The Sikhs may be the single most misunderstood religious sect in metro Detroit, and Chain Sandhu, owner of the successful automotive supplier NYX Inc. and a prominent member of the local Sikh community wants to see that change.

Because of the omnipresent head covering among Sikh men, the mandatory Dastar, they are often confused with fundamentalist Muslims. That’s the first and easiest misconception to dispel.  Sikhism, the fifth-largest organized religion in the world, is also among its youngest.   Founded on the teachings of Nanak and nine successive gurus in fifteenth century Northern India, the faith is unrelated to Islam, and despite its Indian origins, has little in common with Hinduism.  Sikhism advocates the pursuit of salvation through disciplined, personal meditation on the name and message of God. The followers of Sikhism are ordained to follow the teachings of the ten Sikh gurus, or enlightened leaders, as well as the holy scripture entitled the Gur? Granth S?hib, which includes selected works of many devotees from diverse socio-economic and religious backgrounds. The text was decreed by Gobind Singh, the tenth guru, as the final guru of the Khalsa Panth.

Chain Sandhu urged the crew of Visionalist to attend a Sikh ceremony in order to get a better grasp of the religious traditions of this fascinating group.  Gurdwara Sahib-Hidden Falls temple, a former spa in Plymouth, proved an ideal location for us—and anyone interested in witnessing the straightforward but mystical rituals of the Sikh community—to gain some first-hand insight into Sandhu’s closely held faith.  The cornerstone of the Sikh philosophy is a rejection of the traditional caste system of India, and as a result, Gurdwara ceremonies are open to all, regardless of religion, background, caste or race.  Having filmed at virtually all the Hindu temples throughout the area, we were struck immediately by the number of apparent non-Indians in attendance, and indeed, interviewing folks afterward, we encountered men, women and children from all ethnic backgrounds who have been drawn to Sikhism for its tolerant overview.  Ironically, the term ‘catholic’, which means ‘universal in extent’ may be more easily applied to Sikhism than Christianity.

During the course of the Hidden Falls ceremony, we noted many customs which are performed at Gurdwaras all over the world.  When entering the temple, for example, Sikhs will touch the ground before the holy scripture with their foreheads, then make an offering.  This was followed by the recitation of the eighteenth century ard?s is also customary for attending Sikhs. The ard?s recalls past sufferings and glories of the community, invoking divine grace for all humanity.

Very much a ‘practice what you preach’ religion, Sikhs are active in community outreach programs, and providing for the less fortunate is a requisite part of the display of faith.  Feeding the homeless of Detroit has been an ongoing Sikh effort, proving beyond a doubt the universal compassion of its devotees.  Thanks to the efforts of Hidden Falls and the Sikhcess group, the third annual campaign to help the Detroit’s homeless will take place on September 26th at the Plymouth Gurdwara. 

Sandhu also explained a unique Sikh tradition regarding names.  Upon a child's birth, the Guru Granth S?hib is opened at a random point and the child is named using the first letter on the top left-hand corner of the left page. All boys are given the middle name or surname Singh, and all girls are given the middle name or surname Kaur.

Sandhu himself is a classic example of a self-made entrepreneur, though his personal journey is anything but typical.  Born in a small village in what is now known as the Punjab province of Pakistan—the area most closely associated with Sikhism—Sandhu attended Guru Nanak Engineering College, and after obtaining his masters degree in engineering, worked as an Assistant Professor at Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh.  In 1969, he came to the United States, and after a successful career at General Motors, bought a failing company which became NYX.  With nearly a quarter billion dollars in revenue in 2007, NYX is today a leader among automotive suppliers, with GM, Ford, Chrysler and Honda among its prominent customers.

However successful he’s been as an entrepreneur, (he was Ernst & Young’s ‘Entrepreneur of the Year in 2000), Sandhu counts among his most important life’s work his association with the Sikh community.  His legacy, however impressive in the business world, will be ultimately outshone by his success as a humanitarian.


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