Guardian Leader Pages Pg. 18

As they walked across the Dhaka university campus at Ramna, Mr Khalsa stumbled upon a Gurudwara, or Sikh temple.

'I'm simply overwhelmed. I feel very happy that there's a Gurudwara in a predominantly Muslim country like Bangladesh", Mr Khalsa said with a mixture of surprise and joy .

Indeed t people, particularly visitors, express surprise, if not always tinged with joy, when they see the 500-year-old Gurudwara sitting quietly in the university. More so because there is not a single Sikh, not to mention a Sikh community, based permanently in Bangladesh.

Questions are often raised as to why is it here. At the same time there are apprehensions and, in some cases, suspicions about what goes on inside the temple.

Some contend that it is a cover for the Indian intelligence, although there has never been any hard evidence to support the idea.

Still, the authorities take no chances. A plain-clothes man, who refused to give his name, followed me into the compound the other day. Finally accepting my identity he admitted, somewhat sheepishly, that his job was to 'keep an eye" on the visitors.{pagebreak}

To a great extent, the hush-hush atphere surrounding the temple only fuels suspicions. The white building, surrounded by high walls and topped with a dome, looks like a fortress. Its main iron gate stays locked all the time. Visitors are allowed in through a side entrance. There is simply no way of knowing its purpose from outside.

Although there are no restrictions on entry, hardly anybody ventures inside. Thousands of passers-by – tly students and teachers – walk past the Gurudwara everyday, but nobody seems eager to find out what really goes on.

Professor Serajul Islam Chowdhury has been teaching English literature at the university for 30 years. 'I go past the Gurudwara every day", he said, 'but frankly speaking I've never been inside".

There is not much to see. Gurdip Singh, 63, and Piara Singh, 38, are the only occupants, albeit temporary, of the complex which received a major face-lift in 1990. Sent here as priests about two years ago from India they are waiting for the arrival of their successors.

Since the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 the temple has been run by the Calcutta-based Bangladesh Gurudwara Management Board, which appoints the priests, usually for a two-year term. Before that it used to be looked after by the Shiromoni Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee in Amritsar, India – the birthplace of Guru Nanak who founded the Sikh religion.

'There's not much to do here", acknowledged Gurdip Singh. Except for performing daily rituals like reciting from the Guru Granth Saheb, the holy book, and leading the langar, or Friday congregation, the two priests find it hard to spend their time in a worthwhile way.{pagebreak}

So why is the Gurudwara here' The question provokes a mild rebuke from Bhai Piara Singh.

'This was founded by Guru Nanak, our founder, and it's our sacred duty to maintain the temple no matter whether anybody comes here or not."

The real devotees are few and far between – usually temporary residents or visitors like Mr Khalsa.

Rabindar Singh Bawa, a senior executive with the American oil company Occidental, has been coming to the langar for two years.

'I find it immensely soothing when I attend the langar", he said smiling.

But t of those who come every week – there are between 150 and 400 of them – are Muslims.

Local people say that the Muslims are mainly from poor families. They attend the langar primarily for the free food that is offered after the weekly prayer.

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