Five leaders from the Lodi Sikh Temple took turns reading all 1,430 pages of their holy book over a 48-hour period in honor of a 23-year-old Lodi man who was shot to death in March, and for the 32 people who were killed at Virginia Tech University on April 16.
On Friday morning, Sikh leaders, preparing for the opening of their new temple at the northeast corner of Armstrong Road and West Lane, began the two-day vigil in the small, older building the Sikhs call home until San Joaquin County officials conduct a final inspection of the new church building.
"We believe that when you pray for the dead ones, it helps peace of mind and is kind of a healing process for the families," said Inder Singh, a Lodi resident since 1980 who owns an auto repair business on Lodi's Eastside.
The two-day vigil began at 10 a.m. Friday and continued until mid-day on Sunday. Several youngsters wore white T-shirts with a photo of Ajmer Singh Hothi with the inscription, "In loving memory of 'Sabi,' Ajmer S. Hothi 12/9/83 ï¿½" 3/23/07."
Hothi, a Tokay High School graduate, was shot to death inside a semi-truck in the 1800 block of South Broadway Avenue in Stockton on March 27.
According to custom, each of the five leaders read the Sikh holy book, called "Guru Granth Sahib Ji," for two hours before someone else takes over the reading, said Avtar Singh of Stockton, the Lodi temple's secretary.
"We don't even stop (reading) even one second," Avtar Singh said.
Singh is a common name in the Sikh faith. Every Sikh male in their native India has Singh for a last name, and women are named Kaur, said temple Treasurer John Singh Takhar, a history teacher at Daniel Webster Middle School in Stockton.
Many Sikhs who have moved to the United States have adopted their family names to avoid confusion with Social Security and other legal documents, Takhar said. But many retain Singh as their middle name.
The new temple will serve Sikhs in Lodi and north Stockton who have been crowding into the historic Sikh temple in south Stockton. Takhar estimates that 300 to 500 people will attend services once the new building is open.
Many Sikhs, who compromise only two percent of India's population, have moved to San Joaquin County because they have a greater opportunity to make a good living, more freedom and a chance to buy land, Takhar and others said.
In India, if you are not rich, you remain stuck with low-paying jobs, Takhar said. Not so in the United States.
â€¢ They have 10 "gurus," or spiritual leaders, who were sent to earth by God. The 10th guru is Gobind Singh Ji, who has been identified as their God.
â€¢ If you live a godly life, you go to heaven when you die. If you do not perform good deeds, you will be reincarnated into another person or animal.
â€¢ Women are considered equal to men.
â€¢ They have priests, but the priests do not claim to have a monopoly on access to God.
Source: John Takhar, Indarjit Gill, sikhism.com.
"When we were in India, we were told the streets (in America) were lined with gold," Takhar said. "We found out it was true, but you have to work for it."
Sikhs pride themselves for being hard-working, tax-paying Americans who respect all religions.
"A reason a lot of people like Lodi is it's like a small village," Takhar said. "This is very similar to our home."
Sikhism was founded in the 15th century in the Punjab region of northern India. Early Sikh settlers came to the United States in the late 19th century.
A majority of the population in India is Hindu, along with a few Sikhs, Muslims and Christians, said Indarjit Gill, 80, former vice president for the Stockton Temple and former president of temples in the African nations of Tanzania and Kenya.