Sikh Parade Extols Peace

June 18, 2007

Author: Rebecca Rosen Lum

Source: Contra Costa Times

Floats festooned with flowers rolled through the streets of El Sobrante on Sunday as 8,000 Sikhs from the Bay Area and beyond celebrated an annual holiday that extols interfaith harmony.

The "spiritual peace march" began at the Sikh Center of the San Francisco Bay Area, where tour buses brought worshippers from Stockton, Sacramento, and Yuba City.

Nagar Kirtan has its roots in a traditional event commemorating the martyrdom of Sri Guru Arjan Dev Sahib Ji, who was tortured to death by India's Mogul rulers 401 years ago.

The holy book Ji contains hymns sacred to religions and castes throughout India. The holiday's name literally means the singing of spiritual songs.

The more than 500-year-old Sikh faith began in the Punjab region of India. Today, adherents number nearly 23 million worldwide. Estimates in the United States range from 190,000 to 440,000.

Sikhs hold that all religions serve God and share a vision of love and peace.

This is the second year the Sikh Center has made a community party of the holiday. The public ceremony serves to educate Americans, who have been known to confuse Sikhs with members of the Taliban.

"America has gone from a Christian country to the most diverse nation in the world," said J.P. Singh, president of the temple, or gurdwara. "The education hasn't kept up."

Last year, Christian fundamentalists showed up to leaflet their disapproval of both the march and the faith.

This year, a center delegation invited the faithful of other denominations to join it at Sunday's event in a show of harmony and mutual respect, Singh said.