Maghi: Sikhs memorialize 40 martyrs at Muktsar, request status changes

Large white building with dome on top across body of water

Gurdwara Muktsar Sahib, so named for the 40 Sikhs who perished in the Battle of Muktsar in 1705. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 14: As the festival of Makar Sankranti surges across India with its kites and sweet treats, Sikhs recall a solemn and momentous anniversary: the death and cremation of the “40 liberated ones.” In December of 1705, 40 Sikhs who had previously abandoned the 10th Sikh guru, Gobind Singh, returned to battle at Muktsar and suffered martyrdom for their leader. The imperial Mughal army was forced to retreat, and Guru Gobind Singh was free from attack. Following the death of the Chali Mukte (40 Liberated Ones), Guru Gobind Singh blessed the Sikhs and declared that they had reached mukti (liberation). Today, the largest gathering for this event—Mela Maghi—takes place at Sri Muktsar Sahib, a revered city in Punjab where the Battle of Muktsar took place.

Did you know? The city of Muktsar was originally called Khidrana, but was renamed “Muktsar,” or “the pool of liberation,” following the prominent battle of 1705.

The story of the 40 Liberated Ones begins when the group, led by Mahan Singh, had formally deserted Guru Gobind Singh and had written a memorandum about their decision. Shortly thereafter, the Sikhs were met by a spirited woman by the name of Mai Bhago, who reprimanded the Sikhs for their lack of bravery. The men were inspired and experienced a renewed sense of purpose. The Sikhs engaged in battle with the fatigued opposing forces, and though outnumbered, were victorious. (Learn more from All About Sikhs.) Before his death on the battlefield, Mahan Singh asked Guru Gobind Singh to forgive the 40 Sikhs who had previously deserted the leader. Gobind Singh officially declared the 40, now martyrs, as forgiven.

During Mela Maghi, Sikhs in India and worldwide gather in gurdwaras to recite hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book) and watch elaborate recitals. At Muktsar, a grand three-day festival offers Sikhs a chance to submerge in sacred waters, worship at various locations and participate in a procession to Gurdwara Tibbi Sahib, a renowned favorite of Guru Gobind Singh. (Wikipedia has details.) According to the Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhs should take baths and gather in congregation to review God’s virtues.

IN THE NEWS:
OBAMA ASKED TO DISCUSS SIKH RIGHTS IN INDIA

An organization for Sikh rights has obtained more than 100,000 signatures on a petition requesting President Obama discuss Sikh status issues and more during an upcoming trip to India, report news sources. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited President Obama to be chief guest at Republic Day on January 26, and American Sikhs are urging the President to bring up the issue of separate status for Sikhs in India. The petition, entitled “Sikhs are not Hindus,” also asks President Obama to speak with Prime Minister Narenda Modi about bringing justice to the victims of the highly organized Sikh Genocide, which occurred in 1984.

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Categories: Sikh

Installation of Sriptures as Guru Granth: Sikhs celebrate final faith guide

Book lying open on red cloth

The Sikh holy book, Guru Granth Sahib. Photo by Gurumustuk Singh, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, OCTOBER 20: In the line of esteemed Sikh faith leaders (gurus), the final guru continues to lead the Sikh people today—some four centuries after conception. Today, Sikhs celebrate the Installation of the Scriptures as Guru Granth. On this day in 1708 CE, the 10th Sikh guru announced that following his death, Sikhs should look to the sacred text known as Granth Sahib for guidance. The sacred compilation, which contains words from Sikh, Hindu and Muslim leaders alike, is placed at the center of worship in every Sikh gurdwara (place of worship). The faithful believe the Guru Granth Sahib to be the final and sovereign guru.

With the succession of Sikh gurus in history, it was the fifth—Guru Arjan (1563-1606 CE)—who began compiling writings of the previous gurus and of other great saints of the time. This first edition was known as the Adi Granth. As the years passed, the words of the other gurus were recorded, until the 10th guru added the words of his predecessor and compiled a work known as the Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Today, the Guru Granth Sahib can be seen in every Sikh gurdwara on a revered platform, covered with ornate and delicate fabric.

The Guru Granth Sahib consists of 1,430 pages. (Wikipedia has details.) Among the hymns in this sacred text are descriptions of the qualities of God, the necessity for meditation on God’s name, and the need to live in God’s will.

IN THE NEWS:
PRINTING PRESSES FOR GURU GRANTH
TO OPEN IN NORTH AMERICA AND EUROPE

The Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee recently made the decision to install printing presses in Europe, Canada and the United States, to aid Sikhs in these areas who need greater ability to reproduce copies of the Guru Granth Sahib. (Learn more from the Times of India and Sikh24.) As the Granth Sahib must be printed and delivered according to per rehat maryada (the Sikh code of religious conduct), the process is carried out with elaborate, traditional measures.

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Categories: Sikh

Maghi, Lohri, Makara Sankranti: Hindus and Sikhs celebrate

Man stands inside his stall filled with colorful kites

Kites of every color and size are a common sight during Makara Sankranti. Photo by Rajesh_India, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, JANUARY 13 and TUESDAY, JANUARY 14: Hindus, Sikhs and residents across India and Nepal usher in the arrival of spring with the auspicious Makara Sankranti, an ancient harvest festival that universally celebrates light over darkness. Celebrated in a variety of forms and in cultures, Makara Sankranti can take on almost as many characteristics as there are people who hold it dear.

Scientists describe Makara Sankranti as the day that the sun begins its movement away from the tropic of Capricorn and toward the Northern Hemisphere, which for Hindus signifies the turning away from darkness and toward the light. By turning toward the light of knowledge and spiritual wisdom, Hindus believe people can mature in purity and goodness, therby releasing the dark misconceptions that many call reality. (Wikipedia has details.) During this days-long festival, residents of Punjab eat rice in boiled milk; across India, the sky is filled with a rainbow of colors, as young and old gather beneath the sun to fly kites.

Did you know? In contrast to many Hindu festivals, which are lunar, Makara Sankranti is a solar event; thus, the date remains constant over a long term.

The darkest days of the calendar year—calculated by Hindus as lasting from mid-December through mid-January—mark an inauspicious phase, and that phase ends with Makara Sankranti. Multiple legends are associated with this festival, and even the most ancient epics mention its significance. Among the traditional stories, Hindus share that Maharaja Bhagiratha liberated his ancestors from a curse, merging the Ganges with the sea, and to this day, millions enter the waters at Ganga Sagar (the point where the Ganges River meets the Bay of Bengal) during Makara Sankranti. (Find details, greetings, recipes and more at I Love India.)

Orange-and-white candy balls and sesame-coated brown candy balls

Tilgul, a sesame candy, is the popular sweet in in Maharashtra during Makar Sankranti. Photo by Saloni Desai, courtesy of Flickr

LOHRI:
BONFIRES, FRESH STARTS
& AN END TO WINTER

Largely in Punjab (and known by alternative names, such as Boghi, in other regions of India), the night preceding Makara Sankranti is filled with bonfires and folk dances. In many regions, people burn unnecessary belongings to make room for change in their lives, releasing attachment to material belongings and focusing on turning toward the light. (Wikipedia has details.) Sugarcane, sweets, rice, popcorn and peanuts are thrown into the flames of Lohri bonfires by families and friends. Those who have recently experienced marriage or childbirth are especially vigilant in their actions.

MAKARA SANKRANTI
ACROSS INDIA:
SWEETS, KITES

The colorful traditions of Makara Sankranti are almost as numerous as the kites in the sky during this festival of gaiety, as each region of India boasts its own customs. In Andhra Pradesh, infants and children are gifted with jujube fruits for protection from evil, sweets are prepared for all, brothers reaffirm filial love for their married sisters and new clothes are donned; in Bihar and Jharkhand, a rich khichdi dish takes center at the table and is prepared only once per year. In Tamil Nadu, thanks is offered to cattle for their assistance in agriculture, and during this festival they are fed sweet rice and sugar while decorated with flowers and bells; the infamous kite festivities across the state represent devotees’ reaching toward the sun and all that is good.

MELA MAGHI:
SIKHS COMMEMORATE
‘40 LIBERATED ONES’

For Sikhs, the larger festivals of Lohri and Makar Sankranti signal an anniversary: It was on December 30, 1705, that the bodies of 40 Sikh martyrs were cremated. Though they had previously deserted 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh, the Chali Mukte returned to battle and defended their leader with their lives; the massive imperial Mughal army was forced to retreat. (Read more at All About Sikhs.) Following their martyrdom on December 29, Guru Gobind Singh blessed the ‘40 Liberated Ones’ and declared them as having reached mukti (liberation).

In gurdwaras worldwide, Sikhs gather for recitals of the Guru Granth Sahib, or Sikh holy book, while participating in religious divans for Mela Maghi. In Mukstar (Punjab), a three-day celebration draws pilgrims with fairs, promises of a dip in sacred waters and opportunity for worship at various shrines. Events conclude with a procession from the main shrine to gurdwara Tibbi Sahib.

SIKH NEWS:
SIKH CARTOONIST COSTUMES
AS CAPTAIN AMERICA IN NYC

Much like a fictional superhero, Sikh cartoonist Vishavjit Singh set out for the streets with a valiant goal in mind: to battle negative forces in the city. For this turban-donning version of Captain America, however, the negative forces were stereotypes. In a recent interview with The Atlantic, Vishavjit revealed the prejudices he has encountered in the city he calls home—and how drawing Sikh comics helps him to release frustrations. Vishavjit says he hopes to continue drawing attention in a fun, creative way, to battle religious and ethnic stereotypes.

MAKARA SANKRANTI NEWS:

High-profile events for Makara Sankranti began days in advance, including the gathering of more than 1,000 film stars and celebrities for the Punjabi Cultural Heritage Board’s Lohri in Andheri last Saturday. Meanwhile, kite sellers report politicians as hottest in this year’s kite trends, trumping cartoons and even Bollywood stars. Devoid of slogans, the kites picture just the faces of politicians, with the most popular being Narenda Modi and Arvind Kejriwal. (Read more in the Times of India.)

For years, each Maghi (harvest festival) in Nepal brought worry to young girls in the impoverished community of Tharu: during this festival, the girls were sold by their families to the wealthy in servitude, through an annual contract. This custom continued until 2000, TIME recently reported, when the Nepal Youth Foundation drew up plans to ban this practice through initiatives for families and education for the kamlari girls. Though approximately 12,500 girls have been rescued since efforts began, around 500 remain in the homes of powerful figures. This Maghi, rescued girls will be raising awareness of the now-outlawed practice, knocking on doors to free the last of the kamlari.

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Categories: Faiths of India

Diwali: Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and more mark Festival of Lights

Diwali Diyas lit in dim lighting

A diya, the traditional lamp of Diwali, is customarily made of clay and symbolizes the “Festival of lights.” Paramount to Hindu philosophy is the Atman, something beyond the physical that is pure, infinite and eternal; it is the awakening to this “Inner Light” that Diwali represents. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 3: Here’s a holiday question for our readers: Are you seeing signs of Diwali wherever you call home?
ReadTheSpirit’s Home Office is in suburban Detroit, and we’ve seen displays of Diwali decorations in stores, for weeks, as families prepare for Diwali. Please, add a comment below or email us at ReadTheSpirit@gmail.com if you spot a local sign of Diwali approaching.

The Festival of Lights cuts across a number of faiths: Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Indian communities all around the planet mark this annual holiday with lovely displays of lights.

Hands decorated with henna tattoos holding a small clay bowl filled with oil and lit with fire at the top

Hands decorated with Mehndi, or henna, hold a diya lamp. Photo by Shrinivasa Sharma, courtesy of Flickr

FOR HINDUS, Diwali lasts five days and is associated with several legends. Literally, “Diwali” is a contraction of “Deepavali,” which translates into “row of lamps”—thus indicating one of the most vital elements of the holiday. (Wikipedia has details.)

Diyas are the small lamps found in almost every Hindu home during Diwali. The lamps often burn throughout the night in order to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. (Some Hindus use colorful paper lamps known as kandils. Find kid-friendly explanations of Diwali from National Geographic.)

In the days and weeks ahead of Diwali, devotees buy new clothes, clean their homes, purchase fireworks and gifts, and prepare plenty of mouth-watering sweets to share with family and friends. (Learn more from DiwaliFestival.org.) Indian businesses prepare the end of their financial year, as a fresh year begins on Dhanteras, the first day of Diwali.

FOR JAINS, Diwali marks the time when Mahavira, the 24th and final Tirthankara (human who freed his soul from the cycles of karma and acts as a role model) achieved moksha, or nirvana. For Jains, Diwali is a type of anniversary of Mahavira’s attainment in 527 BCE. It’s believed that several gods were present at the time, and that they illuminated the darkness.

FOR SIKHS, Bandi Shor Divas is associated with Diwali. Commemorated as “Day of Liberation,” Bandi Shor Divas (spellings vary) celebrates the time when Sikh Guru Hargobind Ji, along with 52 princes, was released from prison in 1619. As Diwali was in full swing when Guru Hargobind Ji arrived in Amritsar following his release, the festival became tied with happiness for his liberation. The two—Bandi Shor Divas and Diwali—are distinct, yet Sikh families tend to mark them together.

FOR MILLIONS AROUND THE WORLD, Diwali is an official holiday: in India, Nepal, Fiji, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritius, Malaysia, Singapore, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago and Suriname.

DIWALI FROM NORTH TO SOUTH, EAST TO WEST

Two countries are rivals for the grandest Diwali festival in the world: India, of course, and—Fiji! Nearly one-third of Fiji’s population is Hindu, and the government of Fiji set aside the holiday in 1970, along with one major Christian holiday and a major Islamic holiday. Officials wanted to honor all three of the main religions that comprise Fiji’s population. Diwali events in Fiji begin at least one week before the commencement of the actual festival, and fireworks, shopping events, diya lightings and special dishes make up the favored festival. (This year, the Consumer Council of Fiji is expressing concern for the over-commercialization of the holiday, which includes some advertisements for traditionally banned meats. Read more here.)

Women adjust circles of small lighted diya lamps

Women create a display of diya lamps for Diwali. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

INDIA: FROM HOMEMADE OILS TO CATTLE

In India, customs vary by region. In Tamil Nadu, a bathing tradition includes an oil of pepper corns and bael leaves (and a homemade medicine is popular to soothe digestive issues that may come with the influx of rich foods); in Karnataka, cows are elaborately decorated and fireworks are widely seen at night; restaurants in Hyderabad prepare sweets that are available only during this time of year. In many areas, local stage shows tell the stories associated with Diwali in a family-friendly atmosphere. Though the purchase of gold is a major custom associated with Diwali, that tradition is taking a downturn this year as India cut its legal gold imports. (Reuters has the story.) India took first place as the world’s top gold purchaser in 2012, but is likely to lose its spot to China in 2013.

DIWALI IN EUROPE, AUSTRALIA & THE UNITED STATES

Britain takes pride in its Diwali events, as Leicester hosts one of the largest parties outside of India and an enormous display of fireworks commences in the East End of London. Australia kicked off its first major Diwali festival in 2002, and today’s events include traditional Indian foods, Indian art, Diwali stories and a night sky filled with fireworks.

With an increasing Indian population, the United States witnessed its first Diwali in the White House in 2003; Barack Obama became the first president to personally attend Diwali at the White House in 2009. That same year, San Antonio became the first U.S. city to sponsor an official Diwali event.

HEADLINES:
TRAFALGAR SQUARE; PET SAFETY; POLLUTION

Indians in New Zealand celebrated Diwali a few days early this year, but the public is invited to Trafalgar Square in London for a lineup of contemporary music and dance, stalls of traditional foods and drinks and children’s activities.

Alerting pet owners to make preparations for their pets before the booming fireworks of Diwali, animal activist groups in India are handing out pamphlets and raising awareness about the stress experienced by furry friends throughout Diwali. (The Hindu reported. Or, read more in the Deccan Chronicle.) Nearly 40 pets in Hyderabad alone had to be rushed to veterinary care last year as a result of the immense number of firecrackers, and celebrants are being urged to avoid lighting crackers in residential areas. Helpline services and a specialized ambulance will be on hand this year for emergencies.

Air toxicity is expected to hit unprecedented and alarming levels in Kolkata this year, as poisonous gases and heavy metals fill the air after exceeding numbers of fireworks. Smuggled imports of Chinese firecrackers, which are more toxic than others, contributes to the high pollution levels; thousands of other banned crackers are also making their way into India as Diwali approaches. Officials note that unless strict monitoring services are employed, the pollution will be out of control.

As the price of dried fruit has skyrocketed, demand for chocolate has risen dramatically this Diwali, reports the Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry of India. Read more in the Indian Express.

While the immersion of religious statues was banned in Allahabad high court for environmental concerns, a group of rural women is answering the demand—with eco-friendly figures made of cow dung. (The Times of India has more.) The women, who were educated in the sculpting by the Bioved Research Institute of Agriculture and Technology, report that the figures—lightweight, biodegradable and durable—are in high demand. While just a few figures were crafted last year, this year has seen the creation of hundreds of statues.

 (Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, a magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Faiths of India

Installation of Scriptures as Granth Sahib: Sikhs hail text as everlasting guru

Open book with traditional text

Scripture text of the Guru Granth Sahib. Photo by Jasleen Kaur, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 20: Today, the world’s 24 million Sikhs celebrate a book held so sacred that it sits upon a throne while adherents sit on the floor; it is the omnipresent leader of a religion, and today, devotees commemorate the Guru Granth Sahib. While Sikhs reject idol worship, they hold the deepest respect for the poetry, hymns and passages of wisdom found within their holy book. Historically, Sikhs look to 10 human gurus of the faith for direction and example; it was the 10th guru, Gobind Singh, who designated the holy scriptures as the final and everlasting guru. (Learn more from AllAboutSikhs.com.) It was on this date in 1708 that Guru Gobind Singh brought the Sikhs’ sanctified collection of writings—the Adi Granth—to the level of Guru Granth Sahib.

Compilation of the Adi Granth began with the fifth Sikh guru, Arjan, during the 16th century. During the lifetime of Guru Arjan, fear circulated that the hymns of the first gurus would be lost; some inaccurate and even forged writings were found to be circulating. Guru Arjan gained permission to access existing documents, sent disciples out far and wide in search of any lingering writings and even contacted members of other religions with an invitation to submit a few words to the Adi Granth (the current Granth Sahib contains writings by Hindus and Muslims). The writings were set to 30 musical ragas, or musical patterns. While several translations of the Granth Sahib do exist—in recent news, one man released a noted English translation, after 17 years of work on the book—many Sikhs attempt to learn the Punjabi script used in the original text, known as Gurmukhi.

REVERENCE FOR THE HOLY SCRIPTURES

The completion of the Granth Sahib was, understandably, met with much exhilaration, and Sikhs today maintain the same excitement. New Strait Times recently reported that more than 300 members of the Sikh community gathered at a temple in Jalan Menon to welcome three new copies of the Guru Granth Sahib, which were decorated with flowers and ornaments and carried in three separate cars.

Each time Sikhs gather in a gurdwara, or place of worship, the Granth Sahib is placed at the center, on a raised platform known as a Takht (throne). Congregation members remove their shoes and cover their heads in its presence, sitting upon the floor to hear it contents read. A caretaker known as a Granthi is responsible for the ceremonial care of the holy scriptures.

GURU GRANTH SAHIB GOES DIGITAL

Described as a book for all people and applicable to any religion, the Granth Sahib stresses a meditation on the True God, supplemented with moral and ethical rules for the maturity of the soul. Scriptures call for unity with God, unity with one another and equality for all.

The one publisher of the Guru Granth Sahib is the official religious body of Sikhs in Amritsar. The Punjab Digital Library and Nanakshai Trust began digitizing the scriptures in 2003, and today, Sikh apps assist adherents around the world in better understanding of the Guru Granth Sahib. (The Detroit News reported on religion and technology, including Sikh media.)

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Categories: Faiths of India

Vaisakhi, Baisakhi: Celebrating harvest, new year & Sikh revival

A Vaisakhi street festival in Canada. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

A Vaisakhi street festival in Canada. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

SATURDAY, APRIL 13: Around the world Indian communities—especially Sikhs—are celebrating Vaisakhi (or Baisahki; spellings vary). It’s fun. It’s a source of pride and an occasion for colorful processions and public festivals. But explaining its exact meaning is difficult—because Vaisakhi holds many meanings to communities with origins in India.

First, this was an ancient agricultural festival in the Punjab, a time of prayers for bountiful crops. In the Punjab region (and among families with Punjabi roots around the world), one custom is an energetic dance called Bhangra. Centuries ago, while farmers were preparing to reap a harvest of wheat at this time of year, men would pause to perform this dance. The Bhangra has moved through several different eras and forms, according to scholars of Indian folklore. Today, there is a modern revival of the practice, complete with colorful costumes, that is often performed at Vaisakhi festivals.

A BUDDHIST PERSPECTIVE: VESAK

The festival’s name refers to a month in the traditional Hindu calendar: Vaisakha. Within Buddhism, given the faith’s roots in India, this seasonal period of celebration is related now to what is commonly called “Buddha’s Birthday.” Here is Wikipedia’s overview of the Buddhist Vesak—which actually occurs in May this year. Once again, Buddhist customs for Vesak vary across the many cultures in which Buddhism now is deeply rooted around the planet. Decisions by Buddhist leaders in the mid 20th century are among the factors unifying their Vesak celebration as a divergent festival from Vaisakhi.

A 17th CENTURY SIKH REVIVAL: Birth of the Khalsa

Though celebrated by many, Vaisakhi holds particular significance for Sikhs who, in 1699, established the Khalsa. On Vaisakhi Day in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh emerged from a tent before thousands, asking for five volunteers willing to give their lives. Armed with a sword, the Guru took in the first volunteer; a few minutes later, the Guru emerged from the tent again, his sword covered in blood. By the time five volunteers had come forward, the Guru revealed his true intentions: to call forth a “Beloved Five,” who would be baptized into a new order known as the Khalsa. The five volunteers exited from the tent—unharmed and wearing turbans. (Read more from the BBC.) From that day, Sikhism became a faith of soldier saints—always prepared to fight for justice by protecting the vulnerable.

SIKH VAISAKHI AROUND THE GLOBE

Service for the common good is a major theme at Vaisakhi. In this photo, two young Sikhs operate a tractor with an attached machine that crushes sugar cane to make fresh sweet juice. They are giving the fresh juice to celebrants as their act of service. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Service for the common good is a major theme at Vaisakhi. In this photo, two young Sikhs operate a tractor with an attached machine that crushes sugar cane to make fresh sweet juice. They are giving the fresh juice to celebrants as their act of service. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Tens of thousands of Sikhs make pilgrimage to Pakistani holy sites each year for Vaisakhi—one city even bears the name of the first Sikh Guru, Nanak. Thousands more flock to the birthplace of the Khalsa, as well as to the famed Golden Temple at Amritsar. Sikhs in the United States can travel to Los Angeles, California, for an entire day of Kirtan (spiritual music based on the holy book, Guru Granth Sahib) and a large-scale parade; in Manhattan, New York City, Sikhs flood into the streets to perform seva (selfless service) of charity. Further north, Canadians in British Columbia parade through the streets for Vaisakhi, often drawing 200,000 attendees to the festivities. The UK boasts its own sizeable Sikh population, though most can be found in west London, and events there draw up to 75,000. The prime minister of Malaysia has announced that this year—for the first time—all government workers of Sikh affiliation will be given a day of on Vaisakhi Day.

Snatam Kaur: An American-Born Sikh Musician

Care to read more about America’s own famous Sikh musician, Snatam Kaur? This spring, she is touring across the U.S. Our new profile of Snatam Kaur tells her inspiring story of trying to promote peace through traditional meditative Sikh hymns.

NEWS on Vaisakhi 2013 and EcoSikh

In efforts to promote justice, Sikh organizations are voicing concern over Pakistani rejection of Hindu visas for Sikh occasions such as Vaisakhi. (Times of India reported.)

Meanwhile, Sikhs from Pakistan celebrated the recent Sikh environment day by planting trees and raising awareness of the importance of plant life. The event was organized by both the Pakistan Sikh Council and the Washington, D.C.-based group EcoSikh. (Read more here.)

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India: auspicious celebrations of Mela Maghi and Lohri

http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-SF_113_Sikh_Maghi.jpgTwo young Sikh boys stand outside the Golden Temple at Amritsar. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia CommonsSUNDAY, JANUARY 13: The auspicious month of Magh kicks off across India tomorrow, and Sikhs are the first to celebrate this major event—with the festival of Mela Maghi. Part of the larger jubilee of Magh, Sikhs today remember the honorable fight of the Forty Liberated Ones, or 40 Sikh followers who were martyred in a fight for the Guru Gobind Singh in 1705. Each year on Mela Maghi, Sikhs gather at the holy city of Muktar Sahib—the same place where the Forty Liberated Ones fought—to pray and recite their holy book, Guru Granth Sahib. (Wikipedia has details.)

As Magh marks a significant festival across India, Sikhs commemorate with one of the most vital religious gatherings in their religious calendar. Today, Sikhs will hear a centuries-old story repeated: In 1705, a group of former Sikh followers had abandoned leader Guru Gobind Singh and even signed a contract of desertion. Upon meeting a bold woman, Mai Bhago, they were first scorned for their cowardliness and then encouraged to recover their inner courage. Inspired, the 40 returned to the fight and died fighting off the massive Mughal army. (Read more at All About Sikhs.) Having fought to save Guru Gobind Singh, the Forty Liberated Ones were recognized the following day by the Guru. The bodies were cremated that day, on the first of Magh.

Magh events abound in the vibrant Punjabi region, but nowhere in Punjab are celebrations larger than in Mukstar. Here, enormous fairs delight young and old, and an overwhelming march of pilgrims lines the streets from a major shrine to the gurdwara Tibbi Sahib, which was sacred to Guru Gobind Singh. (Political conventions are also held during Maghi.) Customarily, Sikhs around the world are entertained on Maghi with end-to-end recitals of the Guru Granth Sahib.

MAGHI WINDS DOWN; LOHRI BONFIRES BEGIN

http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-SF_113_Lohri_bonfire.jpgAs Sikh Maghi events wind down tonight—waiting to be picked up tomorrow—and the dusk gathers across Punjab, bonfires begin dotting the landscape: It’s the widespread Lohri, always marked on the eve of Makar Sankranti. People across India, including Hindus, eagerly anticipate the auspicious month of Magh, which dawns tomorrow and welcomes the umbrella festival of Makar Sankranti.

Tonight, Indians will light bonfires and lamps of sesame oil, in an attempt to literally Agh and Magh, “eradicate sin.” At the fireside, Punjabis eat rice in boiled milk and feast on warming treats like gajjak (a sesame bar—get the recipe here), roasted peanuts and popcorn. (Are Westerners really the ones in the dark on the Sikh Maghi festival? The Washington Post thinks so. Read an article all about it here.)

EVOLVING TRADITIONS:
LOHRI WELCOMES DAUGHTERS, TOO

Lohri signals the distribution of alms across Punjab, along with bonfires that traditionally have helped families to welcome the birth of sons—but that tradition is quickly changing. This year, the Times of India reported the gathering of approximately 50 families at Sukhna Lake to celebrate their newborn daughters’ first Lohri. With corporate sponsors and musical performances, the event had a bonfire, peanuts and other customary snacks. Sponsors attest that as times change, families “take great pride” in their newborn girls, too.

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Categories: Faiths of India