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President of Lodi’s Sikh temple came to U.S. to better himself

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Posted: Wednesday, December 21, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 7:52 am, Wed Dec 21, 2011.

Ajitpal Kahlon was a professional basketball player for his local police department for five years in his native India when he joined his aunt and mother in the Lodi area in 1985.

Kahlon, 52, said he came to America with hopes for a better life. His aunt had already moved to Woodbridge, and then his mother moved to Bouldin Island in the Delta. He lived on Bouldin Island for a few months before moving to Lodi.

“You work hard here, and you can go to the top,” Kahlon said. “India is a very good country, too.”

Kahlon became a truck driver in the Lodi area beginning in December 1985 and now owns a Subway sandwich shop on Stockton’s Benjamin Holt Drive.

He’s also president of the Deshmesh Darbar, Lodi’s Sikh temple at Armstrong Road and West Lane. Kahlon will complete his two-year term as president in May.

The Sikh temple is run by 21 trustees who organize programs, raise money for a second expansion of the temple, organize social and athletic activities, and get ready to feed the 400 to 500 people who worship each Sunday.

Members of the temple alternate cooking duties each week as those attending services are fed to a large, homemade meal next to the temple. The public is invited to attend services and eat the east Indian food on Sunday mornings.

Many of the feasts are prepared in what appears to be an industrial-sized kitchen behind the temple.

Until the current temple structure was completed in late 2007, services were held in a converted house closer to the West Lane side of the property. But they got some elbow room when an elaborate addition was constructed.

Sikhs are vegetarians, Kahlon said, and no alcohol or smoking are allowed on the temple grounds, though it is permitted by the faith outside the grounds. As Head Priest Gurcharan Singh puts it, alcohol and smoking at the temple are disrespectful to God and to the temple itself.

Sikhs also show respect to God by removing their shoes and wearing a turban or headgear upon entering the temple. The priest is required to wear one at all times, Kahlon said.

Just inside the temple’s entrance is an elaborate 10-foot-long replica of what is known as the Golden Temple, the Sikhs’ holiest structure, in Amritsar, India. The real temple is a giant complex of marble and glittering gold. The model in Lodi has a white marble plaza and is made of artificial gold that is lighted from the inside.

“The Golden Temple is God’s palace,” Singh said.

Sikhs respect other faiths and consider them equal in stature, Kahlon said.

“We teach all religions,” he said. “That’s what the holy book says.”

Many Sikhs have assimilated into American culture and have adopted American customs. For example, Kahlon observed Thanksgiving with a large family gathering at the home of his mother and one of his brothers on five and a half acres in Manteca.

They also celebrate Christmas and New Year’s. Kahlon says he enjoys exchanging Christmas gifts, attending Christmas parties, and Santa Claus.

And since Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, there will be a service at the temple that day, but it will be a little longer than the traditional Sunday service, Kahlon said.

Although Sikhs celebrate New Year’s, it’s done a little different than other American cultures. People will gather at the temple from about 7 p.m. on New Year’s Eve until about 1 a.m. They pray together at midnight, giving thanks for the past year and praying for good things in the coming year.

There are also several athletic events at the temple, and tournaments are often held with Sikh teams, mostly from Northern California, coming to participate. Basketball and volleyball are very popular. Kahlon, a strapping 6-foot, 6-inch man, plays a lot of volleyball these days.

Recently, the temple grounds were packed for a wrestling tournament where wrestlers, wearing shorts and no shirts, aggressively tried to pin their opponents on a hard dirt surface outdoors.

Future plans are to expand the temple to more than double its current size. That will happen whenever members of the temple can raise enough money. They finance their operations strictly through monetary donations by their members, Kahlon said. The Lodi temple has 26 undeveloped acres for expansion and parking.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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1 comment:

  • Kim Parigoris posted at 7:45 am on Wed, Dec 21, 2011.

    Kim Parigoris Posts: 469

    Very nice article- I think most Americans love sharing our country with people that appreciate it and respect it. It appears that the Sikhs have found a way to hang on to their traditions, while sharing in ours- a perfect match!

     

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