi,” remembers Tejpal Singh. It took Hari Singh five years to build the facade during which time the eccentric man quit three times.”
The Gurdwara housed one of the original versions of the Granth Sahib, the only one in the country,” recalls Tejpal Singh. The older Granth Sahib had 2,800 pages whereas the modern printed edition has 1,430 pages.
Its early evening. It’s that ethereal sky - blue in the darkening sunset. I’m standing in the courtyard of the upper prayer hall. The full moon has risen from the eastern horizons just as the sun is setting. Except for the chant of the evening prayers, the night is quiet. In the light of the moon, the red soils of Tsavo, the giant baobab trees and the stark white washed temple with its magnificent minarets and the symbols of Sikhism tower into the sky full of stars.
In the parking lot, car loads of travellers are still streaming in. Because it’s too late to travel on, the travellers look for an abode. The kitchen is busy, the rooms are full. But the traveller will sleep even on the floor if the rooms are not available, for, in this holy place, one is humbled.