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Holy Daze: Guru Nanak Gurpurab (November 28th, 2012) – Sikhism

November 26th, 2012 No comments
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Guru Nanak’s birthday lighting at Akat Takht near Gurudwara Harmandir Sahib, Punjab

Guru Nanak was the first Sikh Guru, and is considered the founder of the religion.  Sikhs celebrate the anniversary of the births or martyrdoms of the ten Gurus during remembrance days known as Gurpurabs. The festival celebrating Guru Nanak’s birthday falls on the full moon in the month of Kartik.

In preparation for the festivities, Gurdwaras (Sikh places of holy worship) are decorated with lights, flowers, and flags.  Activities usually begin a couple days in advance of the anniversary day.  One important activity is the continuous reading, over two days, of the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh holy book).  This is undertaken by several men and women, each reading for a few hours at a time.  On the day preceding the anniversary, processions are led by five people representing the original Panj Piare or Five Beloved Ones.  Following them are various musicians, singers, and groups displaying martial arts and sword skills.  The actual day of Gurpurab is devoted to early morning hymnal singing, sermons, lectures – many of which are based on the life of the Guru.  Of course, any Sikh celebration wouldn’t be complete without the congregation sharing langar – a free community meal.

The short video below gives a nice glimpse of a Gurpurab procession.  Enjoy!

Happy Gurpurab!

M. xo

Muktsar Nagar Kirtan – Sri Guru Nanak Birthday (3:09 mins):

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Holy Daze: Diwali (November 13th, 2012) – Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism

November 12th, 2012 No comments
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Diwali Celebrations

Diwali, popularly known as the “Festival of Lights” is an important festival in Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism.  All three traditions share this sacred day, however, the significance and meaning of the day differs.  I think many of you will also note some striking similarities around the spiritual metaphors between this revered Eastern holiday with one of similar reverence in the West.

For Hindus, Diwali is similar to Christmas for Christians.  It is the most important holiday and is celebrated with colourful displays of light.  It is also a time to rejoice with family and friends.  Central to Hindu philosophy is an awareness of the inner light (Atman) and the light of higher knowledge (Brahman).  In essence, Diwali celebrates triumph of good over evil or light (knowledge) over dark (ignorance).  For several days Hindus may celebrate Diwali with various traditions including fireworks, worship, colourful sand and light displays, the sharing of sweets, cleaning out of homes/businesses, gambling, the purchasing of new clothes, and the exchanging of gifts.

Jains mark Diwali as their New Year’s Eve.  Similar to Hindu belief, Jains believe in an inner light or awareness.  They celebrate in remembrance of the day in 527 BCE that Lord Mahavir, an Indian sage believed to have established the central tenets of Jainism, reached Nirvana.  Jains also incorporate light into their celebrations, particularly as a reminder of the absence of the light of Lord Mahavir.

Similarly, Sikhs mark Diwali as a day of remembrance.  It is considered the day in 1619 when the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind, was released from prison along with 52 Hindu kings, whom he had a part in freeing.  He became known as “Bandi Chhor” (deliverer from prison).  Upon the Guru’s return, the Golden Temple was lit with hundreds of lamps in celebration.  Every year since, Sikh commemorate Diwali to pay homage to the Guru and religious freedom.

Diwali is an extremely important holiday and as such I can’t do it justice in this short blog post.  National Geographic has a fantastic, three minute clip that highlights some Diwali celebrations.  Check it out!

M. xo

Diwali – Festival of Lights

 

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Sikhs: The Way of the Disciples

August 8th, 2012 3 comments
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This past Sunday, another mass shooting spree occurred in the States. The target this time was a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Speculation that this attack may have been a case of mistaken identity began to run rampant in the news. Reporters, bloggers and the like suggested that the gunman may have believed that he was attacking a Muslim house of worship. This, they said, was because many Americans thought Sikhs were Muslims. Of course, there is no way of knowing the shooter’s motivations as he was killed by police. As an aside, I find it curious that the media were quick to suggest this attack was meant for Muslims. With no evidence to suggest otherwise, this is clearly another case of media scaremongering.

I’ll admit that my feathers have been ruffled with this latest attack on a religious group. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I have little tolerance for religious intolerance (I know, a bit oxymoronic, right?). I’m also concerned that in the Information Age (you know, an era where information is available at the tips of one’s fingers) that so few people bother to educate themselves about the world around them. While I agree the Internet isn’t always the most reliable source; a little critical thinking can certainly weed out the bad from the good information. But, I digress…

The point of this post (aside from a bit of squawking) is to introduce you to the Way of the Disciples (Sikhs).

Being a Sikh means being a disciple of the Guru. There are ten Gurus in the Sikh sacred story, beginning with Guru Nanak. The succeeding Gurus are all believed to have carried the spiritual light of Nanak and God’s word. Writings about Nanak in Sikh sacred texts, known as Adi Granth, suggest that he was influenced by both a Muslim and Hindu spiritual upbringing.

As with any religion, there is both unity and division within the community; however, there are some core central beliefs at the foundation of the Sikh world meaning. Like other monotheistic belief systems, God is central. Sikhs, however, recognize God (Nam) as the same One worshipped by many different belief systems and known by many different names. God is considered formless, timeless, and beyond human conception. Sikhism does not claim the only path to God, nor does it work toward converting others. Part of the Sikh world view is freedom of religion, which may come from the fact that Sikhism has blended many ideas from different faiths.

Sikhs engage in various ritual and worship. Daily worship entails reading and meditation on the sacred word found in the Adi Granth. Worship at the gurdwara (Sikh temple) centers around the Holy Book (Granth Sahib). Before worship, a ritual bath is performed. Following, offerings before the Holy Book are made. There are no ordained leaders in the gurdwara, thus each Sikh is free to perform the rituals of worship.

Women hold a high degree of respect in the faith. It is believed Guru Nanak once said this about the status of women, “Why denounce her, who even gives birth to kings?” As such, women are given equal status with men in services and ceremonies. Further, Sikhs welcome all faiths and cultures to their house of worship.

Sikhs may be most identifiable by the turbans (dastar) worn by men. This is worn because one of the prohibitions in Sikhism is the cutting of hair. Devout Sikh men may have unshorn hair and beards. They may also be identified by a sword or dagger (kirpan) worn, which is symbolic of a willingness to protect the weak and fight for justice. A metal bracelet (kara) is worn as a constant reminder that one is a servant of God and should conduct oneself befittingly.

There is much more to the Sikh religion than what I have provided. My hope is this brief introduction might encourage you to learn more about this blended belief system. Certainly, there are similarities to other religions; however it’s important to recognize the differences. It is short-sighted (IMO) to lump together all peoples who may look similar, share similar beliefs, or who come from the same part of the world. Ignorance that perpetuates fear, anger, and confusion can lead people to commit horrible acts. It’s time to stop the madness.

Peace.

M. xo

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