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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Prakash Utsav: Sikhs Celebrate the Birthday of their 10th Guru

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Del438002Prakash Utsav birthday celebrations in Sikh temple for Guru Gobind Singh. (photo: Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images)

The number of Sikhs in the world is approaching 20 million adherents. Most live in India, and many are settling in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and Italy (where they were recently credited with saving Italy’s struggling dairy industry). Sikhism was founded in the 16th century in the Punjab district of India and Pakistan. It is based on the teachings of Guru Nanak and his nine gurus, and is distinct from Hinduism or Islam though comparisons are often made. The tenth and last Sikh guru in a sacred lineage is Guru Gobind Singh. He made a distinctive contribution to the identity of Sikhs with particular teachings about ethical behavior, hair, and headdress. And Sikhs celebrate his birthday, Prakash Utsav, annually. Based on the Nanakshahi calendar, the annual celebration of the Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s birthday takes place on the twenty-third day of Poh (ਪੋਹ), which coincides with January 5th.

The Sikh scripture is a book called the Guru Granth Sahib, and a building that houses the book is called a Gurdwara (Gateway to the Guru), and functions as a place of worship primarily on Sundays. According to the BBC, “The most important thing in Sikhism is the internal religious state of the individual.”

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that stresses the importance of doing good actions rather than merely carrying out rituals. Sikhs believe that the way to lead a good life is to keep God in heart and mind at all times, live honestly and work hard, treat everyone equally, be generous to the less fortunate, and serve others.

The turban is an important symbol of Sikh tradition and identity to represent commitment to God, their values, and promote equality. It also places a very publicly visual responsibility on them to represent Sikhism. The U.S. Army even made a special exemption last year for their first Sikh enlistee to be permitted to wear his turban and facial hair during active duty.

Capt. Kamaljeet Singh KalsiCapt. Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi is an Army Emergency Room Physician and the first Sikh in the U.S. Army. Photo by: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

The official order to wear the turban and to never cut hair for all baptized Sikhs is credited to the Tenth Guru, Gobind Singh. He created the Khalsa order and Khalsa Code of Conduct for baptized Sikhs which also prohibits tobacco, alcohol, or any intoxicant use, and adultery.


Nurture Wherever It Is Cold, Nurture Wherever It Is Dark

by Preeti Kaur, guest contributor

Preeti Kaur, Her Mother, and Brothers and SistersPreeti Kaur, her mother, her brothers (one wearing a patka) and sister.

In the Sikh faith, the role of the nurturer is one, among many, of the celebrated roles of all Sikhs, regardless of gender. My own father often reminisces to me of how his mother would nurture his growth and curiosity by imparting Sikh teachings to him while he was growing up in Dharamsala, India as a post-Partition refugee family. Everyday when he returned from school, his mother recited the Janam Saakhis, a collection of “birth stories” based on the life and lessons of the first Sikh guru, Nanak Dev Ji. He remembers this nurturing time as his favorite time of the day.

I recently saw a video of Harneel Singh, an extraordinarily eloquent young American man, describing his painful experience growing up as a Sikh boy wearing a patka (a Sikh mini-turban) in school, where he was often taunted and bullied. He speaks very freely that his experience is something familiar to many young people.

The patka is worn by children in preparation for wearing a full turban as a grown Sikh. Many young Sikh boys wear patkas throughout the world, including in America, where Sikhs have lived for over one hundred years. As adults, many Sikh men (and some Sikh women) wear a full turban, or dastaar, as a display of their commitment to accepting their body as it has grown and to distinguish themselves as physically committed to a path of justice. The global political climate of recent years, where turbans are inaccurately portrayed as the garb of global terror, has increased suspicion and violence against turban-wearing Sikhs especially in the form of hate crimes, down to the youngest members of our society in the form of school bullying.

Harneel Singh shares the tender points of his story because he has been nurtured to a point of strength — perhaps through his mother or father, or perhaps through his friends, or the adults in his life, or perhaps even by nurturing his own self, giving birth to a reflective young man.

The following poem, written for the young men who wear turbans in my life, is to honor all steps in the process of nurturing. This includes the process of negative experiences entering our lives — where it is cold, where it is dark — which provide us an opportunity to nurture others and ourselves.

where ever it is dark

after school i tell my mummy
i don’t want to go back tomorrow
she asks me why

i tell her today in the playground
kids push me punch me kick me
everything i am not

i throw fists back call them ugly
things too i imagine the bullies
as yellow toothed neon green eyed gorillas
like the ones in my closet at night

my cheeks burn my heart thumps
i am MAD i didn’t start this! i am just one
no one listens when i yell STOP IT! LEAVE ME ALONE!
i want to hide in a tent made of my sky blue bed sheets
i wish for a galactic force field
but no hands shield my head
when the bullies rip my
patka off my head

there is no superman
on this playground not even pretend
not sammy who i swing with
everyday on the monkey-bars
or alberto who swaps strawberry jelly sandwiches
with me in the cafeteria
not jenny who i tell knock-knock jokes with on the bus
not even the adults who patrol the playground
with whistles and detention slips to the principal’s office
so everyone might follow the rules

after bloody noses bruises scratches
after we are trees pulled out of the ground
a pile of mud surrounding us
our teacher mrs. jones sits us down
why did you punch back she asks
the teacher pulls me out of the ground some more

inside i am not a tree
inside i am a match
like the ones my daddy warns me not to play with
an orange blue fire on a stick of arms and legs
which grows short in two seconds
burning my insides too fast

i go home and cry and cry
i tell my mummy everything
mummy wraps her arms around my shoulders tells
me she loves me with her eyes
she unwraps my joora lets loose
my long hair runs her fingers through

mummy whispers your hair
is the night sky your hair
is the universe she combs
my kes with a kanga
twists my hair firm on top of my head
a galaxy you carry high mummy says
she takes the square patka
angles the cloth like a diamond
sets the patka on my scalp
ties it tight

mummy tells me this patka crowns you
one day you will wear a turban
cloth as long as the seven oceans
the full span of the earth
will rest on your head

be brave young prince
like Sahibzaadas Zorawar Singh Fateh Singh

when bullies big as kings
threaten them for carrying the universe on their heads
when bullies locked them
three nights in the cold in the dark
they raised their chins high no tears
they turned their fists to hearts
practiced the ways of the lion prince
with questions and conversation

mummy kisses
my cheeks i kiss her back

i tell her i will go back
to school tomorrow i will be
a shooting star prince
bright and brave
where ever it is cold
where ever it is dark

This Mother’s Day, I celebrate my own mother and I celebrate the nurturing spirit which we can each inculcate by sharing the stories of our lives, our own janam sakhis, our own birth stories.

Preeti KaurPreeti Kaur is an American of the Sikh faith living in San Joaquin Valley, California. You can read more of her poetry at The World I Stitch.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.


To Bully a Sikh

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

"Being alone somewhere where you’re the only individual of that type really takes a toll on you. Being the only Sikh going around with a turban, or with a patka in this case, it really made me stand out." 

The definition of bullying is difficult to pin down sometimes. Harneel “Neel” Singh shares his experiences of going to school in the U.S. and wearing his patka. He helps us understand that what some consider talking smack or harmless kidding are more injurious than that. They are demeaning a person who demonstrates his faith as a young Sikh in the public education system in the United States.