When in Manila you can see Indian communities’ Sikh Gurudwara and Hindu Temple under a common roof ! They are a sight to cherish. Take a detour from Makati and go towards the Mahatma Gandhi Street in Paco.
Perhaps in other parts of the world this happens…but I have personally never encountered this kind of physical proximity between the temples of India’s mainstream religion ‘Hinduism’ and its minority (2%) religion ‘Sikhism‘. One upholds a polytheist philosophy and reveres ancient scriptures, practices idol-worship. The other which is a comparatively new religion has a monotheist view of the Universe in which idol worship has no place and rituals are very few.
When I stepped into the modest two story building of this two-in-one temple complex … I was ready but not ready for what I saw.
What I saw was delightful:
- Bollywood’s latest movie posters, Indian curry Home Delivery pamphlets, who is getting born, marrying and dying Notices on the ground floor hallway that leads to the sanctum upstairs.
- Filipinas selling fresh Indian grocery right outside the temple: Coriander (Wansoi), Sarson-da-saag(mustard leaves), even Methi(fenugreek leaves).
- Samosa (an all-time favorite Indian savory snack) and Ladoos (luscious,syrupy,sweet balls in orange color) displayed in the nearby shops.
- If you climb the stairs to reach the first floor (sanctum santorum), you will be greeted by the holy cow (mother) standing at the doorway of the Gurudwara/temple hall: wearing a red and gold scarf around her neck!
Of course she is a statue, a figurine: but the likeness to a real cow and its presence on the first floor can really take one by surprise. Aha! I said to myself. This is the Pinoy touch to Indian piety.
In the Philippines, wherever you go, you’ll find life-like clay-art and statues: from all the important cross-roads to highway restaurants and provincial house-verandahs. Filipinos are more into idols than the devoutest Hindu in India. Pigeons pecking imaginary grain, bronzed bodies of fishermen heaving with their catch in the afternoon sun, Bonafacio urging the masses and pointing with his cane in the direction they should take… you cannot miss this public art wheninmanila!
I wondered…why it felt so good and right (after the initial ‘culture shock’)… to see the Sikhs’ holy book ‘Guru Granth Sahib‘ enshrined side by side with the Hindu dieties statues– the divine couple Radha and Krishna. I am not an authority in these matters at all. I will leave the purists to explain the logic and sociology of this rare space-sharing in a foreign country.
In the capital of India, New Delhi you can come across a mandir and a gurudwara not very far from each other, but they never share the same roof. In Bangalore, the cosmopolitan IT capital of India, again you can see a hindu temple in the heart of a neighborhood, and a Mosque at the corner of the main road, facing the direction of Kaaba. People of different religions pray to the God they have signed up with, then depart without as much as a glance towards the ‘neighbor’ Gods.
Like a famous author from the occident said: “You keep your religion, I mine. That is best. Nothing embraces the whole of India, nothing, nothing and that was Akbar’s mistake.”
When in Manila, it can change you if you are even a bit like me – not very religious — and understand spirituality a little better than religion. So this Mandir-Gurudwara combo will whip your curiosity and put a smile on your face….after that forty minute drive from Makati.
I sometimes think of inviting EM Forster for tea in Manila and ask him if he would change his statement: ‘East is east, and the west is west. And the twain shall never meet.’ I want to ask him if he never felt that it is only within our homelands’ neighborhoods that people feel the need to chose their godly clubs….that once you are thrown outside on rough seas and alien islands…you are plain happy to see a human face and doggy paws.
The Philippines too has its own set of communities: Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and (RH-bill pros and antis) and my perspective is a limited perspective…like all perspectives. But being a student photographer/observer; I would any day buy a good telephoto lens that gives me access to an undistorted expansive landscape than invest in a Wide angle lens that makes closer objects appear larger than the ones at the rear . Life in Manila (for an expat) is just that broad view, if only we will step our of our individual salons and walk into frames of reference that have multiple focal points instead of one.
Community Free Kitchen is aregular feature here and many students come to enjoy the food served on floor mats.
Marriages, births, deaths, astrology, Vastu consultations and ceremonies are undertaken by the priests from both Sikh and Hindu communities.
Musical rendition of devotional literature comprises the bulk of activities here.
Most importantly… its a peaceful retreat where one surrenders and enjoys a moment of being in the present, offering prayers with a bowed head for a while.
The temples also support many local charities as was seen during the troubled times of Typhoon Ondoy.
Hindu Temple, 1426 Mahatma Gandhi st., Paco, Manila, phone 521 8103.
Do take a dekho wheninmanila.