Wappingers Falls serves as an important spiritual center for many faith-based groups, including the ever-growing Sikh population. Now, the community can come together at a new gurdwara, a Sikh temple, just outside of the heart of town.
Open since November 16, the space caters to the large number of Sikh immigrants from India, Pakistan, and other countries in the Middle East who first arrived in the Hudson Valley in the 1960s to seek work with IBM. Hazara Rathore, one of the founders of the Mid-Hudson Sikh Cultural Society, the organization that oversees the new temple, came to Dutchess County in 1968. He worked at IBM for over 40 years.
“Now our members come from all different professions. More than 80 percent of the gas stations in Dutchess and Orange County are run by Sikh community members. My son is a doctor in Fishkill. Others work as dentists or run convenience stores,” Rathore says.
Rathore and fellow Sikhs first organized the Mid-Hudson Sikh Cultural Society in 1969. That same year, they planned a massive celebration for the 500th anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.
In 2019, 50 years later, they planned for the opening of a new gurdwara to coincide with the many gurpurab, a Sikh holiday to honor the anniversary of Guru’s birth, celebrations around the world. After purchasing 17 acres of land in 2013 at the intersection of Old Hopewell and All Angels Hill Roads as they outgrew the old space, they spent six years on development.
Although the original space, a brick-stone gurdwara on Ketchamtown Rd in Wappingers Falls, had been home for 30 years, the community has grown tremendously since the 80s. With members of the Sikh community arriving from as far as Washington D.C., the lack of sufficient space began to be a problem.
Left to right: Sikh Mayor Ravi Singh Bhalla of Hoboken, NJ, with a Christian priest, a Muslim priest, two Hindu priests, and two Sikh priests in the community
Over the course of the six years of development, donations kept the project moving. Now complete, the state-of-the-art facility accommodates the needs of nearly 300 Sikh families in the area, according to Graham West, communications director for the Sikh Coalition. Children can learn the history of their faith and practice their language in a schooling wing. All members have room to sit on the ground and pray as well.
“It continues to share the Sikh values of tolerance, mutual understanding, and goodwill towards all,” West notes.
Thanks to the large parking lot and longer halls at the new gurdwara, the entire community and a plethora of visitors are welcome to visit.
“Everybody is welcome to our temple, we believe everybody is the same. [At lunch] all can come and wait in the same line, and eat the same food,” Rathore explains.
The langar lunch, a free and vegetarian meal, takes place after the regular three-hour Sunday service. At the opening ceremony in November, more than 800 people arrived to dine side-by-side.
As for why the coalition chose to remain in Dutchess County, Rathore credits the tolerance felt in the Hudson Valley as the reason for community growth.
“We love this area. We never have any problems with our neighbors. We look different – we wear turbans, we don’t cut our hair. Dutchess County welcomed us,” he says.
Faith in Wappingers Falls
Sikhs are certainly not the only large religious community present in Wappingers Falls. Friars gather at Mount Alvernia Retreat Center, Buddhists worship at Kagyu Thubten Choling Monastery, and Hindus celebrate at the Hindu Samaj.
A gold and white shrine called a stupa juts out above the trees along the Hudson River to mark this Buddhist Monastery.
Green domes and marble trim adorn this mosque, which also houses the Al-Noor Islamic School and a community food pantry.
Adults and children alike can learn about Indian culture in an ornate Hindu house of worship.
This Franciscan friary offers spiritual services to persons of all faiths on a hilltop overlooking the Hudson Valley.