Prakash Utsav: Sikhs Celebrate the Birthday of their 10th Guru
by Susan Leem, associate producer
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.
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.
Quebec, Kirpans, Face Veils, and Values
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
At first glance, this story from the National Post intrigues because Sikhs are barred from the Quebec National Assembly because of their daggers. And, what were they there for? To testify on a bill banning face coverings. That is worth clicking through and reading more about.
But, check out the last statement from one of the Assembly’s members about multiculturalism. It almost scoots right on past if you don’t stop to think about it. Now, this American citizen’s ears haven’t heard an idea like this stated in such bald fashion; I’ll admit that it’s challenging, and somewhat unsettling:
"By a vote of 113-0, the Quebec National Assembly adopted a motion Wednesday supporting the decision by security workers to bar four Sikhs who came to the assembly to testify on Bill 94, banning Islamic face coverings.
The four refused to remove their kirpans, small ceremonial daggers. In 2006, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the kirpan, which Sikhs carry wrapped in fabric under their clothing, is not a weapon but a religious symbol, like a crucifix.
Parti Quebecois member Louise Beaudoin, said multiculturalism is a Canadian value, not a Quebec value.”
(photo: Tyler Anderson/National Post)
The Sikh Tradition of Langar
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
"It’s an opportunity for the community to come together, to pray together, to socialize."
— Dr. Indarjit Singh, editor of the Sikh Messenger, sheds light on the importance of langar and the meaning of food within the Sikh community in this BBC interview (starts at 16:30)
While discussing the universality of food in religious traditions and its centrality to happiness of the body, the mind, and the spirit, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks cited the Sikh tradition of langar. The rabbi’s reference received a single, joyous clap from the audience during Krista’s conversation with the Dalai Lama and other religious authorities several weeks ago in Atlanta, so I thought I’d explore the idea a bit further.
A langar is a free community kitchen found within most Sikh temples. Its roots go beyond the strengthening of community through meals. It offers a beautiful practice of social liberation and oneness. Sikhism, according to The New York Times, emerged from the Hindu region of Punjab, where caste hierarchies dictate even who can sit at a table together. The Sikh religion rejected this system. Men and women, rich and poor, Sikhs and non-Sikhs all participate equally in creating food and sharing it together in the langar.
Sikh devotees eat food at a Langar in Nanded, India. (photo: Pal Pillai/AFP/Getty Images)
Arranged Marriage: An Expert on Choice Speaks Across Cultures
Shubha Bala, associate producer
When I was 11, I bombarded my uncle with questions while we sat on the floor going through photos and letters from Indian families seeking a marriage arrangement between him and their daughters. At some point I naively asked, “But won’t you want to meet all the women before deciding on the best one?”
Interview upon interview, Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choosing and a business professor at Columbia University, attributed her own curiosity around choice to her Sikh parents’ arranged marriage. But her interviewers often stopped short of asking her for more detail.
Sometimes there is an assumption that an arranged marriage represents an absence of choice; but, for many Indians, the modern arranged marriage still includes choice but with a collective framework. At least that’s my experience as a second-generation Indian who has had many personal discussions about this subject. For example, I want to choose the best husband for me, but some aunts think that I should include what is best for my parents, grandparents, and siblings.
Most Indians are touched by arranged marriages in some form or the other. So, although The New York Times and Express India articles both describe one of Sheena Iyengar’s experiments, which looks at cultural differences of choice, the Times only states the facts whereas Express India takes the story further by asking her opinion:
"Iyengar does not privilege either of these choices over the other; collective action, after all, can be as inspiring and purposeful as Gandhi’s Salt March to Dandi, while tales of inspired individualism abound as well. ‘Both extreme ends of the spectrum are problematic, but different places along the continuum have their own particular benefits,’ she says.
To some extent, even India Abroad's feature approaches things from a collective choice lens. Their interview of Sheena Iyengar focused on her mother and family as much as on her.
Krista and I discussed this approach as I briefed her for today’s interview with Sheena Iyengar; I hope we can delve more deeply into her personal experiences while approaching the conversation from multiple cultural lenses. By the way, you can follow the interview on Twitter as we live-tweet (@softweets) the gems of the conversation at 2 p.m. Central today.
As for my uncle, he told me that after vetting the photos and letters for a handful of women to meet face-to-face, he was sure he would meet one, feel immediate love, and have no choice but to throw away the rest.