Happy Vaisakhi

Today is Vaisakhi!baisakhi2014-2 Happy Vaisakhi!

This last weekends Nagar Kirtan in Stockton helped me to better understand this holiday! It made me realize that this holiday is the most significant and most important holiday for Sikhs

Today is the day the Khalsa( Sikh Community) was created!

The reality is that Sikhism was, and is, a revolutionary religion in India. One the rejected the caste system and embraces one indescribable God! A God that sees everyone as equal! There was, and is, a need for strong community to uphold these beliefs. To reject the caste system and follow Sikh teachings. The Khalsa embodies all of the teachings of the Gurus and sets Sikhs apart and holds them responsible for their actions.

Here the story of how the first Khalsa was established! 

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“Vaisakhi (also spelled Baisakhi) is the festival which celebrates the founding of the Sikh community known as the Khalsa. It is celebrated on April 14 each year. On Vaisakhi day in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh summoned Sikhs from all over India to the city of Anandpur Sahib. At this gathering, the Guru called upon Sikhs to uphold their faith and preserve the Sikh religion. Guru Gobind Singh then lifted his sword and asked that anyone prepared to give his life for his faith to come forward. There was a big silence, but the Guru went on repeating his demand. One Sikh finally came forward and followed the Guru into a tent. Shortly after, the Guru reappeared alone with his sword covered in blood, and asked for a second volunteer. Another Sikh stepped forward and again the Guru took him into the tent, and re-appeared alone with his sword covered with blood. This was repeated until five Sikhs had offered their heads for the Guru. Finally, the Guru emerged from the tent with all five men dressed piously in blue. Guru Gobind Singh called the five Sikhs the Panj Pyare, the Five Beloved Ones.” facebook-4036

The Tenth (final) Guru established a Sikh identity and dictated that Sikhs should wear the 5 K’s ( articles of faith) to set them apart and to remind them of their promises.

The Five Ks are:

1 Kesh (uncut hair)

2 Kangha (small wooden comb held in the hair),

3 Kara (steel or iron bracelet),

4 Kacchera (undergarment) and

5 Kirpan (short dagger). fiveks

Vaisakhi is the celebration of this monumental event! The creation of Khalsa! The celebration of Sikh traditions. Many people go to the Gurdwara on this evening to celebrate, there are also events throughout the week. We attended a Nagar Kirtan parade on Sunday in honor of Vaisakhi. This event really taught me about the significance and need of the Khalsa especially for Sikhs living outside of Punjab. A community to keep the traditions and teachings alive just as they were intended by the Gurus.

Happy Vaisakhi!

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Stockton Nagar Kirtan: An Afternoon of Cultural Pride!

This last weekend I had the great pleasure of attending the Stockton (California) 17th annual Nagar Kirtan.

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The Guru Grath Sahib Float before the book was placed in it

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.

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Love my husband in a turban

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Hot and tired but we are happy

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.

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yummy Saag

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.

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daddy’s shoulder is the best place to see the event

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.

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These kids were amazing

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!

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Walking in the parade

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!

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Waheguru Ji Ke Fateh

Praying in Fear

A Gurdwara is a Sikh religious temple . It is a wonderful place, and thousands of people visit one every day around the world. It is open every day of the week for anyone who wishes to come and pray or simply sit in quiet thought. During weekends it is filled with the musical sounds of Kirtan (prayers), the smells of Langar (shared meal), the sight of children playing. It is a place where people find peace and connect with God.

I am an American Christian and in 2010  I married an Indian Sikh. Since our marriage we have attended a Gurdwara nearly every weekend. Our four year old daughter loves going to the Gurdwara and gets so excited every time we place the chunni ( scarf) on her head. Even as a christian I find peace in these Sikh temples. There is just something magical about these holly places. A deep sense of peace and harmony.  A shared commitment to God and to doing good in the world. 

That feeling of peace was forever changed for me one day in 2012. 

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Survivors grieving

On August 5, 2012, 40-year-old Wade Michael Page fatally shot six people and wounded four others at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin Wade Page was an Army veteran that was discharged from the military for misconduct that included drinking while on duty. He was a known white supremacist and had a hatred for all people of color. He took his own life on that day, so his motivations behind the shooting are not completely known even now.

I encourage my readers to read more about this event. Sikh temple shootingThe details

Six Sikhs were killed while they prayed for peace! Six devoted Sikhs had their lives brutally taken from them! More lives would have been taken if it were not for the brave acts of Lt. Brian Murphy, the first police officer on the scene. He sustained 15 gun shot wounds, lived, and protected the survivors in the Gurdwara! He shot Wade Page in the abdomen, who than took his own life and ended the violence . Here is  Lt. Brian Murphys story.

I can not in one article explain the terror that Michael Page inflicted on these people and the whole Sikh community! Today in this post I will reflect on the effect these eventshad on me, thousands of miles away.  

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Lt. Brian Murphy, deep scar from the shooting

I remember that day vividly. I am not one to watch the news very often in the house, the events are usually too sad to watch with a small child. I was on social media and someone had posted a link about the shooting. I ran to the Television to see the horrible images of crying Sikhs outside of the Wisconsin Gurdwara! The details that came in were horrifying. A gun man killing innocent men and women as they prayed. A police officer in critical care after sustaining fifteen gun shot wounds. No answers just questions! Who was this shooter?  Why did he do it? Why Sikhs???? On top of everything I thought, would it happen again?!

My husband was outraged! More angry then I had ever seen! For years Sikhs have been persecuted in India for their faith. Their most holy place, The Golden Temple, attacked by the Indian military in 1984 killing thousands of innocent people. Why was this happening here?! The United States is supposed to be a place of religious freedom, and still people die because of their faith!

That day we were invited to attend our best friend’s daughter’s 1st birthday langar ( meal and prayers) event at the Gurdwara in Stockton. We drove the two hours in silence, neither of us knew what to even say! We were afraid, angry, and shocked. I was afraid! I had never thought about the possibility of an attack on a peaceful Gurdwara!!  Now it was all I could think about! WHY? What threat were these people! The congregation did community service, prayed, and ate together. These people cared most about God! The men wore beards and turbans and the women covered their heads. Did this shooter hate them because of this ?! He hate them enough to kill them?!  Are there others like him ready to take the lives of people that are different?! I became afraid, and I know this is selfish, but I could only think, ” what if it happened to us?”. 

When we entered the Gurdwara we put on a brave face. It was a joyous event but behind every Sat Sri Akal ( hello) and every welcoming smile, there was a fear and an anger! “Why did he do it??!!”

I bowed before the Guru Granth Sahib ( holly book and alter) and I did not feel that peace as before. I could not close my eyes in prayer. I felt hyper aware. In my mind I was distracted by the thoughts of escape routes and plans! I wanted to loose myself in prayer. To forget it all and feel safe, but I could not shed the fear! What were the last moments of the victim’s lives like? What were their families going through! WHY DID HE DO IT!!  Would it happen again?!

Had my husband always lived with this reality? This fear! Was it just new to me. Was I so naive to think that we were safe and that others respected our right to be different and to pray to God in our own way! Is a cloth on the head that frightening! How could someone hate so deeply someone they do not even know?! How could a person take the life of someone ?! I had all of these questions!

It has been two years since that horrible event! There has not been another shooting in a Sikh Gurdwara in the United States, thank God. My fear have calmed down a bit, but I still feel the tension when I walk into a Gurdwara. I still feel the fear when I watch people observe my husband when he wears his turban. I wonder what people are thinking. Is there hate behind those eyes? Is there another Wade Michael Page planning his attack? Are we safe? I wonder what the fear is like for the people most effected by this attack! Do they ever feel peace in the Gurdwara? Do they feel anger! Do they ask WHY?!

When I pray I do so with one eye open and a plan for escape.

When I pray I pray for peace and understanding.

When I pray I ask God to take the fear away.

When I pray I imagine a better world.

Let us all pray for a better world, because every life is important! 

Our Diwali

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Diwali was on a weekday this year so our Diwali was pretty laid back. I had work until three. I rushed home put on my pretty indian clothes and got my daughter ready in her pretty punjabi suit. We bought our candles , Nasreen picked out orange. We met my husband at the Gurdwara, he just came from work.

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We paid our respect to the Guru Granth Sahib. Everything was so decorated and pretty. We than had yummy pakoras and sweets and tea at the langar hall.  We went out and lit our candles, we were the first to do so outside.

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Nasreen loved lighting the candles. She got so excited and explained out loud to everyone that those were HER candles.

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  We went home and Nasreen and I made fresh Gulab Jamuns. It was a quiet evening but very sweet.

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Don’t be THAT tourist, Please!

This picture does not capture the beauty of the place!

On Sunday my husband daughter and I went to a beautiful Gurdwara in the El Sobrante Hills. We got off the freeway and turned onto a steep mountain road. We went up and up and up. The roads got narrower and more treacherous. Why is that always the case? A road can be flat and wide but then you add an incline and suddenly the maker of the road does not seem to think the lanes should hold a normal sized car! Well regardless, we went up and up and right when my husband started to doubt my ability to type in the right address into the GPS, we spotted the Gurdwara at the top of a huge hill. It is a beautiful Gurdwara with stunning views! It was well worth the upward climb!

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My sweet Girl

We went into the Gurdwara and paid our respects to the Guru Granth Sahib and prayed. The Gurdwara is really comfortable with many places to sit and relax and pray. There are several levels to the Gurdwara which made our time there feel like an adventure!  I very much enjoyed the tranquility of the space!

After Praying we went to the Langar hall to have a meal. As we sat down a group of people came walking in. They were loud and obnoxious. They obviously did not belong to the congregation and were tourists. I love cultural and religious exchanges but only when it is done respectfully! These people were not at all respectful.

In Sikhism all people are required to wear a cloth to cover their head. This is posted in signs everywhere in the Gurdwara. There was a women in the group who wore a sun hat! A sun hat is not a respectful way to cover ones head in the Gurdwara.

I gave her the benefit of the doubt, she may simply not understand. So I approached her and I mentioned to the women there were scarves for women as well. She responded in a loud obnoxious tone. ” Dont worry honey I wont be here long”. I was shocked! I had never seen anyone act so disrespectfully! The women then proceeded to take photos of people in the Gurdwara!

In the main hall with the Guru Granth Sahib ( Sikh Holy Book) both the man and the woman spread their legs out with their soles of their feet out which is greatly disrespectful. People paying respect to the Baba Ji cross their legs to show respect and modesty! The holy book is considered the living book of God! I have brought several non-Sikhs to Gurdwaras in the past and none of them ever did these things!

These people visiting the Gurdwara did not pay attention to their surroundings, do research, or show respect. They walked into a place of worship as if it were their personal backyard not caring at all for the customs or beliefs of other people. Please when visiting a place respect all the customs of these people. Take the time to do some research and pay attention to the people around you. Most importantly show Respect!

Dont be THAT tourist Please! 

Sikhism Beliefs and Practices: Langar

Our three year old daughter enjoying Langar

I have been married to a Sikh for four years now, and I find that I sometimes I forget how it felt to be new to Sikhism. These days many of the practices have become second nature to me, but there was a time when I was learning it as well. When people ask me questions about Sikhism or what Sikhs do at the Gurdwara, I sometimes make the mistake of skipping over some of the very important reasons behind many of the actions and traditions in Sikhism. Often times when you learn the history and traditions behind a certain action or ritual you see the significance and importance of it. I am not a scholar so I may not get it 100% or have all the information, but I will share my perspective. I very much admire Sikhism and the traditions behind all of the rituals and practices, so I love sharing this with my readers, friends, and family.

The man is receiving the Langar with both hands

The topic I will be discussing today is Langar. Langar is a shared common meal typically eaten in a group setting. This meal is very significant in Sikhism and reinforces some of the most important facets of the Sikh Faith. Sikhism rejects the caste system completely, and every single person regardless of religion, caste, color, creed, age, gender or social status are seen as equals. This was and still is a revolutionary concept in India. Even in the modern age, India is still deeply entrenched in the caste system. For example some Brahmin Hindus ( high caste) would find it revolting to eat with (or to eat food prepared by) a non-Brahmin person or someone of a lower caste. There are even some apartment buildings that require its tenants to prove they are Brahmin in order to live there. The Caste system is a highly discriminatory and bigoted social system in India that separates and defines people based on the caste they were born into. It creates preferential treatment for high castes while segregating and mistreating lower castes. This was especially true in the 16th century when Sikhism was founded. Guru Nanak Dev Ji , the father of the Sikh religion, implemented Langar as a way to break the caste system down and to unite the people. Langar represents the united community of Sikhs, undivided and equal.

Guru Nanak Dev Ji

Though every Gurdwara and Langar hall are a little bit different there are some important aspects of Langar that must be universal.  All food must be free of charge. Everyone must sit on the floor together to eat. Equality here is quite literal. The plates must remain at the same level, and no one should sit above anyone else. Everyone is served the same food. That food is prepared by volunteers in the Gurdwara. Anyone can help prepare the meal and it is seen as an honor to do Seva (service) for the community.  All people are served at the same time; no preference is given to anyone. So if a president/queen/ famous actor sat down for lungar, they will sit with everyone, eat the same food, be served in the order they came in. We are all equal under God.  As you can see Langar is not just a meal, it is the embodiment of the principles of Sikhism.

Langar hall at the Golden Temple, more then 40,000 people eat here daily

Depending on the Gurdwara, the meal times and availability of langar changes. All food that is served is vegetarian. The majority of the food that is served is Punjabi, but there is nothing that says that other types of vegetarian food can’t be served.  A typical meal usually consists of lentils (Dal), vegetable curry’s (subjis), and Rotis ( flat bread).  At most Gurdwaras people often go to the  langar hall after the religious service, that is when it is the busiest. Langar can also be offered to an individual during none traditional langar hours. For example my husband and I have visited a Gurdwara in the middle of the afternoon, not during the service, and someone in the Gurdwara had given us Bananas to eat. So it was like a Langar snack. The Golden Temple in Amritsar India, which is the central holy place of Sikhs , serves Langar all day. The Langar halls in the Golden Temple feed more than 40,000 people each day.

This is a typical langar meal, Dal, Roti, Vegetable subji

 

For practical reasons here is a list of important things to remember when participating in Langar.

1. The head is to remain covered in the Lungar hall with a scarf, turban, or bandana.  Both men and women cover their head to show respect in the Gurdwara . Lungar is a religious experience and must also be shown respect as well.

2. Everyone sits on the floor . The plates or trays are placed on mats in front of everyone. Every Lungar is slightly different. Sometimes you may stand in a buffet type line and take the food back to where you sit. Sometime you will sit in front of a place setting and food is served from people walking around, this is usually the case during busy times.

3. Whenever you receive food from someone you should always receive it with two hands in an open position. For example, when someone gives you a roti, it is given and then received with a certain sense of reverence and thanks.

We struggle with our daughter to eat at home, but at Gurdwara she eats hearty !

4. Never lift your plate off the floor while eating. It is really tempting, especially when you are messy like me.  It is something that is not done. It all goes back to the most important principle of equality. Lifting ones plate may show disgust or a feeling of superiority. Equality is quite literal in this case, same level of food, sitting at the same level, and receiving the same food at the same time.

5. When eating Langar you should always finish all of your food on your plate. The food is considered a gift from God and should not be wasted.

6. When you are finished make sure to clean up any mess you have made and make sure that your dishes get cleaned. If it is busy there will most likely be someone cleaning dishes, if not then make sure that you do it. You can volunteer and do seva (service) on anything you see that needs to be done. This can be anything from drying dishes, to cooking, to serving, to cleaning mats, vacuuming. Seva is anything that helps the community.

My husband in India, doing Seva ( service) and providing refreshments on a hot day, my first experience of doing Seva

Langar is one of my favorite aspects of attending the weekend services at the Gurdwara. It’s not just the food, which always tastes amazing!  It’s like you can taste the love that was put into it. I feel honored by the sense of tradition and knowing that I am instilling these beautiful values in our three year old daughter. She is growing up knowing the beauty of equality, love, compassion, and community service. Langar nourishes the soul just as much as it nourishes the body. I have shared Langar with non-Sikh family and friends in the past and it was a wonderful experience. I encourage everyone to experience it for yourselves.