Charlotte Sikhs Hold Celebration of Guru Nanak's 550th Birth Anniversary

By Roshan Attrey

Guru Nanak's 550 th Birth Anniversary celebrations at Gurdwara Sahib Charlotte, NC, USA spanned over several weeks. October 19, 2019 marked their beginning, a remarkable launch. It was an event the North Carolina Sikhs specially organized to share their Sikh heritage and values with the larger American society. Subsequently, in the second and third weeks of November, they held their traditional religious ceremonies and festivities to celebrate the Founding Guru's Parkash Divas (birthday), attended by countless visitors, more than the Gurdwara could hold.

Here is an account of the first event held especially for the larger American society – the non-Sikh neighbors and elected or appointed men and women who run the City of Charlotte and the State of North Carolina. The objective was to celebrate with them the First Guru's 550 th birth anniversary by sharing with them his teachings, the sacred Sikh scripture, history and values of Sikhs, and their life and challenges.

The guests, who graciously joined in the celebration and wanted to learn about Guru Nanak and Sikhism and the Sikhs, came from diverse religious backgrounds. They were Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists, representing local churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples. And they included, among others, teachers, professors, city police, District Attorney, Federal Security Director, elected members of Charlotte City Council, and elected representatives of North Carolina State Legislature.

Highlights of the Program:

Gurnoor Kaur Sangha emceed the program. She introduced the speakers. Here are the highlights of the program.

Welcome and History of Gurdwara Sahib

By Inderjeet Singh Rajpal, Permanent Trustee and President, Gurdwara Sahib Charlotte

Mr. Rajpal (Consultant, Wells Fargo Bank, Charlotte, and former professor/entrepreneur) welcomed the guests and explained the purpose of the function – to share with them the Founding Guru's message to the humanity. As he narrated the history of the Sikh Heritage Society and Gurdwara (built in October 2003), he stated that the Gurdwara, as part of its mission, provides religious-spiritual and social sustenance to Sikhs. It also offers spiritual and social nourishment to Hindus, particularly Sindhis and Punjabis, and many others who may cherish Jagat Guru Nanak and gurbani. Mr. Rajpal emphasized the makeup of the sangat (congregation) as diverse, pluralistic, as Guru Nanak would have liked it to be.

First Interfaith Dialogue in Sultanpur Lodhi, Punjab, India

By Dr. Bhai Harbans Lal, Professor/Chair Emeritus, Pharmacology-Neuroscience, U. of North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth, Texas

Dr. Harbans Lal (a top-tier pharmacologist and neuroscientist, and a renowned scholar of the Guru Granth Sahib and Sikhism) made a PowerPoint presentation titled “First Interfaith Dialogue in Sultanpur Lodhi, India." Using pictures and text, he narrated the story of Guru Nanak's divine experience at Sant Ghat in Sultanpur Lodhi, the site of his daily meditation.

Upon emerging from the Bein River, the Guru proclaimed that he had been summoned by the Divine Master and assigned the task of disseminating the divine message to all humanity. Upon hearing the young man claim that God had inspired him to share the Divine Wisdom with the world – and he was not yet thirty – the Muslim leaders of Talwandi were startled and complained to Sultanpur Governor Daulat Khan that Nanak was claiming to be a new prophet.

This led to Khan summoning high-level Imams and scholars to examine the new Guru. A public dialogue ensued between the Guru and his critics, and lasted five days. As a result, the New Prophet laid the foundation of what we fashionably call the interfaith dialogues. Thus, in the first ever-held Interfaith Dialogue, at the very end of the 15 th century, Guru Nanak outlined his major doctrines and teachings for the new world. Sultanpur then became a shrine for all religions to live in peace and religious harmony.

Ever since the event described above, the interfaith dialogues have been continually held the world over to promote inter-religious understanding. Today, the interfaith dialogues are considered the most effective means of reducing tension among the world's religions.

Guru Nanak Speaking to the 21st Century

By Dr. Roshan Attrey, Board Member/Trustee, Gurdwara Sahib Charlotte

Dr. Roshan Attrey (retired English professor/chair/dean, Livingstone College, Salisbury, NC) spoke on the topic, “Guru Nanak Speaking to the 21 st Century." He explained, using text and pictures in PowerPoint, that Guru Nanak's meditations, revelations, hymns, and interfaith dialogues created the Sikh way as a new approach to God and humanity.

The Guru was divinely inspired to ameliorate the medieval world. He saw people being ruthlessly exploited and oppressed by the rulers and their agents posing to be the agents of God. So he decided to leave Sultanpur Lodhi to share his divine message with the world, and before leaving he expressed to his devotee Bhai Lalo, “ As the Word of and about the Creator descends to me, so do I articulate to people, O Lalo. " Guru Nanak's Bein River antar dhyan Samadhi, as recorded by Bhai Gurdas in a shabad, articulates thus the plight of people and his belief in One God and one humanity: “ On hearing the cries of the suffering humanity, God … sent Guru Nanak to the world … [and] revealed … Oneness of God and his creations … [and] united all social divisions …. "

He listened and talked to people in South Asia and neighboring countries, as far as Baghdad and Mecca-Medina in the West, Assam and Burma in the East, Himalayan countries in the North, and Sri Lanka in the South. All humans are children of One God, he told them – no matter what their place of birth, caste, creed, color, gender, or status – and all religions are different ways of worshiping the same Supreme Reality, Ik Onkar (Ek Onkaar), meaning the one reality and force manifested in all creations.

The Guru's interfaith meetings became an innovative approach, potentially, to bringing down the walls between different religious communities. The new approach enabled people to appreciate interfaith dialogues and to accept religious pluralism, i.e., accepting different religions as valid paths to worship the Creator and love one's neighbors. Thus, he founded a truly pluralistic religion. The succeeding Gurus nurtured it and built upon it. The result is Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the world's most pluralistic, interfaith scripture.

An Overview of Sikhism

By Dr. Surendrapal Singh Mac, Permanent Trustee, and ex-President, Gurdwara Sahib Charlotte

Dr. Surendrapal Singh Mac (retired orthopedic surgeon and past chief of medical staff and chief of surgery, Stanly Memorial Hospital, Albemarle, NC) provided a detailed overview of Sikhism. This is a summary of his long presentation.

The Youngest World Religion: Sikhism is a monotheistic world religion, with more than 25 million Sikhs by traditional counts, and perhaps nearly as high as 100 million followers by counting all the people who go to the Gurdwara and believe in Guru Nanak's teachings, but still it is little understood by Americans and often overlooked in the American education curriculum. It originated over 500 years ago in the 15 th century India/South Asia and developed over a period of two centuries. Most Sikhs live in India. Many have migrated to other countries, with larger populations in the US, Canada, Pakistan, the UK, and Australia.

Guru Nanak is the founder-prophet of the Sikh religion. His enlightened spirit, authority, and leadership passed on to and grew in the nine succeeding Gurus. Tenth Guru Gobind Singh established the Khalsa order or the concept of Saint Soldier and, before his death, permanently transformed the Sikh religion by his proclamation in October 1708. He declared that Sri Guru Granth Sahib be revered henceforth as the Guru, eternal Guru – thereby ending the human Guruship and any history-based theology for good – and that Sikhs hereafter turn to it for spiritual guidance, wisdom, and solace.

Sri Guru Granth Sahib, composed by the Gurus and other enlightened souls, embodies their teachings. 1430-page long, in poetic form, it is organized in accordance with traditional Indian musical measures, upon which the melody is based, with 31 musical notes and scales ( ragas).

Core Sikh beliefs and values: God as Creator and Sustainer is One, One Supreme Reality, accessible through Grace of the true Guru and meditation. All religions are different approaches to One God. All humans – all men and women – are created equal and are equal. The good life consists of living a moral, truthful, and diligent life, doing selfless service, and defending the oppressed. Three staples of daily life, preached and practiced by Guru Nanak, which would enable anyone to attain a good life, are: Kirat Karo: Work hard and earn an honest living. Vand Chako: Share what you have with those less fortunate and needy. Naam Japo: Meditate and experience the Creator – One that is eternally expressed in the Creation.

Gurdwara: Gurdwara is the Sikh temple, the Sikh house of prayer. It is open to all people regardless of their caste, race, class, or religious faith. The Guru Granth Sahib is installed in its main hall on a raised platform. It has no ordained clergy. The religious service mainly consists of contemplating and singing hymns ( shabad) from the Scripture, accompanied by Indian musical instruments. Any Sikh, male or female, may conduct the service. Before entering the main hall, visitors (congregation) take off their shoes, cover their heads, bow to the Guru Granth Sahib, and sit on the floor.

Langar: The Gurus instituted the unique Sikh practice of Langar (communal meal) to break down caste barriers. Langar is the vegetarian food cooked by volunteers and served to all. The upper caste and lower caste, the rich and poor, and the king and pauper – all share same food sitting together in a row on the same level.

Sikh Form, Personality, and Initiation: The baptized Sikhs have a distinctive personality because of five articles of faith. These five, along with a turban, have deep spiritual significance for them. All five articles start with the letter "K" in Gurmukhi (Punjabi) alphabet and are therefore referred to as the 5 K's. They are Kesh – unshorn hair; Kangha – a comb; Kara – a steel bangle; Kirpan – a sword; and Kachcha – a pair of shorts. When a Sikh who conforms to Sikh form and is prepared to abide by the rules governing ambrosial baptism, then he/she is eligible to receive the sacrament of Sikh Baptism or Khande-de-Pahul.

Sikhism affirms other religions: Sikhism forbids proselytization or forced conversion. According to Sikh Gurus, different religions have different ways of connecting with God. For instance, the Guru Granth Sahib affirms other religions and their scriptures by saying:

Kudharath Vaedh Puraan Kathaebaa Kudharath Sarab Veechaar ||

Translation: By the Lord's power the Vedas and the Puraanas exist, and the holy scriptures of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religions. By His power all deliberations exist.

Baedh Kathaeb Kehahu Math Jhoothae Jhoothaa Jo N Bichaarai ||

Translation: Do not say that the Vedas, the Bible, and the Koran are false. Those who do not contemplate them are false (i.e., you are false if you do not study your own scripture truthfully).

The Sikh way is one of the paths to the Supreme Being, and within Sikhism, there are multiple paths to God. The Sikh daily prayer concludes, thus, affirming all people, no matter what religion:

Nanak Naam Chardi Kala Tere Bhane Sarbat Da Bhala

Translation: >By meditating on God's Naam (i.e, God), says Nanak, you become enlightened; O God, we pray to you for goodwill, prosperity, and well-being of all creations.

A few noteworthy facts about Sikhs: Sikhs started migrating to North America in the late 1800s. The largest peach, blueberry, raisin, okra, and pistachio farms are owned by Sikh Americans. The first Asian American US Congressman, Dalip Singh Saund, was of Sikh heritage, elected in 1957. They have made major contributions to science and medicine. They have fought in every major war on the side of the United States. 99% of people wearing a turban in the US are Sikhs (color and style have no significance).

Challenges Sikhs Face in the U.S.
By Dr. Suneet Kaur, Associate Program Director, Internal Medicine Residency at Atrium, Charlotte

Dr. Suneet Kaur, an advocate of Sikh causes locally and nationally, spoke on “Challenges Sikhs Face in the U.S." She made her audience aware of the discrimination Sikhs encounter in the U.S. Here is a summary of her presentation.

Sikhs who wear turbans are easily identifiable. 99% of people who wear turban in the US are Sikhs of Indian origin. They become the target of discrimination for various reasons: they look different; they wear the turban, or the perpetrator of the crime confuses a bearded Sikh in turban with some other target of the hate crime.

Per FBI report from November 2018, there was a 16.7% rise in hate crime in the U.S. North Carolina had 12% increase in hate crime in 2016-2017 and ranked 13 th highest nationwide for hate crime in 2017. But hate crime against Sikhs increased 243%.

Workplace Discrimination: In a survey of 1000 Sikhs in California from 2012, 12% reported workplace discrimination. Only two states have passed workplace discrimination laws to address discrimination based on religious attire or grooming, New York and California.

Harassment in Schools: The Sikh Coalition research shows that 67% of turbaned Sikh youth report being bullied, a rate twice as high as the national average. Bullying, name-calling, and physical violence occur often student to student, but sometimes even adult to student within the school.

Addressing Hate Crimes – the following and other measures need to be established in the system with a sense of urgency:

· Facilitate training on hate crime prevention.

· Establish appropriate departmental protocols and communication initiatives with impacted families and communities on the status of reported incidents.

· Ensure that communities know who to call in case of biased crime/incident, or even to report suspicious behavior.

· Create community liaisons in local and state agencies.

· Investigate, track, and report hate crime.

· Open local and state agencies for recruiting and hiring Sikhs.

Addressing School Harassment:

· Create awareness of the problem in schools.

· Make statewide curriculum changes to deal with the issues.

Guru Nanak's message: Cultivate self-awareness, community activism, and volunteerism.
Conclusion: Empower the community; establish relationships; and address challenges.

Shabad Kirtan

By Gyani Satnam Singh, S. Sajjan Singh Dhaliwal, and Mrs. Arvind Rajpal with Group

Two shabads (hymns) were chosen to be sung for the edification of attendees, most of whom had never been to a gurdwara.

Gyani Satnam Singh, a lead singer, is the Granthi/minister at Gurdwara Sahib since 2005. Sajjan Singh Dhaliwal is a Founding Permanent Trustee at Gurdwara Sahib and a real estate developer and builder. Mrs. Arvind Rajpal is Coordinator and Music Teacher at Gurmat School and Biology Teacher at a state school, accompanied by her Gurmat School students.

Mrs. Arvind Rajpal explained to the audience the significance of Kirtan, especially raag (raga), in the Sikh religious service and in the sacred Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib. The audience was told that every shabad is sung according to a certain raaga as specified in the Guru Granth Sahib, and sung to the accompaniment of a harmonium and a pair of drums called Tabla. She provided the following introduction to the Shabad Kirtan program before the singing started:

A Sikh is a lifelong learner of Sikhi, seeking the truth. The purpose of life to a Sikh is to realize the ultimate truth and finally merge with the Supreme Being. Guru Nanak Dev and other Sikh Gurus showed us a path to achieve this state via Kirtan. Kirtan means singing praises of God or Waheguru. It has two major components: (i) Shabad or the scripture composed by the Guru and (ii) Raags or music chosen by the Guru for singing the shabad.

Raag is a musical composition made up of at least 5 musical notes. Raags used in Kirtan enable us to control our minds, silence the overwhelming distractions we encounter, and understand the meaning of the scripture – eventually leading us to experience Vismad, a state of spiritual awakening. It is important for us to know that the meaning of the shabad is the main element in Kirtan that the Guru wants us to understand, follow, and recite with music as the medium. Nonetheless, the medium is a critically important component in the process of attaining spiritual awakening.

The Sikh tradition of Kirtan, also known as Gurmat Sangeet, was started by Guru Nanak and strengthened by other Gurus. The compositions of the Sikh Gurus, which form the bulk of the Guru Granth Sahib, are each identified by one of the 31 Raags (ragas) employed in the scripture. These compositions spread the message of love, peace, and harmony, and show us the way to seek a state of high spirituality.

Following the above introduction, Gyani Satnam Singh, Sajjan Dhaliwal, and Arvind Rajpal with her students sang two shabads.

Shabad 1. Na ko Bairy Nahi Begana….

Translation: No one is my enemy; no one is the other (a stranger). I feel close to everyone. Ever since I have been in the company of saintly people, all jealousy and enmities have disappeared. Whatever God does, I accept as good. This is the sublime wisdom I have obtained from saints.

Shabad 2. Waheguru Tera sab Sadka ….

Translation: One God pervades in all . Gazing upon His creations, Nanak says, his heart is filled with joy.

Tribute to Deputy Sandeep Singh Dhaliwal

By Mrs. Dimple Ajmera, City of Charlotte Council

On behalf of the City of Charlotte and the City Council, Councilor Ajmera paid a tribute to Sandeep Singh Dhaliwal, slain Sheriff's Deputy in Houston, Texas, for his ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. He was, she said, truly a brave and nobleman who lived to serve others and made his family, community, and country proud. She asked everyone to stand up and observe a minute of silence in his memory.

City of Charlotte, North Carolina, Proclamation
“Sikh Awareness and Appreciation Month"

Dimple Ajmera, City of Charlotte Council, Member-at-Large read out a proclamation on behalf of the Honorable Vi Alexander Lyles, Mayor of Charlotte.

The Proclamation recognizes Sikhism as the fifth largest world religion, with estimated 700,000 Sikh Americans. It appreciates the many contributions Sikhs have made through faith and service to the American society since the late 1800s. It emphasizes the City of Charlotte's commitment to educating its citizens about world religions, respect for religious diversity, and the First Amendment principles, and a culture of mutual understanding. Therefore, on the occasion of the 550 th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism, the Mayor proclaimed, thus:

Now, therefore, I, Vi Alexander Lyles, Mayor of Charlotte, do hereby proclaim the month of November 2019 as “SIKH AWARENESS AND APPRECIATION MONTH" in Charlotte and commend its observance to all citizens. "

Subsequently, Councilor Ajmera called the elected officials and introduced them. Besides others, Spencer Merriweather, Mecklenburg County District Attorney, came to the podium and spoke.


The Honorable Governor Roy Cooper's Letter

Presented by The Honorable Rachel Hunt, NC State Representative

The Honorable Roy Cooper, Governor of North Carolina, sent his greetings on the 550 th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak and praised the Sikhs for their contributions to the U.S. He expressed regrets for his absence and wished he were able to join us for the celebration.

Vote of Thanks

By S. Inderjeet Singh Rajpal, President, Gurdwara Sahib

On behalf of the joint Board of Directors and Trustees, Inderjeet Rajpal acknowledged and thanked all guests for attending the function. In his closing remarks, he emphasized that the Sikh values are American values, and reiterated that Sikh communities foster love, equality, and acceptance of all. Like the U.S. Bill of Rights, the Sikh scripture promotes ideals of equality and freedom to pursue paths of peace and prosperity. And like the United States, Sikhs stand against injustice and inequality wherever it exists. Sikhs value Gender Equality, Racial Diversity, Freedom of Religion, Service to our Country, Equality of Opportunity and, most importantly, Community Service.

Attendees at the event included:

Elected officials

NC State Senator Terry VanDuyn
NC State Representative Wesley Harris
NC State Representative Nasif Majeed

NC State Representative Rachel Hunt

Council Member Dimple Ajmera – Charlotte City, Council At-Large

Council Member Larken Egleston – Charlotte City, Council, District 1

Former Mayor, City of Charlotte – Jennifer Roberts

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department – Captain L. G. Sell

Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather

CMS School Board Member – Elyse Dashew

Other guests

Kevin Fredrick – Federal Security Director for Charlotte Douglas, Concord, and Asheville airports

Kevin Taylor – Professor of Religion, Pfeiffer University, NC

Imam John Ederer – President, Board of Mecklenburg Ministries

Representatives – from Churches, Hindu Center of Charlotte, Swaminarayan Mandir, Jain Temple, Muslim mosques and organizations, and many members of the larger American society.

The Sikh Coalition: We are also grateful to The Sikh Coalition for their partnership with us. They provided us with some of the PowerPoint slides we used and two handouts – a card with information titled “Who Are the Sikhs?" and “Celebrating Guru Nanak Dev Ji's 550 th Gurpurab," and a brochure titled “A brief introduction to the beliefs and practices of THE SIKHS." Contact: www.sikhcoalition.org; email: info@sikhcoalition.org; or write to The Sikh Coalition, 50 Broad Street, Suite 1637, New York, NY 10004, United States.

Dinner Reception, Social Interaction, and Guests' Questions

In the end, a complementary Indian-style vegetarian dinner was served for networking and socialization. All attendees socialized. Guests asked questions and expressed their views, and had their dinner.

A Gift of Book on Sikhism to the Guests

All guests received a copy of the book, Guru Nanak's Religious Pluralism and Sri Guru Granth Sahib written by Dr. Harbans Lal and Dr. Roshan Attrey (Publisher: Guru Nanak Foundation, New Delhi, 2019) along with a card titled “Who Are the Sikhs?" and a brochure titled “A brief introduction to the beliefs and practices of THE SIKHS" prepared by The Sikh Coalition.

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Dr. Roshan Attrey is a retired English professor and a founding board member of The Sikh Heritage Society of Greater Charlotte, North Carolina, USA. Email: roshan.attrey@gmail.com