Indiana Citizen: Kanwal Prakash Singh

Brie Stoltzfus

When the Super Bowl came to Indianapolis in 2012, Kanwal Prakash (KP) Singh was highlighted in the “XLVI Faces” video series as a Community Outreach Ambassador involved with welcoming visitors from all cultures to Indianapolis. In his characteristic way of delivering idea-packed sentences in a flowing cadence, he explained in the video: “Diversity in itself is only a very nice word; it is the tapestry of ideas, thoughts, cultures, talents. It represents energy, it represents investment, it represents new innovative ways of looking at things.” Having lived in Indianapolis since 1967, KP Singh has invested his own ideas, energy, and talents over almost fifty years. Over time, he has seen the city change and grow for the better: “There was a renaissance occurring in our city because we began to look at each citizen to ask ‘what do you bring to our city?’” 

KP emphasizes the “each” in “each citizen.” By tapping into the diversity of talent and experience of individual citizens, Indianapolis became a better place to live. In 1967, KP explained, Indiana residents had never seen a Sikh with a traditional turban and beard. When he arrived in Indianapolis after working for one year as an architect helping to develop downtown Detroit, just having graduated from the Master in City Planning program at University of Michigan, Indianapolis was struggling under the “No-Place” reputation. A turning point came with Mayor Lugar’s vision of progress to build more opportunities for more kinds of people: “The message went out over the wind current to say, ‘We are in business; come and see us; come and help us build. Bring your dreams and add your dreams to the dreams of those who are already here. Collectively we can build a city that we are very proud of.”

Slowly but surely, people of various faiths and communities found a place in Indianapolis, and KP acted as foremost an ambassador and welcomed newcomers as an immigrant who had pioneered living in Indianapolis. He has been intensely involved with international organizations, including the International Center of Indianapolis, (Founding Member, President ’74-75), Multi Ethnic Indiana, Sikh Council on Religion and Education, Race & Cultural Relations Leadership Network (2002-2012), Sikh Satsang of Indianapolis, Center for Interfaith Cooperation, and Asian-American Alliance, a founding member of the Indiana Community of Indianapolis. KP was a founding member of the Sikh Satsang of Indianapolis (first Sikh congregation) and helped to start a number of local establish the current Sikh temple on Acton Road. He told me, “A city, like a person, is work in progress.” Part of that progress is “making a place at the table for all types of people to learn about differences and to educate themselves about each other.” In tandem with a deep interest in the diversity of the City is KP’s passion for historic preservation and cultural heritage.

KP’s life experiences formed the man he is today. As a young child, KP, with his family, fled from ethnic cleansing during the Partition of India in 1947, forcibly having to leave his home in an area of India that is now Pakistan.  He calls his time in Indianapolis a “rebirth.” As someone from a country with an ancient heritage and civilization, KP brings a respect for the architecture of Indiana as well as the world. “I see all great architectural landmarks and major heritage sites as our collective heritage, a cherished treasure that introduces us to the history and spirit of our civilization,” he said in a 2007 interview. KP’s artwork – detailed ink drawings of local, national, and international landmarks – invites one to “slow down, take a deep breath, walk with me, and enjoy–you will be happy and surprised at the details of buildings you thought you knew well.”
 
These historic buildings are spiritual places, where the souls of many people have lived, worshipped, and memorialized others. By calling attention to the details and meaning in the facades or interiors of these spaces, KP calls those who live amongst these historic buildings to appreciate and respect their heritage. His art is a form of documentation, education, and inspiration. “A piece of statuary is like a jewel on a ring, like a beautiful diamond on a necklace,” he told me, underlining the interest and value we should be placing in what he sees to be sacred spaces. His most popular work, “Cathedrals of Spirit,” juxtaposes various places of worship from around the world: the Dome of the Rock, the Hindu Temple at Tiruchirappalli, India, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Sikh Golden Temple of Amritsar, India, a Jain Temple in Ahmadabad, India, a Buddhist temple in Bangkok, Thailand, and Indianapolis’ Christ Church Cathedral.
 
This interfaith message is a key part of his Sikh faith, which originated in 1469 in India. The foundational tenet of the Sikh faith is that humans are all children of one God, that each person is fashioned in God’s image and possesses the same divine light. “Who, then, is not worthy? Who is more special than another?” KP asked me. The sanctity of all human life and the importance of sharing one’s own wealth and blessings with others are important to the Sikh faith. The Sikhs supported women’s rights and rejected the caste system from the beginning, a progressive approach unique to its 15th century context. Sikhs, meaning “students or learners” in Punjabi, are lifetime-long learners and practice selfless service to various community needs, which explains KP’s artistry, love for history, commitment to welcoming diversity in the Midwest, and lifelong service to Indiana. It is no surprise that KP is a two-time receiver recipient of the Sagamore of the Wabash Award.