This last weekend I had the great pleasure of attending the Stockton (California) 17th annual Nagar Kirtan.
A Nagar Kirtan is a Sikh religious parade. The Guru Granth Sahib Ji, the holly book, is put on a float and paraded through the town of Stockton while prayers are recited. The Guru Grath Sahib Ji is treated with as much respect as a living Guru (prophet). The holy book is placed on a special alter covered in colorful cloth. Everyone in the presence of the book must cover their heads and take off their shoes. Even outside people had their heads covered in respect but kept their shoes on for safety. As the parade moved down the street, the roads were cleaned ahead in respect to the the holiness of the book.
It was an amazing afternoon, here it is Tuesday and I am still filled with the excitement from this weekend! We left the house early in the morning all dressed in our best Punjabi clothes. My husband wore a yellow turban in honor of the event. It is the tradition to wear yellow, orange, or blue. Nasreen and I did not have those colors so we wore pink, which is fine.
The Nagar Kirtan was done in honor of Vaisakhi, which celebrates the founding of the Khalsa( Sikh community).
When we arrived there were hundreds, if not a thousand Sikhs all gather at the Stockton Gurdwara. It was an amazing sight to see so many people with turbans and suits and speaking Punjabi. There were also people from around the area who were not Sikhs but who came to enjoy the event, some even dressed in Indian attire.
There were food stands everywhere. It was overwhelming to see so many options of yummy food to eat. There was maggi noodles, samosa, chanas, Saag, all kinds of fried foods, Gulgapas, Julabies. Oh my I cant even began to explain all the food that was available! All of these stands were serving free delicious food. Everyone in our group were enjoying all there was to eat. It was especially nice for vegetarians because there was no worry, because it was all vegetarian friendly.
After eating we enjoyed some of the demonstrations they had on display. I am trying to remember the name of these sports, but at the moment I can not and hubby is at work so I cant ask him. Adults and young people dressed in the blue and yellow of the Khalsa and performed battle exercises with ancient styles of mock weapons. Sikhs are warriors at heart, and faced with decades of oppression have learned special styles of self defense. Think Sikh Kong Fu. It was amazing to see all these young people embracing their roots and seeing the pride they had in demonstrating these skills they had learned.
We lined up for the parade behind the float containing the Guru Granth Sahib. From the loud speaker prayers were conducted! Waheguru ( The most holy word for God) could be heard chanted all over Stockton! “Waheguru,Waheguru,Waheguru” It was beautiful! I felt a pride for my husband’s culture well up inside of me. I am not Punjabi or exclusively Sikh but I felt that sense of community with all of these people! I am used to my husband getting strange looks when he ties a turban but here in this group it was so normal and beautiful!
We all walked in the parade. I was not able to walk the entire length of the parade because our daughter Nasreen being only four and it being a hot day could not take that kind of walk, so we went back to the Gurdwara with our friends. My husband and his friend walked the entire length.There was even more food available when we got back. I had an amazing time with my friend and her daughter and family. It was just wonderful to be around so many people all so proud of their culture and traditions.
Sikhs , especially after 9/11, have been attacked by people in the United States and around the world because of their turbans and the perception that they are terrorists. Public events like the Nagar Kirtan shows a community that Sikhs are just like everyone else. They may speak a different language, wear different clothes, worship in a different way, but the reality is people are all the same all over the world. We all want to be able to take care of our families, worship our God, and enjoy life.
It was a blessing to attend this event! My daughter has been greatly effected by this, and has now been wanting to speak more Punjabi. In the past she has been shy about speaking the language. Her dad would speak to her in Punjabi and she would answer in English even though she knew how to respond in Punjabi. I think this is because none of her friends or cartoons speak Punjabi so she felt odd speaking it. The Stockton Nagar Kirtan showed her that she has a beautiful proud community that she can be apart of and I think that she felt included in that wonderful energy and has a renewed interest! I cant wait until my next Nagar Kirtan!