University of Birmingham Celebrates a Mega Event in Sikh History

An estimated 25,000 people joined in the celebration of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of the Sikh Dharam (Faith), at the University of Birmingham. Five continuous days of activities were arranged for all communities to reflect upon the inclusive, transformative human-values propagated by Guru Nanak Dev Ji – the founder of the Sikh Dharam (faith).

Located around the University’s iconic clock tower at its Edgbaston campus, the event titled ‘Celebrating and Learning from the Life and Legacy of Guru Nanak Dev Ji‘ was hosted in collaboration with Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ) who provided a rich variety of activities, including continuous prayer recital, educational symposia, three exhibitions, interfaith dialogue and over 35 educational seminars for adults and children.

Three beautiful marquees were specifically commissioned and erected for this landmark event. One for the Sri Akhand Paath Sahib (48 hours of continuous reading from Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji – the Sikh’s Eternal and Revered Guru) which was held from 8th to 10th August, one for Keertan (singing of sacred hymns to music) and one for the Langar area. All visitors throughout the duration of the event were provided Langar (free vegetarian food for all from the Guru’s kitchen), a process started by Guru Nanak Dev Ji which daily feeds millions of people around the word and upholds the Sikh principles of selfless service and egalitarianism. The event epitomised what the Sikh Dharam (faith) and Birmingham was all about; service to humanity, cohesion, celebrating diversity, recognising and acepting all, multi-faith, no faith, young and old.

A unique and historic Civic Reception to honour the launch of the 550th Anniversary Celebrations marking Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s coming to the world took place in the prestigious Great Hall, University of Birmingham. The Civic Reception captured the hearts and minds of all attending, setting the tone of the messages for all humanity. The event, venue and distinguished speakers and guests provided a befitting setting to mark and bless the launch of an historical event in the UK, if not the World.

Wednesday 7th August 2019 saw history being made right here in Birmingham with a Civic Ceremony to celebrate the contribution and legacy of the Sikh’s first Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji. The Civic Reception centred around the key messages of Guru Nanak Dev Ji that were shared by prominent speakers and also physically manifested in the days after the reception at the University of Birmingham. This manifestation was via services to humanity; Langar (free vegetarian, blessed food from the Guru’s kitchen) was served to all who attended the five-day program at the University. Attendees were able to participate in sewa – serving others / volunteering – in all guises from stewarding, guiding people around, washing dishes, serving food, sweeping, involvement in media team, first–aiding, attending and participating in prayer services, listening to Kirtan (spiritual hymns recited to sacred music) to mention but a few.

The Civic Reception was an opportunity to share Guru Nanak’s messages with the diverse audience and to inspire them to visit the Darbar Sahib (Prayer hall), listen to the Kirtan, attend the seminars and workshops to hear / discuss the key messages and the relevance of those messages in the 21st Century. The audience included the Sikh diaspora from around the world and all over the UK. The visitors were from India, Kenya, Canada, America, Scotland, Singapore and Australian. The 350 plus attendees included dignitaries, leaders from faith, education, business and the public and voluntary sectors from around the globe. The comments on social media by those who attended have confirmed that this historic event has touched the lives of so many people with Guru Nanak’s core message of peace, forgiveness, reconciliation, social justice, equality and love for all of God’s creation.

Raaj Shamji as the Master of Ceremonies welcomed everyone to the auspicious evening. This was followed by a heart-warming overview of the international Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary celebratory event and programme of activities by Dr Gopinder Kaur Sagoo. The Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Councillor Mohammed Azim shared a beautiful m

essage of congratulations to the Sikh and broader community and the respect afforded to Guru Nanak Dev Ji by other communities. Other speakers included Preet Kaur MP for Edgbaston who spoke on Guru Nanak’s unique teaching on the role of women in society. Other speakers included Councillor John Cotton, Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion, Community Safety and Equalities, Birmingham City Council and Dr. Neslyn Watson-Druée CBE, Professional International Public Speakers and Executive Coach at Beacon Organisation for Development Ltd.  Professor Robin Mason, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) at the University set the scene by outlining the importance and significance of community engagement from a widening participation and internationalisation perspective.

The reception evening saw in attendance many distinguished and honourable guests including:

  • The Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Councillor Mohammed Azim,
  • The High Sheriff for the West Midlands
  • Many Deputy Lieutenants in their personal capacity
  • Professor Robin Mason, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International), University of Birmingham
  • Interfaith representatives and faith leaders
  • CEO of Birmingham City Council, Dawn Baxendale
  • Chairman of the Birmingham Commonwealth Association and President of the Birmingham Consular Assoc and President of the Greater Birmingham Commonwealth Chamber of Commerce – Keith Stokes-Smith
  • CEO of Acorns, Toby Porter
  • Director of the Albion Foundation, Rob Lake
  • Members of the diverse communities
  • Academics and diplomatic representatives from several countries

Amrick Singh, Nishkam Centre Director, during the ‘Vote of Thanks’ highlighted the vast array of talent and networks in the Great Hall, all keen and striving to create a better world. He encouraged all to reach-out and network, to link up with others in the room to make a lasting difference. He spoke about transforming oneself and then working on one’s environment.

The University of Birmingham was a fitting location for the 550th birth celebrations of one of the greatest religious innovators of all time, who at a turbulent time upheld the principles of truth, gender equality and universal responsibility. The university’s ethos of spreading ideas to help transform the world are reflective of the progressive values of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Throughout the five-day event, over a thousand volunteers worked tireles

sly to ensure that all visitors were able to learn, reflect and be inspired in a safe and secure campus environment. International academic experts, faith executives from the public and private sectors led discussions and workshops on a variety of contemporary issues ranging from Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s message for humanity, values-led education, equality and diversity, climate change and social and civic responsibility. All seminars were held in the Universities seminar rooms and auditorium.

The Chairman of GNNSJ, Bhai Sahib, Bhai (Dr) Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia OBE KSG who also holds an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Birmingham stated: “The 550th anniversary celebrations has illuminated many dimensions of Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s teachings, life and legacy. The event has proven to be a historic opportunity to rediscover and apply Guru Nanak’s teachings, to generate new possibilities for transforming our personal and collective lives and the lives of future generations. The event has been made possible by the dedicated and enthusiastic Nishkam Sewa (selfless service) by over 1,000 volunteers from around the UK, India, USA, Canada and Australia.”


Notes for Editors

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Notes to editors:

  • Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of the Sikh Dharam (faith), was born in November 1469 in Talwandi, Punjab, India (now known as Nankana Sahib, Punjab, Pakistan).
  • Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ) serves the Gurudwara, which is based on Soho Road in Handsworth. The work of GNNSJ has resulted in the development of the Nishkam Group of Organisations. This group includes a civic centre, educational institutions (such as Nishkam Nursery, Primary and Secondary Schools, as part of the wider Nishkam Schools Trust), and the Nishkam Healthcare Centre. The aim of the Nishkam Group is to embed virtues and values within all areas of society.
  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.
  • The University established its India Institute in January 2018. The Institute brings Birmingham and India closer together to deliver impactful research, create innovative education initiatives and extend the University’s influence across the globe.
  • The University’s relationship with India began in 1909 with the first cohort of Indian students attending the University to study for degrees in Mining and Commerce. Since then, the University has provided education to many outstanding Indian alumni.
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