On the evenings of Sunday 13 and Monday 14 April the iconic Library of Birmingham was lit up in orange to celebrate the Sikh festival of Vaisakhi, the holiest day in the Sikh faith calendar. The historic occasion marked the first time a public building in the UK has been lit up in observance of a Sikh sacred festival, a gesture which pays homage to the collective contribution of Sikhs in the UK.
The event was organised in partnership with the Birmingham Sikh community and the Library of Birmingham to celebrate Vaisakhi, the founding of the Khalsa in 1699 by Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the tenth Guru of the Sikhs.
To the faithful, Vaisakhi, is a time of grave religious significance; to inspire, to build up faith, to widen our orbit of human relationships, and to foster virtues and values, which enrich human lives.
Birmingham City has one of the highest population of Sikhs in the UK. The virtues and values which Sikhs remember and aim to live up to at Vaisakhi are:
- Naam Japo (prayer and contemplation)
- Kirat Karo (earning a livelihood through sweat of the brow)
- Wand Shako (sharing one’s wealth and knowledge with others)
- Kirtan Karo Te Suno (singing and listening to God’s praises)
- Haumae Maro (shedding one’s ego and being humble)
- Daya Palo (exercising love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness)
- Parupkar Karo (being altruistic)
- Sarbat da Bhalla Mango (seeking welfare of all)
- Changi Sangat Karo (seeking and enjoying the company of the holy and exalted)
- Jo Karo – Nishkam Karo (seeking no reward, gift or salvation. Being selfless and ready to sacrifice).
Initiating the ‘going orange’ of the library was Brian Gambles, Assistant Director of Culture at Library of Birmingham; David Pots, Head of Learning Resources at Library of Birmingham; and Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh, Chair of Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ).
Birmingham faith leader, Bhai Sahib Ji has contributed immensely to inter-religious understanding and had just arrived from the US after receiving the prestigious Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize from Hofstra University for promoting interfaith harmony. In 2012, he was created a Knight of St Gregory the Great by the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI in recognition of his commitment to working for peace among people of all faiths. His contributions echo the Sikh principles of volunteering, selflessness and community participation to bring about change for the common good.
Bhai Sahib Ji said: “Practising Sikhs with a distinctive identity, having the five kakars and dastaar, are expected by the Guru to be compassionate, courageous, loving, humble, to exercise self-restraint, to be ethical in conduct, to stand up for their own and others’ rights, and to maintain an ever-ascending spirit of optimism. Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s translated composition in English, provides us Sikhs a great direction for life on Vaisakhi: ‘Empower me, God, to never shy away, from doing what is good and right. May I, thus, become fearless in facing life’s battles, inside and around me, with resolute belief in victory. May my mind then learn; yearning only to praise your infinite goodness, and so, may I relentlessly continue to do all that is good and right, until my very last breath.”
On the occasion, a book about Guru Granth Sahib Ji, the eternal Guru of the Sikhs, was presented to the Library of Birmingham by Bhai Sahib Ji.
Brian Gambles, Assistant Director of Culture at Library of Birmingham said: “Library of Birmingham is absolutely delighted to support the Sikh community in celebrating this important festival of Vaisakhi.”
In addition to the lights, one of the UK’s largest annual Vaisakhi celebrations (attracting some 60,000-70,000 participants) will take place at Handsworth Park to mark the Sikh nation’s collective birthday on 27thApril 2014 at which there will be an area for prayer (Guru Darbar) which will be an important focal point, open to all communities to visit and understand the Sikh faith. Bringing a spiritual and festive atmosphere to Handsworth Park, there will also be live music, entertainment, Punjabi food and craft stalls. The traditional Langar – free vegetarian meal from the Guru’s kitchen – will also be served.
Notes to Editor
1. The Nishkam Civic Association, more fondly known as the Nishkam Centre is one of the five Centres for Excellence created by the faith-based charity, Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha.
The Nishkam Centre is at the forefront of advancing community and economic wellbeing; promoting interfaith, intercultural, intercommunity dialogue; and championing social justice and inclusion. To deliver its mission, it has embedded and promotes active volunteering and selfless service for the benefit of humanity in all aspects of its work.
Chaired by Bhai Sahib Dr. Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia, who holds two honorary degrees from the city’s universities, it aims to serve and uplift society through the practice and propagation of the core values of ‘nishkamta’, or the spirit of selflessness. Spiritually inspired, the organisation has generated a flourishing culture of volunteering, contributing immensely to transform its visionary projects into a reality.
For more information, please visit www.ncauk.org