Sikhs Turn to Community

April 28, 2009

Author: Trevor Pritchard

Source: Standard Freeholder

Neil Shah stands at a podium and, holding back tears, reminds his fellow Sikhs of the importance of sewa.

"I hope you remember this speech as a moment when you know sewa is what brings us together," he passionately tells the three dozen worshippers sitting in front of him, cross-legged, on the floor of the Sikh Education and Research Centre of Cornwall.

From Friday until Sunday, members of the Sikh community descended on the house of worship just northeast of Cornwall to celebrate Vaisakhi, a harvest festival marking the Sikh New Year.

Typically observed on April 14, the festival marks the establishment of the Khalsa - the worldwide community of baptized Sikhs - in 1699.

Vaisakhi is a celebration of values like compassion and mutual respect that have always been encouraged by Sikh gurus, said Shah, a member of the local congregation whose father, Nat, is the centre's director.

Among those values is sewa -loosely translated as community service, he explained. And for Sikhs, that key principle applies not just to helping out at one's own place of worship, but also to organizations like local food banks that serve the greater community, Shah said.

"If you don't have people taking initiative, not just in the congregation but outside of the congregation . . . organizations that are non-profit, that are here for the better good, end up closing," he said.

"Community service, especially in this day and age, is especially important."