Devotions and Dialogue at the Sikh Gurdwara

After sitting in on the Sunday bhakti (devotions) at the Sikh Gurdwara (a place of worship for Sikhs) in Liverpool and enjoying a vegetarian lunch served by men of the Sikh community, WTB women and women from the Sikh community formed a dialogue circle encompassing about 30 people.

Event co-chair Daryl Files thanked the Sikh women for their gracious hospitality and introduced President Joy Pople, who recalled that during the Journey to the Tent of Abraham program the previous April, a Sikh youth offered a closing prayer and several Sikhs indicated that they would like to be part of our interreligious programs. As a result, we have come to the Sikh temple to listen and learn together, with respect. Event co-chair Nancy Shepard invited everyone in the circle in turn to give her name, and if desired, her faith.

Our hosts explained that every Sikh woman has the last name of Kaur, meaning princess. Every male has last name Singh, meaning lion.  This practice offers total equality. 

Daryl suggested that discussion begin with traditions surrounding birth in the Sikh religion. We learned that a naming ceremony is held in a holy place; the holy book is opened at random, and the first letter to appear determines the first letter of the child’s name. At the ceremony, usually held 40 days after birth, packages of sweets and native flowers are given to the attendees. The naming traditions are now equal for boys and girls. We were told that often a Shabad, the word of god, is played on a boom box during birth, which is considered a spiritual moment. Nectar, consisting of water with some sugary content added, is used in the naming ceremonies. 

The women explained that though some were born in Punjab, with the 1947 partition between India and Pakistan, non-Muslims from the Punjab portion in Pakistan had to migrate to India. One million were slaughtered, as they became refugees. They had to leave overnight, and many were pulled off trains in the chaos or killed on the trains. They explained a major premise of Sikhism: to acknowledge responsibility on all sides, including their own.

We were told that Sikhs form 5% of the world’s population and 2% of the population of India. Their holidays are connected with harvest and the New Year, but also with celebrations of the sacrifices of gurus, and the gurus’ birthdays. The first guru was born in 1469, and in 1705, the 10th guru stated that there would be no more living gurus. The scriptures are now the gurus, so there is no longer any competition or speculation surrounding the position of gurus.

At this temple, no middle person is needed between an individual and the divine; anyone can sing the scriptures. Each passage in the holy book is divided into 36 sections, each with its own music. In Sikh schools, children learn to read the scriptures and to write, as well as to play traditional instruments such as the harmonium, the rebab and the sarangi. 

In response to a question about the Sikh turbans, we were told that the turban dates before Christianity, more than 2,000 years ago. The men are not supposed to cut their hair on any part of their bodies. The turbans keep the hair clean and also distinguish the Sikh men visually from Muslims or Hindus. Muslims tie their turbans in special ways, but the Sikhs have no rules for tying theirs; the turbans are just to be well groomed. One individual explained that they view the turbans as crowns, with each soul at the level of emperor, at higher levels or states of mind. The turbans make the men feel transformed. Women can wear the turban, and some do. We were told that 99% of the turbans worn in the US are worn by Sikhs.

All of the Syracuse Sikh children go to public school; at the temple, they can learn Punjabi. 

The religious structure and decoration in the prayer room were then explained as signs of respect, providing a throne and decoration worthy of an emperor. Sikhs entering this room perform a bow, considering the holy book as if a living guru is there. The word Sikh means student or learner.

Daryl closed the discussion by inviting the Sikh women to participate in WTB events as part of the WTB family.