Up to 1,000 Sikhs and visitors, including San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore, celebrated the grand opening of Lodi's new Sikh temple with a procession on the grounds, a special service and free Indian food on Sunday.
The new temple was built primarily from donations collected from within the Sikh community, including the Punjabi Cultural Society, according to Amritha Dhatt, who grew up in Lodi and now lives in Hayward.
The Punjabi society has held a special Lohri Night celebration of dinner and dancing for the last two years at the Lodi Grape Festival grounds in Lodi, and this year in Stockton, to raise money for the new temple, Dhatt said.
Moore, a special guest of the Sikh community, said he had visited the old temple in Lodi before and wanted to be a part of Sunday's grand opening.
"I think it's a good thing," Moore said. "I'm trying to recruit deputy sheriffs and correctional officers into the department."
The sheriff's department currently has no employees who are Sikh, Moore said.
"I think it would be great if we had a few members of the Sikh community in the department," Moore said.
After a 48-hour reading of the Sikh holy book ended Sunday morning in the old, smaller temple, Sikhs paraded through the parking lot, carrying the holy book, known as Guru Granth Sahib, on a special "palki" with rose petals, consisting of a wooden gold dome. The palki carried the Sikh holy book to the new temple.
Meanwhile, hundreds of adults and children walked behind the palki into the temple.
"We're walking behind the holy book because the word of prayer comes first," Dhatt said.
Leading the parade were the orange-clad men, most of whom were priests from Lodi and other temples, Dhatt said. Six of them walked in a row, four of them carrying the orange Sikh banner. They were flanked by a man carrying a large American flag on one side, and another carrying a California state flag on the other.
"(That is) because we live in America," said Jora Singh Dharliwal, of San Jose, explaining why the Sikhs carried the American and California flags in addition to the orange Sikh banner. "We're peace-loving people."
The orange color, and Navy blue, represent Sikism, Dhatt said.
After the parade, the crowd assembled into the new temple, where special prayers were offered to bless the holy book, the new building and the ground on which it stands.
When visitors entered the new temple Sunday, they saw an elaborate, 10-foot-long model of the Golden Temple in Punjab, India.
The model has a white marble plaza and is made of artificial gold. It is also lit from the inside. The real temple is made of solid gold, Priest Harnam Singh said.
Throughout the day, Sikh members and restaurant employees prepared free food, including spicy garbanzo beans, deep-fried fritters, barbecued corn on the cob, sweet and sour sauce, a spicy mint sauce and deep-fried batter filled with honey.
The grand opening also featured vendors with photographs and paintings of gurus, including one with pictures of 10 gurus from 1469 to 1708, Indian CDs and DVDs, toys, shawls and other clothing. There was even a booth offering to take passport photographs for $4.95.
Priests: Harnam Singh (head priest), Dhram Singh, Ronak Singh and Satbal Singh
Source: Deshmesh Darbar Temple
Local Sikhs say they are always happy to clear up misconceptions Americans have about their faith. One such misconception, Dhatt said, is that their turbans and scarves are used to cover their hair, but Sikhs maintain it is a way to show respect for God.
Some people unfairly label them as terrorists and lump them together with Muslims, Dhatt said.
Dhatt, a sophomore at Tokay High School during the 2001 terrorist attacks, said she was alarmed when some students said, "We should bomb India, too."
To clarify another misconception, she said, Sikhs emphasize their belief in one god because some confuse them with Hindus and other faiths that believe in more than one god.
While Sikhs have their own spiritual beliefs, they respect the theology of other faiths, said Dhatt's brother, Jaskeerath "Jazz" Dhatt, of Lodi.
"We accept Christianity as an understanding of God, we accept Islam as an understanding of God, we accept Judaism as an understanding of God," Jazz Dhatt said.
The Sikhs welcome visitors, including those of other faiths, to attend services at the temple from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Sunday.