The Express Tribune – Sikh pilgrims to be given special religious meal

Asif Mehmood

Lahore – Panjab – Pakistan, 20 April 2018. Sikh pilgrims from across the globe, including India, who arrived in Pakistan to commemorate Besakhi Mela and Khalsa’s birthday, will be given specially prepared Prashad and Amrat Jal on their departure.

Over 10,000 packets of Pani Parshad have been prepared in Lahore’s Gurdwara Dera Sahab. The Sikh pilgrims consider Pani Parshad a sacred gift to take back to their homeland.

Sardar Bhushan Singh, the Pani Prasad manufacturing in-charge in Pakistan said that Pani Parshad and Amrat Jal hold the same significance for Sikhs as Aab-e-Zam Zam does for Muslim.

“Scores of Sikh pilgrim from across the world come to the Golden Temple where they are given Prashad halwa. Sikhs believe it to be good for health. Since preserving halwa for long is difficult, hence Pani Parshad is prepared,” shared Amritsar Golden temple manager Rajendra Singh Ruby.

Bhushan elaborated that Pani Parshad is usually prepared during the wheat harvesting season. Semolina is added either to the sattu, wheat or ordinary flour.

“Wheat flour is heated in a big wok and then desi ghee is added to it. When the ghee is absorbed, then refined crushed sugar is added to the wheat flour mix. In addition to it, fennel seeds and thinly sliced almonds are mixed and crushed when dry. This Pani Prashad can be eaten for several months,” he added.

“After the Golden Temple, the Pani Prashad made in Pakistan is the most favourite across the globe.”


The Indian Express – Honour for us to host Sikh pilgrims, says Pakistan envoy

Calling it an “honour” for the government of Pakistan to host and serve Sikhs from India, Shah said his country would hold full-scale celebrations of 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev scheduled for 2019.

New Delhi – India, 18 April 2018. Pakistan’s Deputy High Commissioner to India Syed Haider Shah Tuesday said his country was investigating and “trying to ascertain facts” on what actually happened with Sikh pilgrims.

The Ministry of External Affairs on Monday had summoned Shah and lodged a strong protest against alleged denial of consular access to Sikh pilgrims who are currently in Pakistan to visit shrines for Baisakhi festivities.

The protest was also lodged against for alleged surfacing of Sikh referendum 2020 posters, related to Khalistan, in gurdwaras there.

Speaking at the convocation of Guru Nanak Khalsa College for Women, Gujarkhan Campus, in Ludhiana, Shah said in reply to a query, “We are investigating. We are trying to ascertain facts… ki hua kya hai? (What has actually happened). It is being sorted out through diplomatic channels and both governments are in touch.”

“There is nothing that can’t be sorted out through talks. It is our belief. The relationship between both countries will certainly improve,” he said.

Calling it an “honour” for the government of Pakistan to host and serve Sikhs from India, Shah said his country would hold full-scale celebrations of 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev scheduled for 2019. “Guru Nanak Dev was not only the guru of Sikhs but the entire humanity.

Pakistan will be fully cooperating with India and also celebrate his 550th birth anniversary next year. In fact, our preparations and celebrations from our side will be more than what India is expecting from us,” he said.

Shah said Pakistan would extend full cooperation for Indian pilgrims who apply for visas to visit Gurdwara Janam Asthan in Nankana Sahib (birthplace of Guru Nanak Dev).

Earlier, during his convocation address to the students, Shah stressed on Pakistan’s cultural affinity with India, especially with the Sikh community. “We have deep bonds of cultural affinity (with India), especially with Sikh community.

Baisakhi festivities are going on there. Government of Pakistan feels honoured to serve our Sikh brothers and take care of your relatives in Pakistan. We will continue to do that,” he said.

Shah said his stay in India had been ‘memorable’. “Professionally, it has been an important and challenging assignment for me and worthwhile in understanding complexities of relationship between both countries,” he said.

Meanwhile, Professor Ravinder Bhathal, president Punjab Sahit Akademi, met Shah and demanded that Pakistan extend cooperation for kavi darbaar being planned in Pakistan and India next year for 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev.

Paramjit Singh Sarna, president Shiromani Akali Dal (Delhi) and former president Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee, also president of the college where Shah came, said, “We face problems in getting visa for our sewaks who do kar sewa at Gurudwara Dera Sahib in Lahore.

We met him several times to discuss such issues. We are glad he accepted our invite to preside over our college’s convocation,” said Sarna.

Sarna said Sikh pilgrims visiting Pakistan should ignore Khalistan posters and slogans. “It hasn’t happened for the first time. Sikh pilgrims in Pakistan should just focus on praying which is purpose of their visit. They should simply ignore such things,” he said.

Shah also left a note in Urdu in college’s visitor’s diary.

Honour for us to host Sikh pilgrims, says Pakistan envoy – 319th Khalsa Sajna Diwas: Worldwide Sikh Sangat Marks Khalsa Sajna Diwas at Hasan Abdal

Sikh24 Editors

Hasan Abdal – Panjab – Pakistan, 15 April 2018. To celebrate 319th Khalsa Sajna Diwas, a religious procession organized at Gurdwara Panja Sahib situated in Hasan Abdal town of Western Punjab (Pakistan) by the Sikh sangat.

Bhog of Sri Akhand Path Sahib was laid, in which Sikh Sangat from all over Pakistan and parts of East Punjab and India took part.

During the nagar kirtan, students of Bhai Joga Singh Religious School manifested their martial skills in ‘Gatka’ in this religious procession.

Meanwhile, Sikh24 has learnt that Indian pilgrims arrived in Pakistan via train at the crack of dawn on April 13. The Sikh pilgrims took dip in the holy pond of Gurdwara Sri Panja Sahib and then enjoyed melodious recitation Gurbani verses during wee hours.

Babar Jalandhari from Hasan Abdal told Sikh24 that about 1700 pilgrims from India have arrived in Pakistan to celebrate Vaisakhi at Gurdwara Sri Panja Sahib (Hasan Abdal). He informed that the Evacuee Trust Property Board has made special security arrangements for all the international Sikh pilgrims.

Nottingham Post – Singing and sword displays as Sikh religious parade brightens city streets

Ben Reid

It marked the festival of Vaisakhi

Nottingham – Nottinghamshire – UK, 15 April 2018. Five temples [Gurdwaras] over four hours, and plenty of noise and colour, this was the colourful picture as a Sikh parade made its way through the streets of Nottingham today (Sunday).

The procession, named the Nagar Kirtan, was celebrating the religious festival of Vaisakhi.

It began in Church Street, Lenton, at the Guru Tegh Bahadur Gurdwara, and then moved through Radford, Hyson Green, Old Basford and New Basford – visiting another five Gurdwaras, along the way.

The celebrations involved singing, chanting, hymns and commemorative sword displays along to music being played.

Ravinder Patel, 27, from Forest Fields was taking part in the parade.

He said: “This is one of Sikhism’s most important days and I am very proud to be involved. It’s a day of great celebration and respect for everyone.”

Gurmeet Singh is president of the Guru Tegh Bahadur Gurdwara where the procession began in Lenton.

He added: “This is a very big time of year for the Sikh community when all Sikhs congregate to celebrate the birth of the Khalsa.”

Vaisakhi  is NOT the Sikh New Year Festival. It commemorates 1699, the year Sikhism was born as a collective faith under the Khalsa.

The Khalsa, the community of all Sikhs, was created by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699 and the five Beloved Ones – or Panji Pyare – who were represented by five Sikhs at the parade.

Harvey Singh, 42, from Radford, was volunteering at the event.

He said: “We do this every year, this is the biggest procession in Nottingham. It’s a great day for our religion.

“I’m honoured to help out in any way I can and the event is going smoothly. There is great respect and love here today.”

Staff from both Notts Police and Notts Fire were on hand to help the smooth running of the parade.

And Himat Taak from Carlton, was driving a minibus that elderly Sikhs could ride in to make sure everyone enjoyed the festivities.

He said: “This is a huge celebration of Sikhism, all over the UK and in India. I am taking our older population for Sewa (an act of kindness without expectation) so everyone can enjoy the celebrations.

The Tribune – Must implement 1974 Protocol on pilgrims: Pakistan envoy

Smita Sharma, Tribune News Service

New Delhi – India, 13 April 2018. Days after India and Pakistan agreed to mutually de-escalate tensions over the diplomats’ row, the Pakistani High Commission said both countries must “faithfully” implement the bilateral protocol of 1974 on pilgrimage.

As Sikh pilgrims from India poured into Pakistan on Baisakhi, which marks the 320th birth anniversary of the Khalsa, Pakistan envoy Sohail Mahmood said: “The Government of Pakistan makes assiduous efforts to preserve the religious sites and facilitate the visits of pilgrims of all faiths.

This latest visit of Sikh yatris to Pakistan is also consistent with the Government’s commitment and is in accordance with the provisions of the 1974 Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines”.

“The desire of the pilgrims to pay obeisance is sacred, as they wait and prepare for their spiritual journey throughout the year. Both sides must, therefore, ensure faithful implementation of the bilateral Protocol of 1974.”

Pakistan High Commission has issued visas to nearly 2,100 Sikh pilgrims this year from India this year, as opposed to 1,600 pilgrims went last year.

Over 20,000 Sikh pilgrims from across the globe are expected to attend the Baisakhi festival with main celebrations lined up for Saturday in Pakistan’s Punjab province amid high security.

Sikh Jathas will visit various gurdwaras and holy places in Pakistan from April 12-21, including Hasan Abdal’s Panja Sahib Gurudwara and Nankana Sahib.

Relations between India and Pakistan had soured further amid bloodshed at LoC and International Border.

Recently, Pakistani Zaireens (pilgrims) were not allowed visas to participate in the Urs at Ajmer Sharif and Nizamuddin Aulia. Islamabad called it a violation of the 1974 protocol arrangement under which Indian pilgrims visit holy sites like Katas Raj temple and sacred gurdwaras in Pakistan during Guru Nanak Jayanti and Baisakhi.

The Economic Times – Sikhs stage protest in UN on Ambedkar birth anniversary celebration

United Nations – New York – USA, 14 April 2018. A group of Sikhs have protested against alleged atrocities perpetrated against minority communities in India during the commemoration of Babasaheb Ambedkar’s 127th birth anniversary at the world body’s headquarters.

India’s Permanent Mission to the UN had organised a special event titled ‘Leaving No One Behind’ at the UN yesterday to celebrate Ambedkar’s 127th birth anniversary. UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Achim Steiner delivered the keynote address at the event.

As India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin began his opening remarks at the event, a group of Sikhs stood up in the conference room and held up posters that read ‘Minorities Under Threat’ and ‘Never Forget 84’ alongside pictures of Ayodhya’s Babri Masjid and the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Akbaruddin remained unperturbed by the protest and continued to deliver his speech. The Sikhs, about 15 in number, had tied black bands on their turbans and they stood silently for the entire duration of Akbaruddin’s remarks, holding up the posters for the attendees to see.

As soon as Akbaruddin concluded his remarks, the group left the conference room. Outside the room, UN police and security personnel assembled and questioned the Sikhs, inspecting their posters and inquired about whether they had permission and valid passes to enter the UN.

The Sikhs, belonging to the Shiromani Akali Dal Amritsar USA and Youth Akali Dal Amritsar USA, told the security personnel that they were protesting silently and peacefully.

One of the protesters, Sarbjeet Singh of the Shiromani Akali Dal Amritsar USA told that Ambedkar’s vision was to ensure equality for all communities, minorities and Dalits and he had enshrined this in the Indian Constitution.

But the BJP government that has come to power in India wants to build a Hindu nation. They are committing atrocities against Sikhs, Christians, Muslims, Dalits. We are here to peacefully convey the message on behalf of all the minority communities in India that Ambedkar’s vision of equality remains unfulfilled, he said.

Gent Gurdwara

Gent Gurdwara
18 February 2018

Kirtan Darbar

Tabla and wajas (small harmoniums)

Harpreet Singh and daughter

Guru Granth Sahib

Two more young ladies doing kirtan

Mata Sahib Kaur Gurdwara
Kortrijksepoortstraat 49
B-9000 Gent – Oost-Vlaanderen

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Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue – Lost in Partition, the Sikh-Muslim connection comes alive in the tale of Guru Nanak and Bhai Mardana

A descendant of the guru’s Muslim disciple speaks of the importance of the rababi tradition in Sikhism

Haroon Khalid

Friday, 13 April 2018. “Why weren’t the Muslim rababi protected? They held such high status in Sikhism? Why were they allowed to leave East Punjab at the time of Partition?” I asked.

The question was directed at Ghulam Hussain. I was in his home, deep within the older part of Lahore, close to the shrine of Data Darbar, the city’s patron saint. Dressed in a white shalwar kameez and maroon waist coat, a white scarf tied around his neck, the octogenarian had only recently recovered from what had become for him a recurring sickness.

He had nevertheless agreed to my request for an interview. Behind him, the walls and cupboard were adorned with symbols of the Sikh religion, a picture of a kirpan, the Golden Temple, and numerous awards he had received from Sikh organisations over the years.

Along with them were a few Islamic symbols, including a poster with a verse from the Quran. It was February of 2014 when I met Hussain. He died in April the following year, and this was possibly his last interview.

I had searched for Ghulam Hussain for a few years, having heard that he was a descendant of Bhai Mardana, Guru Nanak’s Muslim rababi. Bhai Mardana played an important role in the development of the Sikh religion. Not only did he accompany Guru Nanak on his travels, he also played the rabab while Nanak sang his divinely inspired poetry.

Since their time, Muslim rababi had been given the responsibility of performing the kirtan at gurdwaras, till the tradition was abruptly disrupted during Partition.

From kirtan to qawwali

‘“Everyone was only concerned about their own selves at the time,” Hussain recalled. “We were Muslims, therefore we had to leave. It did not matter if we were rababi. What mattered was our Muslim identity. That became our only identity. In fact, a couple of our rababi even lost their lives during the riots.

My father-in-law, Bhai Moti, was one of them. He used to play tabla at a gurdwara in Patiala. Another rababi who used to perform at Guru Amardas’ gurdwara at Goindwal was also killed.”

He continued, “My chacha, Bhai Chand, was a rababi at the Golden Temple. He had three houses in Amritsar, all of which were three stories high. He was a millionaire at that time. He used to live in Bhaiyyon ki gali, named after the rababi family. He became a pauper in Pakistan.”

Elaborating on his Sikh heritage, Hussain said his family’s ancestral gurdwara was Siyachal Sahib, which lies between Lahore and Amritsar. His father was a giani*, one who leads the congregation in prayer, who also gave lectures on Sikhism.

“My father was the gadi nasheen of the rababi seat there, which meant I would have taken over his position eventually,” he added.

But Partition changed all that. “Not only did we lose our money, we also lost our profession,” Hussain said. “While we knew the [Guru] Granth by heart, we knew nothing about being Muslim, besides the kalma. The Muslims had no interest in our profession. Thus, we began doing odd jobs, selling samosa, kheer, meat.”

However, Hussain soon found a second calling in qawwali, after receiving an invitation to a performance of Punjabi poet Najm Hosain Syed. The baithak was part of a weekly gathering of poets who recited and sang the works of Panjabi poets such as Bhai Gurdas, Shah Hussain and Bulleh Shah.

“At one of these meetings, not many years after Partition, I was invited to perform qawwali,” Hussain said. “In those early days, I struggled because my Urdu pronunciation was weak. I couldn’t even read the script, having been trained in Gurmukhi.

However, I practised and gradually mastered singing in Urdu. My financial condition also began improving.”

I asked him, “How similar or different are these two traditions, of kirtan and qawwali?”

He answered, “There is an old Panjabi saying, a hundred wise men sitting together will end up saying the same thing, while in a group of a hundred fools each one will say a different thing. Bulleh Shah reiterated what Nanak said.

Guru Arjan’s and Sultan Bahu’s message is the same as that of Shah Hussain. Their kalam overlaps. In fact, I would go to the extent of saying that Guru Nanak expounded the Quran. Thus, to answer your question, qawwali and kirtan are part of the same tradition**.”

A dying connection

But not everyone shares his view of syncretism.

Hussain’s son, sitting quietly with us as the interview progressed, suddenly jumped into the conversation. “A few Sikhs say Mardana was nothing but a funny character in Nanak’s Janamsakhis, who was always either hungry or thirsty,” he said.

“I would choose to disagree. It was Mardana who brought out the divinity of Nanak. It was for Mardana that Nanak turned sweet the bitter fruit of a Kekkar tree.”

Hussain had a personal story of his own about Mardana’s importance in the history of Sikhism. “Once, before Partition, my father was at Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hassanabdal,” he said. “He was in the sacred pool taking dips when one Sikh got offended and complained to the office.

He accused my father of polluting the water. My father was summoned to the office. When questioned why he had taken a dip in the water, he asked the official, ‘Who did Nanak create this pool for? To quench Mardana’s thirst.

This is, therefore, Mardana’s pool and I being a rubabi am his descendant. Now let me ask this question, who are you to claim ownership over this pool?’”

He let out a loud chuckle at the end of this story, but quickly became serious as he spoke of his visit to India and to the Golden Temple in 2005, for the first time after Partition. “I wanted to perform at the Golden Temple,” he said. “My family had performed there for seven generations.

We are the descendants of Bhai Sadha and Madha, who were appointed at the Golden Temple by Guru Tegh Bahadur. Such was our honour that we used to receive a share from the offerings at the shrine, which was then equally distributed among all the rababi families.

Throughout Sikh history, the rababis have displayed their loyalty to the gurus. It was Bhai Bavak, a rababi with Guru Hargobind, who rescued his daughter, Bibi Veera, from the Turks, when no other Sikh dared cross into their territory.”

But Hussain’s wish to perform at the gurdwara was not to be fulfilled. “Our family has a deep connection with the Golden Temple but now it has become extremely difficult for a rababi to perform kirtan there. The officials there told me only Amritdhari could perform there,” he said, referring to Sikhs who have been initiated or baptised by taking amrit or “nectar water”.

He added, “I wanted to tell those officials that my ancestors had been performing kirtan here before Gobind Rai became Guru Gobind Singh. There is no tradition of any rababi ever converting out of Islam. When the gurus never asked us to become Sikhs, then what right did these officials have?”

*Gian = knowledge with understanding – Giani – Het that has such knowledge

** Sikhi is linked to the Panjabi Muslim Sufi and Hindu Bhakti traditions

Haroon Khalid is the author of three books
Walking with Nanak, In Search of Shiva and A White Trail.

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Daily Times – Sikh pilgrims welcomed upon arrival in Lahore

Mustansar Abbas

Lahore – Panjab – Pakistan, 12 April 2018. The Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) Secretary Muhammad Tariq on Thursday welcomed Sikh pilgrims upon their arrival in Lahore for Baisakhi celebrations.

Tariq presented flower bouquets to Sikh leader Sardar Gurmeet Singh and various other prominent pilgrims, who are on a three-day visit to Pakistan to commemorate birth of Khalsa, commonly known as Baisakhi.

The pilgrims reached Punjab’s provincial capital via Lahore’s Wahga Railway Station. From there, the 2,000 visitors will be taken to Hasan Abdal’s Panja Sahib Gurdwara under stern security.

The Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee said that over 20,000 Sikh pilgrims from all around the world would visit Pakistan for Baisakhi celebrations. It was added that all visitors will be provided free of cost residence and food.

Caravan Magazine – The RSS’s dangerous position on separate religion status for the Lingayats

Hartosh Singh Bal

Op/Ed, 1 April 2018. Well over a century after the question of Sikh identity was fully settled, the RSS continues to insist that Sikhism is not a religion but a sect of Hinduism, thereby antagonising the community.

On 22 March, the Karnataka state government issued a notice granting minority status to the Lingayat community. Over the last few years, the issue of separate religion status for the Lingayats has seen intense debate, invoking issues related to history and religious doctrine, as well as politics.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has adopted a position consistent with its ideology, seeing it as a move that threatens Hinduism by fragmenting it. The RSS is duplicating arguments and rhetoric it has used to suggest that Sikhism is not a separate religion, a stance that has caused much acrimony and some violence in Punjab.

In the long term, the RSS viewpoint holds the potential to stir similar trouble in Karnataka.

(Subscribe to The Caravan to read the full story.

Hartosh Singh Bal is the political editor at The Caravan, and is the author of Waters Close Over Us: A Journey Along the Narmada. He was formerly the political editor at Open magazine.