Information about this center is no longer updated. This data was last updated on 30 October 2015.Phone: 614-279-2700
History One of the original draws for this Sikh community in Columbus was the Ohio State University’s exchange program with Punjab Agricultural University, which began in the 1950s. Several dozen Punjabi students, many of them Sikhs, would switch places with their American counterparts for a summer. Some of them later returned with their families for further study or as professors and began to establish their presence in the Columbus area. For those who wished to worship together, they would gather in community members’ homes. As their numbers expanded, in the early 1980s they organized officially into the Guru Nanak Religious Society and began to rent space once a month at the recreation center in the Park of Roses, a large public rose garden on the north edge of the city. Because they were renting the center, each week they needed to set up and tear down anew everything they needed to create the worship space—from the carpets and sheets for sitting to the food and dishes for the langar meal—and could not store any of it on site. By the early 1990s, the Sikh community consisted of almost 50 families, and the rented center facilities were only big enough to hold them once a month. They moved once more to a renovated house out in Dublin, a suburb of Columbus, where many of the community members already resided. However, the community continued to expand, and after several years there the parking situation became so unbearable that some worshippers could not attend because there was simply no place to park. In December of 2010, the Guru Nanak Religious Society moved to their current location on the western side of Columbus. The increased capacity ushered in a membership boom that doubled the population within six months; at the last count, the Guru Nanak Religious Society consists of about 250 member families, or approximately 600 individuals. The Guru Nanak Religious Society has made strong effort to reach out to the Columbus population outside the gurdwara, and since the tragic shooting at the Oak Creek, Wisconsin temple in August 2012, that dialogue has intensified. In late June 2013, the trustees welcomed a tour led by a group of Dominican sisters with the local Martin de Porres Center. In August 2013, the de Porres Center’s “Columbus Faith Coalition Against Violence” held their monthly interfaith prayer service at the gurdwara as a memorial to the victims of the Oak Creek shooting. Description The Gurdwara Sahib of the Guru Nanak Religious Society in Columbus, Ohio is a spacious building—an old warehouse purchased from General Electric, in fact—whose smooth rectangular planes and tan-gray exterior colors do not draw much attention from casual passersby. The interior, too, is equally simple: an exposed ceiling; Tyvek-covered walls; an interior once organized into cubicles, opened up now to become the worship space; benches and shoe racks at the entrance opening directly out to cement floors covered with strips of carpet for sitting and sharing the langar meal. Yet the space feels warm and welcoming because of the people who call this gurdwara their spiritual home. Nestled into the building within its partitions, the worship area retains a cozier version of the building’s spaciousness. Light and airy, with plenty of natural light from the windows along the far side, the cream-colored walls and clean white sheets stretched along the floor contrast crisply with the vibrantly decorated altar honoring the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh scripture, and with the colorful scarves and turbans (dastaars) wore by congregants. Several short-term goals for the gurdwara include paneling the interior walls and creating a gallery of images of the ten gurus and other holy figures. Many beautifully framed pictures are crowded neatly into the main office space, waiting to be displayed. The gurdwara’s on-site kitchens were built and approved a little over a year after the community began occupying the space. Mrs. Amarjit Purewal, the Society’s president, notes that is crucial for every aspect of food preparation to be in line with health codes and regulations. This was a challenge in many of the community’s previous worship centers because of limited or temporary dining space and cooking facilities. For her, the gurdwara’s new kitchens provide not only a meal for the entire community but also security and peace of mind. Leadership The Guru Nanak Religious Society’s current president is Mrs. Amarjit Purewal. A native of Kenya who remembers growing up under the British Empire and a frequent traveler, she moved to Marion, Ohio, with her family in 1973. She was president at the Society’s founding and during its first remodeling project in 1982. She returned to the post to lead the community’s acquisition of their current worship space in 2010. She is a dynamic figure, always on the move, whether to greet a new arrival, share a laugh, or confer with the other trustees. The governing board of trustees consists of the president, secretary, treasurer, assistant treasurer, and a member-at-large (who frequently oversees the kitchens). Additionally, three members are appointed to a nominating committee, called to action if there arises a sudden need to appoint a new trustee. When the congregation moved to their current location, it was decided that two trustees would step down every year and elections would be held in April, the time of year that the international Sikh community celebrates their faith’s formation. Activities and Schedule The gurdwara is open daily from 5:00am to 9:00pm. In addition to regular Sunday and weekday prayer services, there are frequent talks and programs by visiting speakers, such as a weeklong visit from religious musician Gyani Amrik Singh in July 2013. The former warehouse’s wide-open floors offer plenty of opportunities for children to run around or play volleyball. There are courts marked out for the young men’s evening badminton club. A girls’ competitive dance team also gathers in the space to learn and practice traditional Punjabi dance. Sunday afternoons following the service, students gather in the library for Punjabi language classes. As of 2013, there are three classes with a combined total of 62 students, and 12 teachers. Demographics The increase in numbers has not only led to space changes, but also to a different sense of relationships within the congregation. One member who first moved to Columbus in the late 1980s described this as an “old guard” and the “new guard”: the “old guard” being more homogeneous—primarily doctors, engineers, and other academics drawn by the university—while the “new kids on the block” are those who came after the late 1990s and who represent a range of professions, including information technology specialists and restaurant workers. While diversity exists within the Sikh community, a shared culture that is largely South Asian is shared. At the same time, with growing numbers and increasing diversity in lifestyle, some feel a sense of loss of the community’s original intimacy that developed from meeting in members’ homes and having smaller number. The member who spoke of the “old guard” recalls a time when he knew everyone’s name and the names of their children, but now he knows perhaps one in ten people at the gurdwara. Although he is glad to have the numbers, he believes a tight-knit community is crucial to living a life of faith.