The Johl family graciously agreed to share their experiences as Sikh Americans, and generously pledged to donate to the documentary project. The Johls are well-known philanthropists in their local community. Here are some photos of our recent visit to their home and farm.
We visited the San Jose Gurudwara today to celebrate Baisakhi, the founding of the Sikh Khalsa, or brotherhood.
To commemorate Baisakhi, the Sikhs lower their flag for a ceremonial cleaning with milk and yogurt. You can hear the chant “Waheguru” praising God, and the victory shout “Bole so nihal! Sat sri akaal!” as they return the flag.
Hosted by The Sikh Foundation, International at Stanford, this was a particularly relevant conference for us attend. Speakers included our project contacts and advisors Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany, founder of The Sikh Foundation; Dr. Jasbir Singh Kang, founding member of the Punjabi American Heritage Society; anthropologist Professor Sangeeta Luthra; and creative writer Meeta Kaur; among many other notable members of the community interested in progressing Sikh Education.
To start, musician Shivpreet Singh sang this beautiful song:
Dr. Kapany then opened the conference by explaining the need for Sikh education, that is, the education of Sikhs and the education of non-Sikhs about the Sikhs. He listed the many channels of education, including a need for a documentary or series of documentaries – that’s us!
Of particular interest was the panel that examined the establishment of Sikh studies programs and chairs at colleges, particularly the UCs. The UCSB chair Gurinder Singh Mann spoke of their successful Sikh and Punjabi studies program created by Dr. N.S. Kapany together with Mark Juergensmeyer, an expert in religious conflict resolution. Professor Mann closed by happily announcing his retirement into grand-fatherhood – “what is under your turban, grandpa?” “what is under my turban?” “A ponytail!”
Professor Pashaura Singh, chair at UCR’s Sikh and Punjabi Studies, then stressed the importance of Sikh education in progressing the Sikh’s global influence. He compared the Sikhs with the Jewish, another religious minority victim to pogroms in recent history. However, the Jews have since gained much more global interest and power. Compared to the 25 million Sikhs worldwide, there are just 15 million Jews, 40% of which are in America where they make up 6% of the House, 12% of the 2010 Senate, and 3 of 9 Supreme Court Justices. While Jews pursue largely urbanized interests, most Sikhs work in agriculture, thus Professor Singh attributed the Sikh’s comparative lack of self-determination and cultural power to their efforts in education.
He acknowledged that Sikh education has made great progress in the past decades. Where the Sikh tradition was once dismissed as a derivative or combination of Hinduism and Islam, or ignored all together as a regional and modern phenomenon, it is now recognized as a distinct religion in academia and its study institutionalized in many universities.
“The secret to religion lies in living in the world without being overcome by it.”
Because that is the real challenge.
“One may read for years and years
…and read all one’s life
Right up to one’s last breath
Of all things a contemplative life
Is what really matters
All else is the fret and fever of logistic minds.”
Reflect, internalize, project.
(Source: Patwant Singh’s The Sikhs)
Happy Free First-Sundays! The Asian Art Museum was free to the public today, so I went upstairs to see the only permanent collection of Sikh art in North America, donated by Dr. N.S. Kapany.
A series of paintings follow the travels of Guru Nanak, the first guru, and his two life-long companions, a Hindu convert named Mardana and a Muslim convert Bala. I had a bit of a laugh because it seems in each of their adventures, Mardana falls into some misfortune and Guru Nanak gets to save him. Here, Mardana is swallowed by a big fish – Guru Nanak convinces the fish to give him up. There, Mardana is about to be boiled and cooked by cannibals – just in time Guru Nanak rescues him and the cannibals from their sin. And, oh, no, Mardana is turned into a goat by witches! But, of course, Guru Nanak holds sway over the witches and saves his hide yet again.
Meanwhile, Bala the musician looks on.
I neglected to take pictures, so you’ll have to visit the museum and see for yourself. 🙂
Today we met a pioneer in science and technology – Dr. Narinder S. Kapany, known as the father of fiber optics. He established the Sikh Foundation and is one of the most prominent members of the Sikh society. He gave us much good advice for our project.
We attended this year’s Sikholars conference at Stanford, organized by Jakara Movement. A panel of Sikh graduates presented their research and discussed various topics in education, health, gender, and social justice pertinent to the community.
Particularly relevant to our project was the Social Life of Sikhs Panel. The presentation “Educational Pathways: An exploration of California Sikh Youth” by Prabhdeep Kehal and Palvinder Kaur proved the resilience of Sikh youth in the face of socio-economic barriers, resilience being the ability to succeed despite those barriers. Their survey of California Sikh high-schoolers found that Sikh youth have strong academic resilience, but not as much college-going resilience, however.
Also of interest was a presentation on the drug crisis currently crippling Punjab. Speaker Basant Virdee shared statistics illustrating how heroin addiction in Punjab has reached epidemic proportions. An estimated 70% of men 16-35 years are addicted; 8,000 men applied to 376 vacancies in the military and 85 vacancies remained – the rest were deemed unfit to serve because of their condition. During elections in India it is not uncommon for political candidates to bribe voters with alcohol, but in Punjab they bribe with heroin. Meanwhile, the Indian government has been largely unresponsive and inefficient in providing rehabilitative health care.
Bole so nihal! Sat sri akaal! That is the Sikh shout of victory and greeting, which we heard shouted many times today.
Today we drove to Yuba, CA to interview Dr. Jasbir Singh Kang. Dr. Kang is a spokesperson for the Sikh community there and a founding member of the Punjabi American Heritage Society.
On our way to Yuba we stopped by the Stockton Gurudwara, the first Sikh temple founded in the US. We were lucky to observe a demonstration Gatka, the traditional Sikh martial art. Afterwards we joined the Sikh community meal called langar. The food is cooked and served by volunteers and free for everyone – non-Sikhs, too. And it was delicious, better than restaurant quality!
Sarah’s thoughts on her first visit to a gurudwara: