Times-Herald (Vallejo)

Sikhs mark toned-down holiday amid continuing virus concerns

- By Margaret Stafford and Gary Fields

Sikhs across the United States are holding toned-down Vaisakhi celebratio­ns this week, joining people of other faiths in observing major holidays cautiously this spring as COVID-19 keeps an uneven hold on the country.

Vaisakhi, which falls April 13 or 14 depending on which of two dueling calendars one follows, marks the day in 1699 when Sikhism took its current form. Communitie­s typically celebrate by gathering at gurdwaras, or places of worship, for prayer and the reading of hymns, and there are often procession­s, parades, other activities and food.

While the ongoing pandemic has many people celebratin­g remotely this year just as in 2020, some, especially in the United States, are joining in masked, socially distant Vaisakhi gatherings.

“Sikh community members, especially those who faced hardships and loss during the pandemic, view Vaisakhi as a fresh start and a sign of hope that things will be better once again,” said Sahej Preet Singh, community developmen­t manager at the Sikh Coalition, a national organizati­on based in New York. “The Sikh worldview embraces resilience and Chardi Kala (relentless optimism).”

For the second year in a row, outdoor festivitie­s at the Midwest Sikh Gurdwara and the traditiona­l parade in the city of Shawnee, a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri, have been canceled. But in an improvemen­t over 2020, some events will be held at the temple and via social media.

Komalpreet Kaur, a 16-year-old high school student in nearby Olathe, Kansas, said the parade is “the one big event of the year where everyone gets together, and we welcome other members of the community to participat­e . ... This is like our Christmas, and it’s something we look forward to so much.”

“But we are going to find alternativ­es this year to celebrate,” she added.

Kaur has been lobbying officials in several area cities trying to get them to declare April Sikh Awareness and Appreciati­on Month, so far winning one such proclamati­on from Lenexa, Kansas. Kaur, who was raised in New York City before moving with her family to Kansas in 2017, said she wants to make others more familiar with her faith.

“Increasing awareness can combat the negativity and hate,” she said.

In California’s San Joaquin Valley, the Stockton Gurdwara Sahib organized a Tuesday evening service of prayers, readings from the Guru Granth Sahib scripture and music, held in-person while following health guidelines, said Tejpaul Singh Bainiwal, a temple member and student of early Sikh American history. A more involved celebratio­n including a vaccinatio­n clinic will be held this weekend, also under masking and social distancing rules.

 ?? JASON DECROW — AP PHOTO ?? Jasbir Singh, left, and Vijay Singh wash a flagpole with milk as part of a ceremonial changing of the Sikh flag during Vaisakhi celebratio­ns at Guru Nanak Darbar of Long Island in Hicksville, N.Y. .
JASON DECROW — AP PHOTO Jasbir Singh, left, and Vijay Singh wash a flagpole with milk as part of a ceremonial changing of the Sikh flag during Vaisakhi celebratio­ns at Guru Nanak Darbar of Long Island in Hicksville, N.Y. .

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