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NRI Mannat Saini Leads Sikh Chapel Service During India Week
at St Paul School, Concord, New Hampshire, USA

Los Angeles, May 07, 2009
Raj Grewal

Students, faculty, and staff who attended the April 14 Chapel service covered their heads as a show of respect.

Sixth Former Mannat Saini presided over the 30-minute Sikh service held in the Form of 1952 Gymnasium at the Athletic and Fitness Center. Surrounded by SPS community members wearing scarves, hats, or hoods, Saini sat cross-legged on a platform set up at the front of the room and presented a Kirtan (chant) in which she sang a Shabad (hymn) while playing a harmonium.

   School chidren covered their heads and                                   Saini was accompanied by Bhai Resham Singh Ji,  
 their shoes off as a sign of respect for Saini’s tradition.                a Sikh from the Medford, Mass., Gurdwara

“A Shabad is basically poetry from the Holy Book put to music,” explained Saini, an 18-year-old of Indian descent from California. “The repetitiveness of the music is to emphasize the core message of the poetry. Most Shabads are structured that way.”

Saini was accompanied by Bhai Resham Singh Ji, a Sikh from the Medford, Mass., Gurdwara (“guru’s house”), where she attends services when she can slip away from Concord on a Sunday. He played percussion on the tabla while she sang the verse and played her keyboard-like harmonium.

“The two instruments are intrinsic to each other – you can’t play one without the other,” said Saini, explaining the eight-cycle beat of the harmonium and the tabla.

Attendees were asked to arrive at the service with their heads covered and their shoes off as a sign of respect for Saini’s tradition. Men and women knelt together on opposite sides of the gym to simulate a Sikh service.

“If you walked into Chapel with a head cover, it would not be very nice,” explained Saini, whose parents were born and raised in Punjab, India. “So if you walked into a Sikh Gurdwara without one, it would also not be respectful.”

The Sikh service was part of India Week at St. Paul’s (April 13-18). Organized by humanities faculty member Anny Jones, the week included Indian dance, food, special Chapel services, music, films, lectures, displays, and other elements of Indian culture integrated into the curriculum.

When at home in California, Saini spends most Sundays at her local Gurdwara, observing the Sikh tradition. Although she has grown up in America, Saini visits India regularly with her parents and sister, where most of her family remains. She learned to sing and play the harmonium from her mother, who is a professionally trained classical Indian singer, and Saini has performed countless times at religious and non-religious services at her home Gurdwara.

The service, said Saini, sparked many questions from her peers, and she was appreciative of their interest in being exposed to a new cultural experience.

“I was very impressed that everyone remembered to cover their heads and very grateful,” she said. “The goal of the service was to provide an experience that students can remember the next time they go by a Sikh place of worship. I was really glad that it piqued their interest and got them asking questions.”     Source: SPS, Concord, NH