Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s birthday has a virtual twist

By Minreet Kaur

One of the most important Sikh festivals, the celebration of the birthday of founder Guru Nanak Dev Ji, will take place on Monday 30 November.

Usually at this time of year, gurdwaras are full of worshippers from all across the country. People would assemble for prayer and share langar — food — together.

Sikhs would celebrate by holding the annual Nagar Kirtan — street procession — across Birmingham and other UK cities with a large population of Sikhs. These normally attract about 25,000 people. Sikh prayers are recited and many outdoor stalls give refreshments along the route.

But this year, Sikhs have had to find ways to be innovative. Sunny Daheley, founder of Digi Sangat, a virtual worship site, said: “We had initially set a target of one million prayers — mool mantar jaaps — to be submitted by everyone in the community by the time of the festival. This was surpassed two weeks early.

“This year for the festival, which is also called Gurpurab, we will be doing a community prayer online, leading up to the day itself. The night before we have teamed up with a local gurdwara to bring live prayers and kirtan to everyone so they can enjoy this auspicious celebration from their homes.”

Daya Singh, of the Guru Har Rai Gurdwara in West Bromwich, said: “We express sadness and sympathy of all those affected by the pandemic. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who have lost loved ones. It is with sadness that the annual Nagar Kirtan to mark the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji will not take place this year, but we hope that next year we can celebrate with family and friends.”

Harmeet Singh Gill, general-secretary of Sri Guru Singh Sabha Southall, said: “Guru Nanak Dev Ji taught us to pray for sarbat da bhala, the wellbeing of all. Gurdwaras across the world are continuing to provide langar to those in need.”

Sikh schools are also looking at ways to celebrate. They would normally have a grand assembly with many parents and community representatives present.

Mandeep Singh, Sikh studies co-ordinator at Khalsa Primary School in Slough, Berkshire, said: “Our grand assembly will be able to be seen only by the children in the gurdwara and parents will be able to see it via a live broadcast. There will be no traditional langar for the children as in previous years but one year group will be able to go outside to participate in the Nishan Sahib seva – changing of the Sikh flag.”

Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469-1539) expressed his thoughts in poetry that now forms the basis of the Sikh scriptures.

He was born about 40 miles from Lahore, now in Pakistan. The most famous teaching attributed to him is that there one universal god that all human beings can have access to, with no need for rituals or pilgrimages. His most radical social teachings denounced the caste system and taught that everyone was equal, regardless of caste or gender, and that we are a global community with a duty to fight injustice and division, and promote harmony, equality, and peace.

Preet Kaur Gill, the Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, said that the Guru’s message has been observed, despite the pandemic, in acts of selfless service — seva — supporting communities all across the country, with langar stalls, delivering supplies to those shielding, and much more.