In Summary
  • The Sikhs of Kenya came to the country during the construction of the old Uganda Railway in the early 1900s.
  • The temple is part of the history of Sikhism in Kenya, as it was opened on the 494th anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak Dev Ji in November 1963.

Amid the hustle and bustle of Uyoma Street, commonly referred to by residents of Nairobi as Bus Station, a bright yellow wall with accents of blue tiles encases one of the most majestic Sikh temples in the city.

This gurdwara (temple), the Siri Guru Singh Sabha, is most notable for its 80-foot high concrete dome that stands out in aerial view images of Nairobi’s central business district skyline.

It is also a part of the history of Sikhism in Kenya, as it was opened on the 494th anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak Dev Ji in November 1963.

The Sikhs of Kenya came to the country during the construction of the old Uganda Railway in the early 1900s.

There were carpenters, blacksmiths and masons, who adapted quickly to the specialised requirements of their employment that called for them to become fitters, turners and boiler makers.

ARCHITECT'S CONFLICT

In need of a place of worship, the original gurdwara was built and completed in 1911.

There were about 100 Sikhs in Nairobi at the time, but together, they built a magnificent temple that served as a meeting point for Sikhs from towns such as Mombasa, Kisumu and Nakuru.

Today, this site is occupied by Khalsa Boys and Girls School, the first Asian school in Kenya.

In September 1956, a group of Sikhs approached the government for a grant of a piece of Crown Land on Byramjee Street, known today as Uyoma Street. The application was accepted and plans for the new gurdwara began.

The arduous task of designing this building was assigned to an architect named George Vamos, who, in an article he published in the Sikh Temple Supplement for the East African Standard on the day of its opening, said: “When an architect is face to face with the problem of designing a religious building in our times, a strong insurmountable conflict arises — that is the age-old controversy between traditional versus the modern ideas in architecture.”

SETBACKS

Mr Vamos also noted that when the first plans for the gurdwara were discussed, they had the famous Golden Temple in Amritsar in mind.

The temple, referred to as “the focal point of Sikh faith” in the supplement, is the most important pilgrimage site in Sikhism.

The foundation stone for the gurdwara in Nairobi was then laid on January 16, 1959.

It took five years to build, longer than the old temple, due to a series of setbacks during construction. These setbacks involved the approval of details such as the shape of the dome.

Due to the unusual shape of the Congregation Hall roof, as well as its large spans, a structural engineer was tasked with the calculation and design of the structure.

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