Gurdwara Sahib, one of the largest Sikh temples in Kenya, has defined and transformed the skyline of Kericho, a town in the South Rift known for its lush tea estates.
The 100-foot-high twin domes, numerous smaller ones and minarets that stick out as characteristic of the Sikh architecture are visible from most parts of the town, especially at night, when they are lit with a wide array of colourful bulbs.
Besides its architectural masterpiece, the structure has taken in its care the Kericho Wagon Works, started in 1925 as a pioneer engineering workshop by Saint Puran Singh Ji, fondly referred to as Babaji.
Babaji is the founder of international charity organisation Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, which promotes the spirit and practice of selfless service.
Kericho Wagon Works, on 631/171 Isaac Salat Road, previously called Garage Road, is gazetted as a place of spiritual significance.
On May 16, 1997, Kenya Gazette notice 26 declared Kericho Wagon Works “a national monument under the [auspices] of Antiquities and Monuments Act”, a befitting tribute to the legacy of a truly remarkable and unique personality: Babaji.
The temple has a rich spiritual, educational, social and cultural history alongside industrial development.
Its growth is intertwined with the development of Kericho, which can be traced to early 1920s.
“Like Jesus Christ, Babaji was a carpenter and it was through his exemplary life that he demonstrated how one could combine the practice of everyday household life with service to humanity at large,” said Mutinder Singh Jabbal, the secretary and trustee of Guru Nanak in Kenya.
He continued: “He was instrumental in the establishment of hospitals, schools, churches and the first Sikh Gurdwara in Kericho. He donated a beautiful ornamental garden with a fountain named Puran Singh Square. A road — Puran Singh Lane — was also named in his honour.”
In the early 20th century, it was the Sikh saint who provided spiritual healing for the soul and heart through his love, benevolence and prayers in the 47 years he lived in Kericho. Babaji was 84 when he died.
The workshop opened its doors as a modest enterprise that fabricated timber wagons to transport green tea leaves to factories for processing.
It grew by leaps and bounds to offer general repairs, transport and building and contracting, and thus helped a great deal in training locals and creating hundreds of jobs.
To promote Babaji’s vision, the Sikhs have established a vocational learning centre — Nishkam Saint Puran Singh Institute — for the benefit of the communities in and around Kericho County.
The facilities comprise a 500-seat amphitheatre, a 150-seat auditorium, 16 lecture/classrooms for business, accounting, media and ICT courses, workshops for carpentry, metalwork, building and construction, mechanical and electrical engineering, car maintenance, tailoring and housekeeping.
The college is a government-accredited examination centre.
This is reflected in the development that has encapsulated the conservation of heritage within traditional Sikh architecture.