The city of San Jose, California has many hidden gems within the valley. Often overshadowed by it’s neighbor San Francisco, some of the great places can become ignored. What this really means though, is that you can have a more intimate experience where you won’t be beleaguered by tourists. We recently stumbled upon the Sikh Gurdwara Sahib Temple, and it is fantastic.
A Sikh Temple Overlooking the Silicon Valley
First and foremost, one should note that Gurdwara Sahib is an active Sikh temple. It was founded in 1985 by the then growing Sikh community. In 1995, leaders bought land outside of the city to begin construction of what would become the largest Gurdwara in North America at 90,000 sq ft.
Visiting Gurdwara Sahib
We really had no idea about the temple. Briana managed to stumble upon it as a picture on the internet, and instantly our thoughts were, “We have to go there.” With a little research, we soon knew what we needed to know.
The temple stands above the valley, about halfway up a mountain at 3636 Murillo Ave San Jose , CA 95148.
The drive is simple enough to make, and the temple is so prominent that you cannot miss it when you pass by.
There is plenty of parking, and unless you are visiting during a morning prayer, you should have no difficulty finding a spot.
Enter Gurdwara Sahib, a Place of Worship
At first, we weren’t really sure how to go about visiting. We enjoyed the front fountain and the views of Silicon Valley before us. This spot is a great selfie-spot, and attracts many people. Luckily, the friendliness of the families and worshippers quickly made us feel comfortable enough to proceed in.
The front building is where you should enter. In here you will find a place to store your shoes, divided into men’s and women’s areas. I wasn’t aware of this, and actually stored my shoes in the women’s section – luckily it didn’t seem to be a big deal.
Then, we took the fresh linens called rumaals provided to cover our hair. Both men and women are expected to cover their heads. Men wear a turban, while women wear it as a shawl. But as a visitor, the only important thing here, is to do your best and cover it. If you aren’t sure, there should be an attendant or someone who will help you.
As well, there is a poster on the walls that will instruct you on exactly what you need to know.
Be aware that you should dress conservatively here. Wearing pants, and covering up your shoulders and knees should be fine though. We saw a few people who were wearing shorts, but you should err on the side of respect.
Chants and Songs of Praise
We then proceeded through the back doors of the front building, leading to a covered walkway lined with flowers, that brought us to the main prayer hall. The prayer hall is huge. Upon opening the doors, you are greeted to the welcoming, yet completely foreign sound of Punjabi singing.
Sitting down, you find that the floor provides you with the softest carpet. It’s very easy to simply sit and listen here. On the wall opposite the entrance, there are large projection screens that show what is being sung with English translation. It is a nice touch that provides context to visitors such as us who have no clue to what is going on.
Who are Sikhs?
Sikhs are followers of the Sikh faith based on the teachings of Guru Nanak. The faith is a relatively recent religion that developed out of persecution in the Punjab region of what is today northwestern India and northeastern Pakistan around 1520 CE.
Sikhs believe in one God, who is omnipresent. They are very tolerant of other religions, with a basic belief that all religions are worshipping the same God, just through different interpretations. The important emphasis is to have a union with God, to provide service to the community, and to promote justice and equality.
Of course, this is only an incredibly brief summation.For the curious, check out a far more in depth explanation here. Or, ask a Sikh! San Jose is home to a very large Sikh population, many of whom will be glad to provide further insight.
- 5th largest religion in the world
- Sikhs have been in the United States for 100 years
- 99% of all people wearing turbans are Sikh
- 700K Sikhs live in the United States
- 25 million Sikhs practice world wide
Familial Hospitality and Delicious Food at the Langar Hall
Now I must admit, that a significant reason why I wanted to visit Gurdwara Sahib was the Langar Hall. What is the Langar Hall? It’s the food hall. Present at all Gurdwaras, Langar Halls provide food to anyone who visits, free of charge.
We exited the prayer room after listening for about twenty minutes. In the back right of the complex is another large room – the Langar Hall. You grab a metal tray, get in line, and get served absolutely delicious food.
As per the religion, the food is vegetarian. It is also traditionally Punjabi. For those unfamiliar with what that means, it’s simply Indian food that you are most likely familiar with – with the exception of chicken tikka, that is actually British. We were served a thali set of Aloo Matar, curried beans, roti, rice pudding, and a sour yogurt curry I can’t identify. It was incredibly delicious and filling.
Now, while the food is free – we suggest that you leave a donation in the donation box as we did. We feel that the Sikh community is very humble, and expected nothing of us, while offering us extraordinary hospitality – the least we could do was donate. Another option, is that you can volunteer to serve there as well.
We sat on carpets on the floor to eat. Ultimately, we were welcomed to the temple and we truly enjoyed the experience and the food. The food does change day to day, so we cannot tell you what you will get when you visit. Just be sure not to take more than you can eat.
We made our way out of the temple just as the sun was beginning to set. This was Briana’s primary desire for visiting. As we had seen before when we arrived, the fountain overlook provided for excellent views.
After the sun disappeared behind the Santa Cruz mountains, we made our way to the car and drove home. The Gurdwara Sahib temple is a wonderful place to visit in San Jose.