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Gurmat Reflection of Southall Nagar Kirtan

London, April 06, 2005
By Manvir Singh Khalsa

Nagar Kirtans originate from 'Parbaat Pheris' (prbwq PyrI) (Parbaat literally means 'early morning,' and Pheri means 'going around'). The Parbaat Pheri would consist of a Gursikh carrying a vaaja (harmonium) tied to themselves, some people would carry chhainey (bells), and one person would carry a dholki. Early in the morning the group of Gursikhs would walk around the village or city singing shabads and people would join them as they walked past their homes. Leading the jatha (group) would be the people leading the shabad singing and a Gursikh carrying a Nishan Sahib. The processions gave opportunity for people to enjoy the bliss of singing the Lord's Praises, an opportunity to distribute relevant and useful Gurmat literature to the public and also share a positive image of the Guru's Khalsa.

In recent history we have started doing processions which include Guru Maharaaj's Sawaari (without Prakaash) and also Panj Pyaare leading the procession.

Benefit of Traditional Nagar Kirtan

The traditional Nagar Kirtans or Parbaat Pheris inspired people to sing Gurbaani and gave them opportunity to distribute educational material in regards to Gurmat. Seeing Chardikala Gursikhs in public singing Kirtan provided the public and youngsters with positive role models and good impressions of what and who Sikhs are. The whole event would have a community spirit, gathering the community together and inspiring others to sing and understand Gurbaani.

jnu nwnku DUiV mMgY iqsu gurisK kI jo Awip jpY Avrh nwmu jpwvY ]2]
Servant Nanak begs for the dust of the feet of that GurSikh, who himself chants the Naam, and inspires others to chant it. ||2|| (Ang 306, SGGS)

Awvhu isK siqgurU ky ipAwirho gwvhu scI bwxI ]
Come, O beloved Sikhs of the True Guru, and sing the True Word of His Baani. (Ang 920, SGGS)

Today's Nagar Kirtans
What do we learn or take away from Nagar Kirtans organised nowadays? We end up eating loads of delicious food, like pakorae, jalebian, ladoo, sholay bhatoorae and chips etc. It seems there is so much nice food and so many people wanting to distribute it to the Sangat that we end up squeezing as much food as possible into our stomachs.

Looking around Southall Nagar Kirtan, I saw large and small Nishan Sahibs everywhere and anywhere. Young children, teenagers and older youngsters were holding Nishan Sahibs and having a laugh with their mates. I thought to myself, "Do they know the value of the Nishan Sahib?' "How is it that we have made devalued our Nishan Sahib so much that it is found everywhere and anywhere and being treated with little or no reverence or respect?"

When the Nagar Kirtan had finished and the road blocks were lifted, youngsters born in Sikh families had decorated their cars with Khandas. Driving up and down the Broadway and Kings Street boys and girls were flirting and making a show and display of themselves. The Gursikhs I was with and myself were disarrayed with how the Guru's Khanda, bestowed upon us by the Sixth Nanak had been made into a fashion accessory which is commercialised by shopkeepers at Vaisakhi time.

How productive are today's Nagar Kirtans in educating, promoting and highlighting Gurmat
Last Sunday's Southall Nagar Kirtan seemed very minimal in its effect in promoting and educating youngsters and the public about Gurmat. It should be mentioned that were children on floats singing Gurbaani and also children accompanying their parents who were singing along with shabads being sung. However, unfortunately they were a minority. The large number of people were talking amongst themselves, looking for the nearest place to get some nice food or busy looking out to see for people they knew in the crowd.

I felt shame and disgust in seeing people dancing, and stupidly waving their arms (similar postures to what Bhangra artists do when singing and dancing to songs) to Dharmic (religious) songs about Guru Gobind Singh Ji and the Khalsa. The float in concern was the Desi Radio float. There is nothing wrong or objectionable about playing Dharmic songs in the Nagar Kirtan procession. However, Dharmic songs are played for people to be educated, inspired and for them to act upon the message in the lyrics. Songs singing about Guru Gobind Singh Ji and the Khalsa are not designed to dance to but to think and act upon.

Not being able to tolerate the disrespect of the dancers and the Desi Radio's float and dancers bringing down the Gurmat tone of the Nagar Kirtan, I approached the clean-shaven dancers and two Singhs (who are Kirtani) who were standing with them. They justified themselves that is part of Vaisakhi culture, and that we are celebrating "kushi" (happiness) of the Khalsa. Myself and two other Gursikhs politely told them that the Nagar Kirtan which is being led the Panj Pyaare and Guru Granth Sahib Ji is a religious event and not cultural event. There is a time and place for doing Bhangra to songs. And that Guru's Kushi is not in dancing but in taking positive steps in becoming better Sikhs and following the Guru's Hukam. They persisted to justify themselves by arguing that they had danced in the Nagar Kirtan procession for six years running and no-one ever has stopped them before. This highlights the question of what are the Parbandhaks and organiser doing to maintain Gurmat in the Nagar Kirtan procession and what impression are these types of things setting to our youngsters?

Generally the whole atmosphere of the Nagar Kirtan (like in other towns and cities) was of a street carnival.

Conclusion of Southall Nagar Kirtan & today's Nagar Kirtans in general

To my experience and understanding, last Sunday's Southall Nagar Kirtan had no or very little positive effect on youngsters. No one learn anything about Guru Ji, about the Khalsa, about Rehat (Sikh way of life & discipline) or about Gurbaani. There was no person or no thing in the Nagar Kirtan procession or the whole day event which inspiring.

Thought to take away

We are celebrating 306 years of the Khalsa Panth. We should ask ourselves what do we learn from Vaisakhi of 1699 and the establishment of the Khalsa Panth? How do we improve ourselves, and what steps do we take to change and adjust our lives to become closer to Guru Ji and receiving the True Kushee (happiness) of Guru Gobind Singh Ji.


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