Here in Seminole County, you don’t have to go far to immerse yourself in a one-of-a-kind cultural experience. Get to know the local Sikh community, which welcomes all with open arms.
Here in Seminole County, you don’t have to go far to immerse yourself in a one-of-a-kind cultural experience. Just off of State Road 426 in Oviedo stands a magnificent Sikh (pronounced seek) temple and community center, which serves as the home of the Sikh Society of Central Florida. The temple, or gurdwara, is a place of worship and a learning center for the local Sikh community and is open every day to everyone.
“Everyone is welcome,” says longtime temple member CJ Sodhi. “Sikhism is about the well being of the world and everyone in it. We believe in one God, but it doesn’t matter where you come from or your background. We celebrate diversity.”
This beautiful gesture of openness and compassion is a pillar of the Sikh faith.
“Our faith runs along the same path as democracy,” says CJ. “We believe in freedom of religion and equality for all. We see all religions as good and strive to live a pure way of life with compassion, to have a good family life, and to serve as good samaritans.”
Now boasting more than 500 families, the Sikh Society emerged from the humblest of beginnings in 1984. With so few Sikhs in the area, families gathered for service in each other’s homes. Sadly, that year was a heart-wrenching one for the Sikh community when thousands of Sikhs in India were massacred during a series of anti-Sikh riots.
“We were very stressed about what was happening, so one day we held a meeting and decided it was time to start the Sikh Society of Central Florida,” recalls founding member Kamaljeet Singh Dogra.
The organization grew gradually, attracting members beyond Central Florida while building and relocating its headquarters twice to meet demand. Members are also proud to say that there is more expansion to come, including a new education center for Sikhs of all ages to learn about their faith and that of others.
Today, the Sikh Society’s impact can be seen and felt throughout the community as Sikhs engage in service and raise their voices in solidarity.
“We want to show that we are present, we are open, and we care,” says Paul Sodhi, whose father was a founding member of the society.
Paul and his family have been an integral part of the Sikh Society’s service efforts by offering food and water at local vigils after the Pulse nightclub shooting, assisting families in need after Hurricane Maria swept over Puerto Rico, and fundraising for Seminole County Public Schools, among other worthwhile initiatives.
“We also focus on hosting interfaith experiences to connect and share with those of other faith backgrounds,” Paul says. “It’s all about understanding. Let us help you understand what Sikhism is about, and let us understand your faith.”
One question about Sikhism is common: Why do Sikh men wear turbans and keep beards?
“In the late 1600s, during a special holiday in India, our last prophet gathered thousands of people and told them to wear turbans and keep a beard to distinguish us as Sikhs and remind us of our faith,” explains Paul’s teenage son, Rajpaul. “He wanted others to be able to identify a Sikh, a person you can always go to for help.”
Recently, thousands of people visited the Sikh temple in Oviedo from across Central Florida to celebrate Vaisakhi Gurpurab, a major religious holiday. Respectfully and conservatively dressed in colorful garb and headcovers, men, women, and children gathered in the worship hall for prayer and thanksgiving. As worshippers sang hymns and recited prayers, children put on performances and others bowed down in devotion and respect in front of a sacred structure containing the holy Sikh scripture. The celebration lasted for three days, with each service ending at the temple’s community kitchen where visitors were treated to a delicious vegetarian meal at no cost.
“The temple doors are always open,” says Paul. “We welcome you, so please come and visit anytime.”
To learn more, visit OrlandoGurdwara.com.
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