Legacy: 550 years of Guru Nanak Dev Ji

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Jasdeep Singh Chhabra, Preety Bains, Ramzy Kaur and Reshpaul Chahal were hosted by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) for an unforgettable trip to visit three Takhts: Sri Patna Sahib in Bihar, followed by Sri Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar and Sri Hazur Sahib in Maharashtra, and to learn of the importance of the Sikh culture to society in celebration of 550 years of Guru Nanak Dev Ji.

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On November 5th 2019, four YSPN Executives flew to India for a once-in-a-lifetime journey to celebrate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji sponsored by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).

As part of a delegation of 38 representatives from 11 countries, we engaged in a seminar on the ‘Teachings of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji and Sikhism’s Contribution in Universal Wellbeing’. The key focus of the seminar was Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s three pillars of ‘kirat karo’, ‘vand chhako’ and ‘naam japo’, which hold significance to us as core values of YSPN. The seminar was followed by a visit to three of the five prominent Takhts: Sri Patna Sahib in Bihar, Sri Harimandir Sahib in Punjab and Sri Hazur Sahib in Maharashtra.

We began the trip in New Delhi, where we met His Excellency Ram Nath Kovind, President of India, followed by a guided tour of the Rashtrapati Bhawan as an introduction to the conference, and a symbol of the importance of the occasion to India itself. His Excellency remarked on the domestic and worldwide impact of the Sikh community, the value of this conference in connecting the Diaspora to its ancestral heritage, and encouraged all delegates to take the lessons from this event and practice them in our respective homes.

While in Delhi we engaged in a seminar on Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s teachings, where we had the opportunity to interact with two of the seminar’s most notable speakers, Lieutenant-General PJS Pannu and Dr Surjit Kaur Jolly.

The concept of Sewa was a key focus for both speakers at the seminar. Lt Gen Pannu emphasised ‘kirat karo’ through a detailed recollection of the committed service of Sikhs in India’s military; while Dr Jolly reflected on ‘vand chhako,’ commenting on the progressive nature of Sewa in the 21st century.

Lt Gen Pannu explained how we can use sewa as a means of serving our community, and to build a home and heritage. Lt Gen Pannu dedicated his military career to practising and sharing the values of ‘kirat karo,’ to build a positive and lasting legacy in the hopes of inspiring our future generations to honour our heritage and feel a sense of community in India. As an example of his dedication to serving professionally for his community, he shared a meaningful story from his military service in which he went above and beyond his professional duties to save the life of a young child after he had been severely injured during a protest in Kashmir.

Dr Jolly, our second speaker emphasised the progressive nature of Sikhism and the need for our practice of sewa to keep up with contemporary needs and mechanisms. She discussed what ‘vand chhako’ meant, its value to society, and elaborated that we should use all forms of technology as we practice sewa.

Both speakers’ observations and reflections were insightful. Lt Gen Pannu’s desire to use his role to serve, and as an opportunity to connect with the community and contribute to the formation of its identity, are reflections that echo YSPN’s mission of professional sewa here in Australia and New Zealand. And Dr Jolly’s insight that sewa must keep pace with changes in society parallels the discussion that YSPN started at Elevate 2019 about what it means in a rapidly changing world. It was inspiring for us to hear such esteemed professionals validate our mission in a thoughtful and personal way.

On the second leg of our trip, we commenced our journey of visiting three Takhts, starting with Sri Patna Sahib in Bihar, followed by Sri Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar and Sri Hazur Sahib in Maharashtra.

The delegates unanimously agreed that being exposed to the history of Sikhism by visiting each Takht was an indescribable experience; one that was felt viscerally across the group. It was an extremely profound moment for us as Sikhs living abroad, to return to India and witness the legacy of our Guru’s carried on through people of all religious backgrounds coming together, in service of their fellow human beings.

Sharing the journey with Sikhs from across the world was a profound experience for all of us. It allowed us to appreciate the incredible history of Sikhism through varied perspectives, share in our common humanity, and the challenge of creating a sense of belonging in our new homes, away from our ancestral heritage, while trying to maintain an important legacy and pass down our values.

Before this trip, some of us felt a sense of isolation, a disconnect from other parts of our community through distance and time. However, getting to know each of the delegates closely over eight days we came to the profound realisation that we are all connected together by Sikhism’s central message of unity and selfless service to others. And that our shared experiences and diverse perspectives mean we can work together to amplify this message globally. We learned for example about the scale of the network and connections built at the ASEES conference in Malaysia; we learned about the work happening in the Netherlands and Canada to connect the community more closely to its spiritual roots and prevent a tragic loss of generation; and the work happening in South Africa to share the spirit of Sikhi with the broader African community. This exposure to the important work globally and its connection to the work we do in Australia and New Zealand at YSPN has opened our eyes to opportunities to work tightly with other communities in the Sikh diaspora and left us with optimism about the future of Sikhs globally.

The opportunity to join in this celebration over 8 days was transformative for all delegates. We learned that Guru Nanak’s values were endorsed by no less than the Indian Head of State, and their impact recognised; we experienced the wonder of people coming together in a spirit of sewa across the three Takhts in India, while connecting with our fellow delegates from across the world, creating lifelong friendships, and bridges to helping one another as we navigate similar challenges in our respective homes. We thank the Indian Council for Cultural Relations for the opportunity to participate in this profound experience and look forward to building on the foundations established on the most auspicious occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji.

Disclosure: The trip for YSPN delegates was funded by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, and inaugurated by ICCR president and Rajya Sabha MP Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, Padma Shri Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal and ICCR Director General Akhilesh Mishra. Delegates from Australia, Germany, Canada, the UK, the US, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Italy, South Africa and The Netherlands were present on the trip.

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