November 22, 2013 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
Washington, United States (November 21, 2013): Sikhs from various part of the U.S. came yesterday to celebrate Guru Nanak Sahib Ji’s Parkash Gurpurb for the fourth time in the White House. President Obama’s administration opened the doors of the White House for this annual celebration which featured key White House officials, Sikh community leaders, Sikh kirtan, and a musical performance on the sitar and tabla.
Senior officials from the Obama Administration turned up to welcome Sikhs who were dressed proudly in their traditional Punjabi attires, colorful turbans and business suits, a great number of which were young people. The theme of this year’s celebration was mentorship, focusing on 4 areas: service, armed forces, leadership, and activism.
The program was kicked off with an introduction by Gautam Raghavan, advisor, White House Office of Public Engagement, followed by Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu of the Embassy of India, who conveyed the remarks of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the auspicious occasion.
Melissa Rogers, Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships congratulated Sikhs on their activism. “Sikhs have played such a strong role in extending the religious liberty guarantees to people within their community and people far beyond their community. So today, I want to just take a moment to salute you for that work. You have made America a better place because of your commitment to religious freedom,” she said, immediately meeting a round of applause from the audience.
The gathering was also addressed by Grande Lum, Director of Community Relations Service, U.S. Department of Justice, who greeted the audience with “Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh!” He shared his experiences of working with the Sikh community and stated, “Guru Nanak Sahib Ji’s life is an example for all of us that we can learn from to stand for truth and justice regardless of the risk.”
Congressman Joe Crowley, Co-Chair of the House Caucus on India and Indian Americans also spoke very highly of the current work Sikhs are doing in America and the work Guru Nanak Sahib Ji Dev Ji did for humanity. He said, “President Obama is the greatest friend of the Sikhs and so am I. You can count on me in Congress to stand for you and your issues.”
This was followed by a kirtan performance by Washington youth who sang “Hum Nahi Changey Bura Nahi Koe” in Raag Jansamohini, a hymn from Sikh scriptures written by Guru Nanak Sahib Ji. The group consisted of college students and high school students Rajdeep Singh, Daven Singh, Sehejneet Kaur, and Hana Kaur. They were accompanied by Guransh Singh on tabla and Jaskeerat Kaur on dilruba. They sang with their eyes closed and had the audience join in the reciting the words of Guru Nanak Sahib Ji in a melodious manner.
Dr. Rajwant Singh, Chairman of The Sikh Council on Religion and Education, who has played a key role in having Gurpurab celebrations taking place at the White House in the last few years, said, “We are so thankful to President Obama for standing with the Sikhs and always making sure that our community is not only included, but involved. We want to make sure that celebrations of this kind and Sikh involvement in the American affairs will continue for generations to come.” He applauded the efforts of Gautam Raghavan and the previous work of Paul Monteiro in orchestrating Sikhs events in the last five years at the White House.
Valarie Kaur, Founder, Groundswell at Auburn Seminary spoke about her experience being a third generation Sikh in America and how Guru Nanak Sahib Ji has impacted her life, family and work in the community. She said “Guru Nanak Sahib Ji’s life teaches us to always remain in “chardi kala”, a state of bliss and positivity” and reminded the audience of the plight of Bhai Panjab Singh, one of the survivors of the Oak Creek Shooting. Romi Bhatia, Senior Advisor, U.S. Agency for International Development implored Sikhs to not only do service for our own community but for the community at large, focusing on the “importance of connecting to our neighbors” and “healing while educating”.
Major Kamal Singh Kalsi, of the U.S. Army, EMS Director at St. Clare’s Health System started off with the story of Guru Nanak Sahib Ji’s Parkash and the way through which he was named “Nanak”, meaning either “one without pain” or “one who is not different”, stating that Guru Nanak Sahib Ji brought light into a time of darkness. He also stressed that “through social service we can cleanse our souls” and that there can be no peace without justice”. Nitasha Sawhney, Commissioner, California Commission on Asian Pacific Islander Affairs & Co-Chair, SAALT applauded Sikhs in the US for keeping in touch with their roots and for Sikhism flourishing despite adversity. She said, “I can assure my dad that Sikhism’s future is brighter than ever in America.”
Another musical performance filled the halls of the Dwight D. Eisenhower building with the sounds of the sitar and tabla in an Indian classical ensemble featuring revered sitar player Jagjit Singh Matharoo and tabla player Jashon Singh, both of New York. They were accompanied by Harjit Kaur on Tanpura.
The program concluded with the closing remarks by Amardeep Singh, Member, President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Harpreet Singh Mokha from the Justice Department was also recognized for his outstanding work on Sikh rights. James Santelle of the U.S. Attorney’s office from Wisconsin, who had worked closely with Oak Creek Sikhs immediately after the shooting, was also present.
The key officials of SALDEF, Sikh Coalition, and United Sikhs along with members of the Oak Creek and Washington area Gurdwaras were in attendance.
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