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Sikhs' holiday bittersweet on Long Island

Guru Giani Paramjit Singh conducts a prayer session

Guru Giani Paramjit Singh conducts a prayer session at Gurudwara Sahib Sikh Forum in Glen Cove. (Oct. 23, 2011) Credit: Steven Sunshine

Sikhs on Long Island will Wednesday mark the Festival of Lights, one of their religion's biggest holidays and normally a joyous one.

But this year the celebration, officially known as Diwali, is tinged with sadness in the Sikh community because two of the three Sikh temples on Long Island -- in Plainview and Hicksville -- are shut as the result of building code violations.

"Unfortunately, that is a bummer," said T.J. Bindra, president of the Sikh Organization of New York and a member of the only Sikh temple open on the Island, the Gurdwara Sahib in Glen Cove.

Sikhs, Hindus and Jains celebrate Diwali and it is a major holiday in India. For Sikhs, it marks the release from prison of Guru Hargobind Singh -- one of 10 founding fathers of Sikhism -- and his freeing of 52 Hindu princes wrongly imprisoned by the emperor.

Each religion has different reasons for marking the holiday, though generally the faithful light lamps or electric bulbs to signify the victory of good over evil.

Bindra expects many of the Sikh faithful to attend services in Glen Cove Wednesday night, where hundreds will illuminate the temple with lights, pray and eat special sweets.

The temples in Plainview and Hicksville were shut by the Town of Oyster Bay in June, said town spokeswoman Phyllis Barry.

In Plainview, after the town received complaints from residents about noise during religious festivals and overcrowded on-street parking, inspectors responded and found other problems: outdoor plumbing and sinks, and a 6-foot fence with no permit, Barry said.

The temple also lacked a certificate of occupancy and an assembly license, she said.

Surinder Singh Chawla, chairman of the Guru Gobind Singh Sikh Center in Plainview, the oldest Sikh temple on Long Island, said he thought the temple's papers had been in order. He said the building was a house of worship for about 100 years -- it was a Presbyterian church before the Sikhs took it over in the late 1980s.

"We did not change the use of the place," he said. Still, temple members are working with town officials to try to resolve the problems. Meanwhile, the Sikhs are worshipping on Sunday afternoons at Temple Beth Elohim, a Reform Jewish synagogue in Old Bethpage that is lending them space.

After fire inspectors went to the Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar of Long Island in Hicksville, it was closed when town inspectors found a kitchen had been illegally installed in the basement and people were living there, Barry said. The temple had no certificate of occupancy and no building permit to make renovations, she said.

Leaders of the temple declined to comment. Barry said the issue is in court, and that temple organizers had submitted plans to resolve the problems.

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