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Photos by Harleen Kaur.

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Vaisakhi In The Streets of L.A.




For a Sikh, there is no greater pleasure than to spot a fellow Sikh in distant places from home. To the uninitiated, there is a certain surrealism about it as the folks greet each other as if they have known each other for ever. Doors open up for business, immediate friendships are formed, dinner invitations are thrown around and of course the local guy directs the visitor to the local gurdwara.

During my travels, I have met a Taiwanese Sikh in Shanghai who could barely speak English or Punjabi, a refugee Afghani Sikh in Amsterdam who was starting a new life in the 'city of sin', a fellow honeymooning couple and a very successful businessman, both in Cairo ... and have had the pleasure of attending numerous celebrations of Sikh festivals and weddings all over.

One lesson that I keep re-learning is that our community is alive, thriving, progressing and making the best of the conditions we have been thrown into by the lottery of our birth. For a tiny community, we rejoice in our values in an all-embracing manner.

Nowhere was this more apparent than at the Vaisakhi celebration followed by the Nagar Kirtan in Los Angeles this past weekend. Folks tell me that the Nagar Kirtan is in its 14th year. Kudos to the organizers from the Guru Ram Das Ashram for an event that instantly connects us all with our roots and reiterates the Guru's eternal message of equality, harmony and righteousness.

While the day started early at 4 am, few people realized that the organization and langar preparation had gone on all night and into the wee hours. When we visited the gurdwara at 11 pm the night before, we were greeted with the usual joie de vivre. Langar was still being served to all the volunteers.

The Asa di Vaar recital started at 4 am and within a few hours the Guru Granth Sahib was escorted in a grand procession, with the utmost respect shown by the LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) officers, to the Los Angeles Convention Center - a sprawling complex in the heart of L.A.'s very cosmopolitan downtown and right next to the Laker's basketball stadium.

The event has been planned to the minutest detail. The decorations at the convention center were beautiful yet modest, with attractive hues of turquoise and orange. There were two separate daises on either side of the hall available for the raagis. While we realized that this is done to maximize the efficiency between transitions from one raagi group to another, it also gave the sangat a chance to enjoy kirtan from a variety of raagi jathas from around the world. The announcements were kept to a minimum and the focus remained on gurbani.

There was a separate hall catering to kids - a unique concept where the young ones are initiated into the teachings of Sikhi in a playful manner. The kids can play and enjoy stories, collaborate on art projects and other activities under the supervision of some "elder" kids.

All this while langar is served to one and all and an estimated 15 - 20,000 people are fed breakfast, lunch, and various snacks.

A vibrant display of Gatka - the Sikh martial arts was performed just prior to the ever more colorful Nagar Kirtan (parade) that started outside the Convention Center and wove through the heart of downtown Los Angeles. A basketball game featuring the L.A. Lakers has just ended and the upbeat crowd joined heartily in the procession, cheering and celebrating the uniqueness of the experience.

The Nagar Kirtan featured floats from many gurdwaras and special designs had been created to highlight special Sikh themes, lifestyle and values.

As a traveler, I get ecstatic about such celebrations. I have always believed that Sikhs have an important role to play on the global stage - our values, though not very old, are universal and appeal to every human, irrespective of class, color, religion or other man-made differences. Ethical principles around equality amongst the human race, men and women alike, are so deeply ingrained in our psyche that it is impossible for a Sikh to not stand up against injustice anywhere in the world.

I remember, even as I traveled through Egypt not long ago, I was greeted with chants of "Maharaja" - a tacit admission that a Sikh is a symbol of equality, fairness, honesty, all rolled into a compassionate human being.

As I write this, I cannot but marvel at our relatively short history and our huge accomplishments as a community and have immense faith that we are headed in the right direction with the best yet to come.


April 19, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: Harkiran Kaur (Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.), April 19, 2011, 12:07 PM.

I was there! It was indeed a joy to be part of that super-happy and festive crowd of Americans, Sikh and non-Sikh, collectively celebrating Vaisakhi. It has become an annual pump-up of our spirits, and keeps us going through the following year.

2: M.Kaur V. (New York, U.S.A.), April 19, 2011, 9:35 PM.

There was such simple joy and pride in the author's telling of the Vaisakhi celebrations in L.A. that I couldn't help but smile in response! Joie de vivre indeed! I am sure all of us in the Sikh diaspora feel a sense of renewal and affirmation preparing for and participating in efforts like these. Great job, LA sangat, and thanks to Amanjyot ji for bringing it to us.

3: Gagan (Los Angeles, U.S.A.), April 20, 2011, 5:21 PM.

I recently moved to L.A. and thought I would have to go to San Jose for the Vaisakhi celebrations until I heard of this! It was awesome and one of the best spent days in L.A. May the following and all the years be blessed!

4: Jaideep Singh (Gaithersberg, U.S.A.), April 23, 2011, 7:15 PM.

Great work, Aman! This piece of writing is fantastic. I'd just like to add what I heard from a lady called Jasjit Kaur from California who visited the Rockville Gurdwara in Maryland. She said that a Sikh is someone who leaves a place better than it was before. I found that very true and very motivating and think that Sikhs imbibe these traits from our Gurus who sacrificed their lives for the betterment of others.

5: Lily Chhatwal (San Francisco, California, U.S.A.), April 25, 2011, 2:06 PM.

Great article! The level of seva at these events is really eye-opening.

6: Gunjan Kumar (India), April 29, 2011, 1:43 PM.

Well written! Wonderful article! About Sikhism, all I can say is being married to a Sikhni and getting associated so closely to a Sikh family, I can now closely appreciate this ever vibrant, helpful and self sacrificing nation.

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