To celebrate the 550th gurpurab (“birthday” in Punjabi) of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, the Sikh Coalition of Minnesota held an open house Sunday at the Sikh Society of Minnesota Gurdwara (center or “door to the guru”) in Bloomington.
The relatively small house of worship was filled with the sound of drumming and the chant-singing of hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikhism’s holy book), and brimmed with the smell of lentils, curry, chickpea and potato stews, bread, and basmati rice being prepared and served for langar, the traditional vegetarian community meal.
Sikhism is the fifth oldest religion in the world, but given the times, its believers and practitioners worry that the religion’s traditions and requisite turbans and veils have generated misunderstandings or worse.
“The current political and social climate has put minority and religious communities at great risk,” wrote Harkeet Singh, communications and media manager for the Sikh Coalition, in the event press materials. “Our Muslim brothers and sisters in the area were affected when a suspect intentionally firebombed a Bloomington mosque in 2017. This open house will be an opportunity to flip the narrative of what it means to be an American and educate the wider public about a minority religious community that, despite facing enormous challenges, continues to live life through chardi kala, or the Sikh concept of relentless optimism.”
That much was in ample evidence Sunday, given all the smiling and generous-hearted Minnesotans in attendance. Bloomington’s event was but one of many over the weekend, as the approximately 500,000 Sikhs across the United States held similar guru birthday bashes. MinnPost took in the open house, in interviews and photos:
Randeep “Ricky” Singh Arora. “The Sikh Society of Minnesota has been in existence from 1988 onwards, and we have been here in Bloomington since about 2010. Before that, we were in Fridley. When we talk about diversity and inclusion, Sikhism is the fifth-largest world religion, and a lot of people don’t know that.
“The whole idea is awareness, education, letting people know who we are, what we do, what we are, and nothing to be afraid of — just because we may look different, but we are one of you.” According to a very recent F.B.I. study, hate crimes against Sikhs has increased 200 percent.
Unfortunately after 9/11, the first casualty of a Sikh person happened in Mesa, Arizona. Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot dead just because people thought that he was somebody else, whose picture was shown on TV over and over.
Then in 2012, there was a mass shooting by a neo-Nazi affiliated person in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, where Sikh people were shot in a gurdwara, in this kind of a place, and it was devastating for the community — not just the Sikh community, but to the community at large.
“So the reason we are hosting this open house is so that anybody and everybody is invited — not just today, but at all times. One of the main principals of the Sikh faith is love, equality, justice, and service for all. Another is chardi kala, and what that means is in high spirits all the time. There is no concept of victimhood in Sikhism. So even with the shootings, and the hate crimes, the message from the Sikh gurus and the scriptures is eternal optimism. You transform that [tragedy] into positivity, and that positivity is what’s going to take you to high spirits.”
Angela Madan: “I’m a gypsy, I live in Excelsior currently and consider myself a Minnesotan. In Sikhism, we believe in humility; equality of all people and all faiths, and rich and poor are all equal in the eyes of god. It’s all about bringing the community up together and sharing. In every breath we believe that if anything’s happening, whether we perceive it as good or bad, it’s the way it’s supposed to be. And when you live life that way, it becomes so much easier to stay positive and to bring your community up and yourself up, too. We don’t believe in worshipping images, but this [poster] is an artist’s rendition of what we think Guru Nanak might have looked like 550 years ago. But we don’t believe in idol worship, we just believe in worshipping this force that is around us.”
Worshippers at the Sikh Society of Minnesota gurdwara in Bloomington on Nov. 23.
Baramjit Singh: “I’m from India, originally. I’ve lived in Minneapolis for 16 years, and I come here every Sunday to be with family and friends. I like praying to my guru, and the food, and the celebrating.”
Manpreet Sood: “In Punjabi, chardi kala means that you are always in the upswing, always in the name of god and with god and you always feel that you are being carried by god. We live that life in our daily life, so for me personally, as I go through different tribulations I still maintain a very happy and cheerful demeanor. I think it’s really a blessing that we get from our faith in the face of any difficulty. I’ve gone through a lot of different things. I didn’t have children, I’ve had physical ailments, and through it all it’s still been a very uplifting life. Joyful.”
Rosie Singh (center): “Every Sunday we prepare a meal for the community. Everybody’s welcome. We don’t have any caste, any religion, nothing; anyone is welcome, and we cook for them. We make puri and vegetables and some other curries to go with it and dal (lentil stew). Everybody sits down on the floor with equality. There’s no difference, everybody has to sit down and fold their legs and we serve them. We have a lot of people who volunteer, and all the ladies cook together and all the women and men serve everyone. It’s called langar, the community meal. It’s always vegetarian, and it was started by our first guru, whose 550th birthday we are celebrating this year.”
Worshippers at the Sikh Society of Minnesota dished up their langar meals in Bloomington on Nov. 23.
Worshippers at the Sikh Society of Minnesota ate their langar meals in Bloomington on Nov. 23.
Amar Singh: “In this library we have over 2,000 books on Sikhism and Sikh history. Lots of biographies on Sikh gurus; not only Sikh, but Hindu and Muslim. And also on chardi kala. You are always supposed to be in high spirits. You hear the singing [from the altar in the next room]? That does not let you be depressed. The Sikhs have gone through a lot of hardships. There was a price put on their heads and they escaped to the jungle, but they did not get depressed. They kept on fighting, and finally they became kings. The guru is always with them, and when the guru is always with you, you cannot be depressed.”
D.J. Sikka: “Chardi kala is the [idea that] you’ve got to be positive, all day long, and you’ve got to make other people happy, and you’ve got to make sure they’re happy. If you do positive things, and come with a positive vibe to people, they’re going to be positive. It’s the main thing of Sikhism. When you get up in the morning, you do your prayer, and that brings you up, and you go up and you stay up all day long, and then you [spread] that positive vibe.”
Charanjeet Singh Gill: “The guru 550 years ago said we have to share with those who are less fortunate than we are, and that was the start of our religion. He started our religion on three simple principles: Make an honest living; share with others who are less fortunate than you; always remember the almighty. Nothing more than that, nothing less. If you do those three things, you will be blessed.”