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Friday, December 31st, 2010

Celebrating Guru Nanak’s Birthday at Gurdwara

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I don’t believe in the Beatles.

“I just believe in me.”

John Lennon had it right. Little did he know when he penned the lyrics to “God” in 1970 that he was echoing the very same sentiments that Guru Nanak, the founder and first Guru of the Sikh religion, professed nearly 500 years prior.

“There is neither Hindu nor Muslim. So whose path shall I follow? God is neither Hindu nor Muslim, and the path which I follow is God’s.” In a time when emphasis within religion was placed on dogma and devotion to external elements, Guru Nanak taught that God is within each of us and we need only relate to that inner voice. “Alone let him constantly meditate in solitude on that which is salutary for his soul, for he who meditates in solitude attains Supreme Bliss.”

I was raised with a balance of spiritual exposure and inspiration from Sikhism and Paramahansa Yogananda. Even though Yogananda is my Guru, I do not feel the need to choose one path. I believe all religions are different faces of the same God. Paramahansa Yogananda’s “Self Realization” teachings and those of Guru Nanak share the fundamental belief that God is not separate from any individual. One of my favorite quotes has always been: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience.” Teaching my two-year-old daughter, Amrita, to tune into God within herself and develop her intuition and self trust, is the foundation of what I hope to pass on to her, spiritually speaking.

We recently celebrated Guru Nanak’s birthday at our nearby Gurdwara, the Sikh Temple. As a child I loved going to the Sunday Gurdwara service. Attending Gurdwara wasn’t something my parents expected of me, since they are disciples of Yogananda and not Sikhs, but they enjoyed going and felt connected to it. Being there, listening to and singing the Kirtan would fill me with inner peace and well being. I also really enjoyed the sense of community and joy.

Amrita and I attended Guru Nanak’s birthday dressed in our salwar kameezes and dupatas. She loves her Gurdwara clothing, and prances happily around the house all morning trying on different outfits. On the drive there she excitedly reminds me, “We are going to Gurdwara, Mama!” When entering the Gurdwara, one must cover their head out of respect when the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs, is out. Amrita proudly dons her pink cat-ear hat and is ready. We remove our shoes, have our feet washed in flower infused water, and I guide Amrita down the aisle to the Palki Sahib, a raised platform where a member of the community is reading from the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. We make an offering and bow to the ground, then join my mother-in-law seated on the floor amidst a crowd of kind, welcoming faces.

I like how Guru Nanak’s story relates to family life and raising a child. He was a very inquisitive child, concerned with the meaning of life, and would often engage Hindu and Muslim holy men in conversation. He disfavored ascetic practices and encouraged remaining inwardly connected to God whilst living as a householder. I can relate perfectly, never imagining myself giving up the chance to be a mother and wife to follow an ascetic lifestyle, but feeling a strong calling to live a life focused on spiritual growth.

I can tell that Amrita enjoys Gurdwara as well. It kind of amazes me that she will sit still peacefully as long as she does. She sways to the chanting and tries to join in. She is very comfortable exploring by herself, finding the other children and greeting adults she knows. When the time comes for the special children’s portion of the service, Amrita shyly goes up to stand with the rest of the kids where they sing a couple songs.

After Gurdwara, we all continue on to the langar hall, where langar, or ‘free kitchen’ is served. Sikh langar is another of Guru Nanak’s legacies. Fifteenth century India hosted a rigidly caste-ordered society. However, Guru Nanak founded Sikhism on the concept of equality between all people, regardless of religion, caste, colour, creed, age, gender or social status. Langar was designed to uphold this principle. At langar, as in Gurdwara, all people sit together on the floor so that no one is put above another. Members of the community volunteer in what is known as Seva, or service, to prepare and serve the meal. The essence of langar promotes the ethics of sharing, community, inclusiveness and oneness of all humankind.

During our meal, Amrita periodically wanders off with her friends through the rows of people, receiving choice tidbits and greetings. I can sit comfortably and enjoy my meal, occasionally catching glimpses of my little one in the sea of silk and sequins. This is definitely one of the fantastic parts of being part of a community such as this one. Everyone looks out for the children and knows who they are. The kids have their own little society, knit together in a web of community. I love that they will most likely know one another for their whole lives.

© 2010 – 2013, Alessandra Dobrin Khalsa. All rights reserved.

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Alessandra Dobrin Khalsa was raised in New York and Amsterdam. She is a filmmaker and writer, and a co-founder of SeeThrough Films and Prana Projects. Alessandra lives in Santa Fe, NM, with her daughter Amrita, stepson Siri and her husband Ditta. Their approach to parenting draws on their backgrounds of Sikh tradition and yogic technology.

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1 Comment
  1. CommentsHarpreet Kaur   |  Tuesday, 11 January 2011 at 8:11 pm

    Guru Nanak brought revolution in the minds of the average people and women. In Sikhism, women never had to ask for equal status as Guru Nanak wrote about the greatness of a woman. He spent more than 20 years travelling the world on foot spreading the message that there is only one God.

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