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Sikhs Celebrate - Baisakhi in Los Angeles


Sikh Spirit and Pageantry AT THE LA Baisakhi Celebration;
Los Angeles Convention Center, California USA
A Prayerful Reflection: Kanwal Prakash Singh

Los Angeles, April 17, 2011
Kanwal Prakash Singh
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

The Baisakhi celebration at the Los Angeles (LA) Converntion Center, sponsored by the Sikh Community of Southern California, is the largest Khalsa Day celebration in the U.S. The sprawling LA Convention Center was alive with excitement, religious activities and associated festivities with several thousand people in attendance, some having traveled long distances from across the USA and beyond, to be a part of this historic 312th Baisakhi Celebration. This year’s Baisakhi Committee deserves our deepest gratitude and congratulations for their great service to the Sikh Americans and the world for another presentation of Sikh faith, culture, and community.

The focus of Baisakhi Day was on the traditional religious ceremonies in a colorfully decorated and created large Darbar Hall. Throughout the day, many youth and professional groups performed shabad keertan before an audience of thousands. These groups represented major local gurdwaras. Along with the continous religious services, beginning in the early hours of the morning continuing until late in the afternoon, there was langar service provided by dedicated volunteers in a separate hall of the Convention Center. No religious gathering would be complete without creating the aura of a Punjabi bazaar with cultural displays, shopping, and meeting area. One could find religious books and art, jewelry, festive clothing, Sikh music and sacred articles of faith, and other items and ideas of interest (Sikhpoint Interfaith Calendar, music, and books on Sikh faith, culture, and history by famous Sikh authors in the booth of Bicky Singh and exquisite art by Jot Singh Khalsa). There were also displays inviting people to participate in worthy causes such as bone marrow registry and donating funds for gurdwaras (Sikh temples) in California and other places across the US. This was a busy gathering place for people searching to take something home and a marketplace for social exchange.

A very dedicated group of sevadars (volunteers) served langar (blessed food, prepared at different temple kitchens in the area and brought to the Convention Center) served the traditional Punjabi vegetarian food to nearly 18,000 people throughout the day. One could feel some thanksgiving that in this group were some LA residents who had joined in for langar.

The focus of the day was clearly on the religious presentation and hymns that celebrated the life and the spirit of the Tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, and events surrounding Baisakhi, one of the holiest days on the Sikh religious calendar. Several honored guests: members of US Congress, representatives of cities and the State, law enforcement officials, and religious leaders each assuring the members of the Sikh American community, in their remarks following the traditional Sikh honor with a siropa, about their respect for the Sikhs and their achievements and concern for their rights and safety due to issues of mistaken identity surrounding their sacred articles of faith. Invited distinguished Sikh leaders addressed the gathering and voiced the need to network, seek interfaith cooperation, and to vigorously continue the work of mainstreaming our efforts to serve America, honor American values, and make America our home, much like generations of immigrants before us. KP Singh of Indiana honored with “The Spirit of Baisakhi” Award, expressed deep humility for the honor and added the following as a reminder to himself and the gathering about the great legacy and message of the Sikh Gurus:

Nanak-Guru Gobind legacy, teachings, echo a Universal Spirit:
Seeing diverse cultures and communities of faiths
As God’s beautiful composite Commonwealth;
United at the Source,
Their origin threaded and interfaced into Oneness by the Creator.

He reminded us of God’s unmistaken Commandment:
“Recognize this Oneness, Unity, and Divine Spirit in all beings.”
Sikh faith embraced, defended universal rights and basic freedoms
Centuries before these global concerns and cultural renaissance
Stumbled into global human affairs; welcomed in advanced nations.”

He further added: “Gurus light spirit since has guided generations of Sikhs and others. Today, their lives, spiritual radiance light the farthest reaches of humanity.”

(From KP Singh’s tribute to Guru Gobind Singh - A Dazzling Spiritual Light)

At the close of the day’s religious services, the Sikh congregation joined in the religious procession through the streets of downtown Los Angeles. The procession was led by decorated floats that carried the holy Sikh scriptures, groups of famous Ragis (religious singers), and banners and displays from Sikh history and culture. Many people along the streets and from high-rise buildings greeted the procession along the three-mile route. By some estimates, nearly 10,000 people participated in the Khalsa Day parade with great reverence and enthusiasm. Throughout the procession, the traditional Jakaras (joyous acclaimation), and Nagaras (drums) resounded through the streets.

Baisakhi, as many see it, is one of the most important Sikh High Holy Day celebrations,
yet not well known, transforming events in world history and the sacred journey of
faiths. The message and the events of that day 312 years ago on March 30, 1699
had set new divinely mandated spiritual markers for the place of human dignity,
inalienable rights and freedoms for all beings and the personal responsibility to defend
and honor it as an act of faith and a commandment so justice and peace may prevail
throughout the lands for all people and cultures everywhere. The amazing testimony is
timeless and its essence has been embraced at many levels in many places since that
momentous gathering at Anandpur Sahib, Punjab in 1699. It was wonderful to see that
commemoration thousands of miles away from the original occurrence and generations
later in Los Angeles.

Over the last fifty years, the Sikh community, along with other ethnic and religious communities, has made a major impact on the cultural and spiritual fabric of America. We have contributed much to the life, liberty, and happiness of the Nation. Yet, there is much work to be done to end racial profiling, Transportation Security Administration’s frequent, excessive intrusions into the religious articles at America’s airports, workplace harassment and discrimination, and bullying of Sikh school children due to the problems of mistaken identity. First and foremost, we must challenge ourselves to do more and prevail upon public officials, interfaith leaders, educational institutions, and others to help us dispel unfounded stereotyping of an entire group of law abiding and hard working US citizens. Every citizen deserves the right to be safe, to be accorded dignity, to be productive and encouraged to seemlessly thread his/her dreams and visions with those of the Nation that is his/her home. In this endeavor, we have to carry the main load and passionately advance our legitimate concerns as an act of faith and reminders of guaranteed promises by laws and spirit of this Nation, our Nation, one Nation. We have to step outside our own comfort zones before we can persuade others to advocate on our behalf. Let us engage in and honor the lessons and commandments of our Gurus as enshrined in Siri Guru Granth Sahib that we will work to bring hope and healing to all humanity and see ourselves not as Sikh Americans, but as proud Americans and citizens of one world. For me, that is the message of Baisakhi, and it was so beautifully illustrated at the LA Baisakhi celebration. Much like many others, I have carried home some very special memories and a renewed commitment to do my part to understand the message of our Gurus and all those who toiled, suffered, and shaped the values and vision of this great Nation that offers a rare promise for the entire human civilization.

Indianapolis, Indiana USA April 17, 2011