Area Sikhs mark special anniversary
By Poornima Apte
At a particularly trying time in history for Sikhs in the United States, Nirmal Singh says the central message of the 400-year-old Guru Granth Sahib, the holy scripture of the Sikh faith, could not be more relevant today.
“Na hum Hindu, Na Musalman, Allah, Ram ke hum pind pran,” Singh, chairman of the Sikh Forum of Connecticut quotes from the scripture. “We are not Hindu or Muslim, the supreme power created us as human beings.”
Sikhs the world over are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Guru Granth Sahib, marking the event with kirtans (hymns) and other devotional programs.
At the same time, Sikhs in the United States continue to be the targets of racial profiling, hate crimes and misunderstanding, as they have since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Often, their turbans and beards have led people to mistake them for Middle Easterners.
Even the anniversary celebration has not been without controversy. When the chairman of the American region chapter of the World Sikh Council was told he would have to remove his kirpan before attending a White House ceremony to honor the anniversary, the chapter declined the invitation. The 6-inch sword is one of the five articles of faith that all formally initiated Sikhs are required to be wear.
Dr. Tarunjit Singh, secretary general of the council, said he was particularly disturbed with the message the White House was sending.
“At a time when we are being woven into the fabric of America, they have to accept us fully,” he said. “Here is a ceremony to honor our faith, but we are being asked to leave the instruments of our faith at the door.”
Nirmal Singh, a Farmington, Conn., resident, was also saddened by the turn of events.
“It seems as if we have not even made a dent, even in the very important political circles,” he said, “in spite of three or four years of very concerted efforts by the Sikh community to try and create awareness about themselves.”
“If the White House does not have sensitivity to the issue, I think the problem unfortunately assumes a different color,” Nirmal Singh added.
“Sikhs can keep on trying to create awareness about themselves but unless there is a recognition in the mainstream, you cannot force people to know and cannot force them to remember.”
Speaking about the Guru Granth Sahib, Nirmal Singh says that the way it has been edited and organized is very fascinating. “It is all written in poetry,” he says. “Almost the entire Granth is set to music.”
The Guru Granth Sahib is also readily accessible to laypeople because the language is easy to understand.
“Sure the language has evolved since then,” Singh says, “but if you know some Hindi or Punjabi, it is relatively easy to understand.”
Singh appreciates that the text, written in Gurmukhi, might not be easily read by Sikh youth in the United States.
He says that in local gurdwaras, when shabads (hymns) from the Guru Granth Sahib are sung, English translations of the original are often projected on a screen so people can better understand the essence of the scriptures.
Karminder Singh, of Woburn, Mass., is director of religious affairs at the Guru Nanak Darbar gurdwara in Medford, Mass.
The gurdwara is planning special events to honor the 400th anniversary of the Guru Granth Sahib, with prayer sessions most of the Labor Day weekend.
Singh, a student of international law at Boston University, says the event is truly a special one and a chance for everyone to get together and celebrate.
“We have opened up our gurdwara,” Singh says. “The event itself is a call for Sikhs to understand their roots and it is also a call for multiculturalism and diversity.
“The Guru Granth Sahib contains text from Hindu and Muslim saints as well – this would be a nice occasion to talk about things that are going on the world.”
In Connecticut, similar programs are being hosted by the gurdwara in Southington.
In recognition of the local Sikh community’s contributions to the state, the Connecticut General Assembly issued an official citation marking the anniversary of the Guru Granth Sahib.
In a statement to INDIA New England, Connecticut Lt. Gov. Kevin Sullivan said: “Following the tragic events of Sept. 11, I joined in a very public effort to show solidarity with our Sikh community in the face of misdirected hate crimes in Connecticut and other states.
“Now, in recognizing the 400th anniversary of the most sacred Sikh scriptures, we send another message of brotherhood.”