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A monotheistic faith preaching the principles of equality and service to others, Sikhism is fairly young. But in today’s tumultuous times of human conflict and warfare, the philosophies of universalism, public service and the ideology of one god—which are central to this religion—seem a little too relevant. As per the Sikh faith, prayers can be offered anywhere, but gurudwaras were particularly built for congregational worship.
Gurdwaras of Africa, BPS Walia’s maiden attempt at writing, takes the readers on a journey across the African continent through the lens of various gurudwaras, which the followers of the religion believe is the ‘portal to the guru’. An industrial photographer by profession, Walia has spent a considerable amount of time documenting subjects related to Sikhism, travel, wildlife, heritage and culture. Bringing his love for the faith and travel together, his labour of love makes for quite an insightful read.
Though self-published in 2019, the seeds for this 187-page hardbound book were sown back in 2009. Having spent nearly a decade travelling all across Africa, a quick chat with Walia revealed that the book was a product of a chance encounter with some like-minded fellow Sikhs who introduced him to the vast Sikh diaspora in the continent. He begins chronicling his journey from Kenya, where he had gone to photograph an industrial set-up. Starting with Eldoret in Kenya, he goes all the way to Zambia, and pens down a detailed and visually striking account of the gurudwaras that he stumbles upon. Along the way he visits countries like Sierra Leone, Botswana and Mauritius.
He elaborates on the history of Sikhs in Africa, reflecting on how they first came to the shores in the early 1900s with British colonisers. Over the past century, the community has spread all across, setting up 57 gurudwaras in 12 countries, with many more to come. The pictures inside offer detailed support, showcasing portraits, ornate interiors and exteriors, and everyday proceedings with elan. Crisply designed, the book also mentions inspirational verses by Sikh gurus throughout. There are instances of recent developments too, like the celebration of the 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh in Nairobi.
The sections ‘Enlightened Eleven’ and ‘Figures from History’ serve as a guide to Sikhism, giving an insight into the fundamental teachings of the religion. Walia ends the book on a personal note, recounting what went on behind the scenes, the highs and lows of his decade-long journey, and the most cherished memories from the trip.
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