Orange County, 1 January 2017. In fall 2014, Newport Beach resident Minu Kaur Singh began scouring Google for information about designing and building floats. It was the first opportunity the Sikh community had to showcase its culture and religion in the Rose Parade, and Singh needed a quick tutorial.
Given the 2015 theme “Inspiring Stories,” Singh and her team created a float that featured a replica of the Stockton gurdwara, the first Sikh temple to be built in the United States, in 1912.
Last Rose Parade, the float was an explosion of color, music and dance, as it showed how the community celebrates the harvest festival of Baisakhi, with sweets, street carnivals and spritely Bhangra dancers.
On Monday, the group’s third time in the parade, the Sikh American float will showcase the most sacred symbol for Sikhs worldwide, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India.
But the float also is a way to counter acts of hate increasingly being directed at Sikhs in California.
Members of the community have been victims of hate crimes, bullying and other negative expressions since 9/11. Sikh men are often targets of hate crimes because of their appearance, they wear turbans and long beards and are mistakenly identified as Muslims.
The number of incidents against Sikhs has increased noticeably over the last few months, said Los Angeles resident Bhajneet Singh.
“Since the election, we’ve heard reports of incidents where people have been beaten, especially the elderly, which is disheartening,” he said. “We’ve had reports of verbal abuse.”
The Sikh community Rose Parade float was born from a desire to stem this tide of bullying and intimidation, Bhajneet Singh said.
“We don’t want to wait for bad things to happen to us,” he said. “We want to participate in this event that is so quintessentially American to let people know that we’ve been here for a long time. We dance, sing and celebrate just like everyone. The only difference is our turban and facial hair.”
Minu Kaur Singh said the Golden Temple on the float ties in beautifully with the parade’s 2017 theme: “Echoes of Success.”
“When we say success, it’s not just about material things,” she said. “For Sikhs, ours is a collective success.”
Sikhs end their daily prayers with the Punjabi phrase “sarbhat da bhala,” a prayer for the “welfare of all.” So, she said, the temple is a symbol of the Sikhs’ collective success and well-being.
The original Golden Temple was built in 1601 and is regarded as the abode of God’s spiritual attribute. It is also home to the Akal Takht, or “the throne of the timeless one,” viewed as the seat of God’s temporal authority. The temple was built as a place of worship for men and women from all walks of life, even all religions.
The four entrances to the temple, representing the four directions, symbolize the openness of the Sikhs to all people and religions. The four doors will be prominently featured in the Rose Parade replica, with each door bearing a word that is integral to the principles of Sikhism – love, freedom, service and justice, Minu Kaur Singh said.
Over several days leading up to the parade, hundreds of volunteers have worked in shifts to help glue on powdered yellow straw flowers, gold clovers, flax seeds and turmeric to the replica to get that iconic golden sheen just right.
Bhajneet Singh said the Sikh community floats to date have been met with “smiles and awesomeness.”
“People take pictures of us, the float,” he said. “They ask us questions and we answer them. It’s been overwhelmingly positive.”
The float excites Sikhs throughout Southern California, said Christine Udhwani, an Ontario resident who attends the Riverside Gurdwara in Jurupa Valley.
Udhwani said she is delighted by her community’s decision to prominently feature the Golden Temple, which she has visited several times.
“For me, it’s the most peaceful place in the world,” she said.
Udhwani particularly recalls the “langar,” or community kitchen, at the Golden Temple, which serves hot meals daily to between 50,000 and 100,000 people. The community kitchen is an integral part of all Sikh temples.
“It’s our way of giving back to the community,” Udhwani said. “We prepare the food ourselves, we sit on the floor and eat together. This humbling act makes us all equal regardless of caste, race or economic status.”
Hate incidents against Sikhs are happening because of fear and misunderstanding, she said.
“We look different, but that’s nothing to be afraid of,” Udhwani said. “We have the same values as our American neighbors.”
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