Every year, thousands of Sikhs across the world usually come together to celebrate Guru Nanak Dev Ji Gurpurab (Birthday) by having an annual Nagar Kirtan (street procession) across Birmingham and other UK cities. Sikh prayers, kirtan (hymns) would be recited and many stalls, providing hot and cold refreshments, would be lined up along the route. People would normally start at the Gurdwara (place of worship) and then they would walk for a few hours, all the way remembering this special time in history. It’s a time for the community to come together and celebrate one of the biggest celebrations in the Sikh calendar. This year the celebration will be marked virtually.
Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469-1539) was the founder of the Sikh religion, one of the greatest religious innovators of all time. Guru Nanak was a unique spiritual thinker and expressed His thoughts in extraordinary poetry that forms the basis of the Sikh scriptures. He was born about 40 miles from Lahore (now in Pakistan) in 1469. Sikh historical accounts explain that His birth and early years were marked with many miraculous events that demonstrated that Guru Nanak Dev Ji was someone very unique, special and God-like.
The most famous teaching attributed to Guru Nanak Dev Ji is that there is one Universal God that all human beings can have access to with no need for rituals or pilgrimages. His most radical social teachings denounced the caste system (class) and taught that everyone is equal, regardless of caste or gender.
Sikhs have had to find ways to be innovative with this year’s celebrations. DigiSangat, a online platform created for the Sikh community to come together, will be holding a short online event to recite prayers that had been taking place during the month of November.
Sunny Daheley, MBE founder of DigiSangat said: “This year for Guru Nanak’s Gurpurab (birth anniversary) we will be doing a community prayer online, leading up to the day itself. For the night before, we have teamed up with a local Gurdwara to bring live Prayers and Kirtan (which are Sikh hymns) to everyone so they can enjoy this very auspicious celebration from their homes.”
Daya Singh from Guru Har Rai Gurdwara in West Bromwich said: “We express sadness and sympathy for all those affected by the pandemic. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who have lost loved ones. It is with sadness that the annual Nagar Kirtan (street procession) which normally attracts around 25,000 people to mark the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji will not take place this year, but we hope that next year we can celebrate with family and friends.”
Gurdwaras, Sikh places of worship, would normally be full of worshippers from all across the country.
“Normally Sikhs would mark the day with grand celebrations in our Gurdwaras and with Nagar Kirtans (street procession). Sadly, whilst we cannot join together in our Gurdwaras this year, Sikhs across the world continue to mark the auspicious day through enjoying His teachings virtually. Guru Nanak Dev Ji taught us to pray for the wellbeing of all. Gurdwaras across the world are continuing to provide langar (free food) to those in need. For Sikhs, this is the greatest way to celebrate the coming of our first Guru, by continuing to serve mankind during these most difficult times.” said Harmeet Singh Gill, General Secretary, Sri Guru Singh Sabha Southall.
Preet Kaur Gill MP for Birmingham Edgbaston said: “In his life Guru Nanak Dev Ji sought to teach us that there is one fundamental barrier that we all must each overcome: haumai (meaning I myself). His is a message that says we are not individuals, but a global community who have a duty to each other – to fight injustice and division, and promote harmony, equality, and peace. During the coronavirus pandemic, his message holds truer than ever. Sikhs have put this into practice with selfless service supporting communities all across the country, with langar food stalls, delivering supplies to those shielding, and much more besides.”
Last year to mark Guru Nanak’s 550thbirth anniversary there was a huge campaign running. Hundreds of local leaders across the West Midlands, representing the private and public sectors, community groups and charities,. sent their best wishes for the momentous occasion. This was organised by Manjit Kaur Kang, Diversity Ambassador at NatWest and co-chair of the Bank’s Sikh Network. “These messages were shared on social media and later a book was produced to be sent to Nankana Sahib,Pakistan, the birthplace of Guru Nanak. This year, it’s more important than ever to highlight Guru Ji’s teachings of equality, inclusivity, fairness and respect for all, regardless of gender, ethnicity and religion. His teachings are timeless and universal, resonating with people of all communities and backgrounds. We will continue to showcase his teachings through our social media platforms in new, unique and inclusive ways” said Mrs Kang.
Even as Sikhs cannot celebrate all together in person, they, nonetheless, find strength in that message of unity in these testing times.
Words by Minreet Kaur
Images provided by Harjinder Singh and Raj Kang