Faith accompli

Ramesh and Asha Seth visit the magnificent El Sobrante gurdwara in California

One is unlikely to miss the beautiful El Sobrante gurdwara perched half way up a hill.
One is unlikely to miss the beautiful El Sobrante gurdwara perched half way up a hill. Photo by the writers

Out of more than 130 gurdwaras that we visited in America and Canada, the most beautiful location was that of the El Sobrante gurdwara. Standing on its verandah, one can see the main street below, snaking its way through the town, and the valley beyond the street. Further, you see the open sea, with all the sea-going traffic. When the clouds come rolling over the valley and the low hills beyond, it is difficult to recall a more beautiful sight. It is difficult to tear oneself away from such a heavenly view.

It is a pity that El Sobrante is not on the itinerary of the Indian tourists. Everyone had waxed eloquent about the beauty of El Sobrante. The first sight of the gurdwara from the main street, and of the fluttering saffron flag on the Nishan Sahib, appeared to bear that out.

El Sobrante is a small dormitory town, tucked in the low hills that abound in the North Californian seacoast. It is near San Francisco on the one side and San Jose on the other. People live here but work in other places in the entire Silicon Valley. It is a one-street town. The main road runs through the length of the town, with hills on one side and the valley on the other.

Perched half way up the hill, in the very centre of the town, is the El Sobrante gurdwara. The prominent gurdwara building and the tall Nishan Sahib with a fluttering saffron flag with the sign of the Khanda on it makes an emphatic statement of the Sikh presence in this small town. Unlike in most other towns where the gurdwaras can be missed, in El Sobrante no one can miss it. This house of Nanak can be seen from everywhere.

From the main road a small motor road rises very steeply up the hill to reach the gurdwara. As we subsequently experienced, one round trip on foot from gurdwara to the main-street and back gave a person enough exercise for the day. The very steep walk, uphill to the gurdwara, leads to panting and gasping for the breath. Since the weather was balmy, walking was a pleasurable pastime. Therefore, we religiously did that round trip once a day. Some days we did two round trips as well. It was a big fun, despite the exercise involved.

The El Sobrante gurdwara has expanded very fast. In the beginning, there was a small Diwan hall with a smaller langar hall by its side. Subsequently, a magnificent new structure was raised which housed the big, spacious Diwan hall with a number of rooms on the higher floor, opening to the gallery, which run around it. On another side there are quarters for the permanent staff. At the back, a large room is used as the sukhasan room for Maharaj ji. The old building has been converted totally into langar hall, kitchen and store. I was told that there was a proposal to build another building and add more rooms for guests. There is also a plan to add a bigger classroom for the children, to impart knowledge of Gurmukhi and religious matters. It is remarkable how most gurdwaras are on an expansion spree. All this shows that the sangat is expanding, becoming more prosperous and contributing generously towards the expansion.

On Sunday afternoon the Sangat was rather large, as there was the bhog of Akhand Paath. Mohan Singh, the sponsor, had almost a hundred guests. At his request, the documentary on Sri Harmandar Sahib was shown. After the bhog and the langar, the managing committee called us to the office to thank us for our efforts in bringing the documentary to show the sangat.