Monday, March 13, 2017

National Geographic documentary on Hola Mahalla...

'India's Mega-kitchens' is an English documentary aired on National Geographic channel. In this particular episode it shows how food is cooked and served during the festivities of Holla Mahalla that take place in beginning to mid March.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Recommended Gurbani website...

I have recently come across Khoj Gurbani website. It is an excellent website for searching Gurbani. In particular, the good thing about the website is that it has an option for reading Gurbani in Pad-Chhed, Larreevaar and in unicode font. Unicode font is useful if you are searching for Gurbani on a computer that doesn't have any Gurbani fonts installed. 

There is a selection of Teekas (translations) to choose from. In English you have Bhai Manmohan Singh and Bhai Sant Singh's translations. What was particularly useful was that for the Punjabi Teekas, there was also an option for Giani Harbans Singh's Teeka

The website is easy to use, and well recommended for comparing translations and understanding Gurbani.

Monday, March 06, 2017

"I dont believe in God because..."

Last week, I was talking to a young white English man who had various issues and decided to talk to me. I asked him, "Do you believe in God, and have a religion you follow?" He replied, "I don't do religion or believe in God." I asked, "Do you mind me asking, if there is any reason you don't believe in God?" "Well you see, I don't believe in God because I don't believe in anything that I see for myself. You get me?" he replied.

I then asked him, "Does Africa exist?" He replied, "Obviously it exists." "But have you been to Africa and seen it with your own eyes?" I said. He responded, "No." I replied back with, "So, how do you know Africa exists, when you yourself have not seen with your own very eyes?" He said, "That's easy! I have seen Africa on maps and seen it on the television." I replied, "But how do you know that what is being shown on the TV is true, and that maps are not lying?" He then stopped and began to think.

I ended with, "Whether you choose to believe in God or not, that is up to you. However, the map of God is the Word of God of revealed and the holy saints. The beautiful nature you see around you are the signs of God. In order for you to believe, you will will first have to faith in yourself. Once, you have faith in yourself, you will have faith in the one keeps you alive, gives you the breath of life, makes the sunshine, and makes the world turn."

The young man began to really think and contemplate. He smiled and said, "I suppose its like the wind. You cannot see it, but you can see its amazing power.... and you cannot see oxygen, but without it we would be dead."

At the end of the conversation, he said he will explore his religious roots and visit Church on Sunday to make him feel better.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Blessed souls of Spain...

These children are from Spain and live in a small village called Santa Caloma. The youngest 5 and the eldest 9. They wear Khalsa Bana (attire) and Dumallaa to school (as pictured). They refuse to wear any other clothes other than Bana. When the eldest was asked what she wants to become when she grows older, she replied "KHALSA".

Blessed are their parents who daily remind them that their real parents are Guu Gobind Singh Ji and Mata Sahib Kaur ji and that their real family is the Khalsa.

ਆਪਿ ਲੀਏ ਲੜਿ ਲਾਇ ਦਰਿ ਦਰਵੇਸ ਸੇ ॥ 
ਤਿਨ ਧੰਨੁ ਜਣੇਦੀ ਮਾਉ ਆਏ ਸਫਲੁ ਸੇ ॥੨॥
"They, whom the Lord attaches to Himself are the real saints that stand at His Door. Blessed is the mother who gave birth to them and profitable is their coming in this world."
(Aasa Fareed Ji, 488)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The True Decoration...

Someone was doing Keertan and this line was in the Shabad. It made me think that if we do not follow what Vaheguru Ji says and do what we think is right but still decorate our bodies with Guru's jee roop and Panj Kakkaar then its useless!
I was sitting in the Keertan contemplating this one line....
If we wear a dastaar but do not wake up Amrit vela,
if we keep Kesh but laugh at people at other's expense,
if we wear a Kirpaan but do not do regular Naam Abhiaas for one or two hours,
if we wear a Kara but do not do Nitnem,
or if we keep Sarbloh and yet have no maturity or humility,
then Guru Ji says our outside Sikhi we show the world is all "useless and false".
May Guru ji bless us all that we can truly please him and that our outward decorations and Sikhi are expressions of accepting Vaheguru Ji's Hukam. Vaheguru!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Edinburgh: Guru Nanak's Free Kitchen...

Bhai Vijay Singh in Edinburgh
Bhai Vijay Singh (Luton) has been in Edinburgh this week. Yesterday he participated in Guru Nanak's Free Kitchen project that is run by the Sikh Sangat of Edinburgh. Bhai Sahib sent the following message about his experience.
"Doing Guru Nanak's Free Kitchen in Edinburgh yesterday was an amazing experience. They are doing some amazing work! And people are so appreciative of it. People came again and again to say that you guys are saving lives and giving people hope.
They have over 100 people who come every week. They have a link with Starbucks who provide free tea and coffee as well as those green containers which cost hundreds of pounds each. Starbucks also give the sevadaars (volunteers) free hot drinks if they want to drink something.

There is so much Kirpa (Grace), and so much parchaar (educational awareness) is happening. Not necessarily just about helping the homeless, but breaking down community barriers and taking Langar to the streets."
Some photos:
Guru Nanak's Free Kitchen Edinburgh

Guru Nanak's Free Kitchen Edinburgh

ਨੀਚਾ ਅੰਦਰਿ ਨੀਚ ਜਾਤਿ ਨੀਚੀ ਹੂ ਅਤਿ ਨੀਚੁ ॥
ਨਾਨਕੁ ਤਿਨ ਕੈ ਸੰਗਿ ਸਾਥਿ ਵਡਿਆ ਸਿਉ ਕਿਆ ਰੀਸ ॥
ਜਿਥੈ ਨੀਚ ਸਮਾਲੀਅਨਿ ਤਿਥੈ ਨਦਰਿ ਤੇਰੀ ਬਖਸੀਸ ॥੪॥੩॥
"Nanak seeks the company of the lowest of the low class, the very lowest of the low. Why should he try to compete with the great? In that place where the lowly are cared for-there, the Blessings of Your Glance of Grace rain down. ||4||3||"
(Siree Raag M:1, 15)

Monday, February 13, 2017

School presentation on Sikhi...

A few weeks ago I was invited to a local Church of England primary school to do an assembly on Sikhi for Years 5 and 6 (aged 9-11 years). The interactive presentation was just over 30 minutes long. I thought I would share what was said with images of the slides used so that others can borrow ideas if they wish to do something similar in a school in their local area. 

Slides should be only used as a visual aid to help the audience, in particular children, to stimulate and interest. The worst thing one could do is a write up a script and read from a piece of paper. Frankly, its is boring and loses the human touch! However, for the purpose of giving ideas to the Sangat on this blog, I have made a transcript what I said to the children at this particular assembly. 

When presenting to young children, the speaker should be full of enthusiasm and really bold and over the top with their body language. Your excitement rubs off on the children. If you value what you say, they will value what you say. 

Wherever, there are questions, I actually asked the children those questions and took 1 to 2 responses from different students. One thing to remember is that young children love to talk, so you cannot give every child with their hand up the chance to say something.

Hopefully, the transcript and slides below will help others. The assembly had a great response from both teachers and students. It would be great if others could share the message of Guru Nanak Dev Ji with their communities. Through awareness and education, misunderstandings and ignorance which leads to racism and bullying, can be prevented.

A very short introduction to Sikhi

Good morning everyone! [The children sweetly replied together in a loud voice, "Good morning Mr Singh".]

You may be looking at me and realise that I look different. I have a lovely beard, a neatly wrapped turban on my head, and wearing this dress. Well, by the end of the assembly you should be able to understand why I look this way. Let's make a start...

1. The difference between animal life and human life
What makes a human being special?
Is it sleeping?... But animals also sleep!
Is it eating?... But animals also eat!
Is it talking?... But animals also talk!
Is it having a family?... But animals also have families?
Is it working?... But animals also work!

So, what is the purpose of human life? It must be something special, and something that makes us different to animals!

2. The purpose of human life
Before, we go to our answer, I want to you to show these images, which can help us get to our answer.  

Can you please tell me... 
Do we tell our lungs to work? [The children responded, "No".]... They just work. We just breath. Evening if we want to hold our breath, we cannot totally stop breathing!
Do we tell our heart to pump blood across the body? [The children responded, "No".]... The heart just works. Blood is pumped around the body, without me or you having to think about it.
Do we tell our digestion system to digest food? [The children responded, "No".]... When we eat something, our body automatically digests the food and takes the goodness out of the food to help the body. So it works without us doing anything.
Do we tell the earth to spin around? [The children responded, "No".] It happens without me or you doing anything.

Now, these things don't just happen - there is a hidden one 'Amazing Power' behind all of this -- who made me, you, and the world around us. That Amazing Power is the breath of life inside me and you, the battery that powers the world, and makes everything work! Pretty amazing, don't you think?

So, what is the purpose of human life?

The purpose of human life is to experience and meet that Amazing Power, the One, which some call 'God', some call 'Allah', and Sikhs call 'Vahiguru'. Pretty amazing, don't you think?

3. Connecting with Vahiguru, the Amazing One
So how can we do that?

Everything that we see around us is vibrating. Even the walls are vibrating, although it looks still. But the vibration is so subtle, so quiet, that it cannot be heard with our ears, or seen with our eyes.

So, where does vibration come from? The answer is... Sound!

This 'Amazing Sound' comes from the 'Amazing Power'. Through this sound vibrating, the universe was made, and everything exists. This amazing vibration is called 'Naam'. Can you say 'Naam' for me. [Then I said well done to the children.]

To experience the One-- the Amazing Power--... we have to connect, feel and become in tune with its vibration.

Vibration leads us to the Sound, and the Sound leads us to the Word. If we work backwards, then the Word leads us to the Sound, and that Sounds leads us to the Vibration. That special Word is given to us to by the Guru to meditate and connect with the Amazing Power. The special word is 'Vahiguru'. Can you all say 'Vahiguru'. [Then I said well done to all the students for saying it so nicely.]

'Vahi' means 'Amazing', and 'Guru' means 'Light', but not any ordinary light. What does light get rid of? [The children replied, "darkness".] In the dark people get scared, people can't see, they don't know where to walk, and it gets lonely. But when the light comes on, then you don't need to feel lonely, nor sad, scared or feel lost. This is what happens when the one Amazing Power comes in our life.

4. Simran Practical
Our mind can behave like a monkey sometimes and jump all around. So how can we control the monkey mind and become focused. Well, just like a ship in the sea can get carried away with the waves, it needs something to keep it from moving. Can anyone tell me what that would be? [One child replied, "An anchor."]. Yes, an anchor is needed. Even if the ship is overwhelmed by the waves, the anchor pulls back the ship to where it should be. Similarly, when the mind begins to behave like a monkey, doing meditation -- repeating Vahiguru-- helps to bring back the mind, become calm, and feel peace. [I then got the children to repeat "Vahi Guru" and feel the energy and power of Simran, and asked how they felt doing it. The children gave a positive feedback].

5. The Great Teacher
So, who can teach us about the Amazing Power, which we call 'God' or 'Vahiguru'?

Well, the Amazing Power, showed itself in the world as a 'Guru' --an 'Amazing Teacher'-- through a human body... called Guru Nanak.

Can you all repeat "Guru Nanak" for me.... [Then I said well done to them.]

Now, just to understand who the Guru really is, we are going to try and use an example.

Imagine, that someones grandmother has died. The child looks at his dad and says, "Daddy, grandma's gone!" The dad then points at the grandmother's dead body and says, "Son, grandma is in front of you." The child then says, "No! Grandma's gone!"

Now, does anyone know why the child says "Grandma's gone" when he can clearly see the body? [Some of the children gave some interesting answers, and others went off topic, which can happen with young children.]

Well, the child was looking for the grandma that used to speak to him and give him love. That 'living voice that spoke' has moved on. Similarly, the Guru is not the body, but the 'living and speaking voice' of the Amazing Power, God. 

One day the body will get old and die, but the Amazing One doesn't die. So when the Amazing Power showed itself as Guru Nanak to the world, it then moved to another body when Guru Nanak's human body got old and died. So the living speaking voice of the Guru moved to another body. After ten human bodies the living voice of the Amazing Power came to live in the Holy Scripture of the Sikhs, called 'Guru Granth Sahib Ji'. Can all say 'Guru Granth Sahib Ji' for me. [Then I said well done to the children.]

So now, when we want to talk to the Amazing One, get advice or guidance, we read and sing the holy words in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. So, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, is the Living Guru of the Sikhs, because it speaks. Does that make sense to everyone? [The children responded, "Yes".]

6. The Sikh way of life (4 Kurehats)
Now, to connect with 'Naam', the Amazing Vibration, the Guru has taught us to live a natural way of life which helps us to stay connected with the One who created us. So everything a Sikh should help him or her feel the presence of God and remember the Amazing One.

1. We love ourselves and accept that we have been born beautiful. So we don't cut our hair. This helps us to connect and feel the Amazing Vibration--Naam. Put your hands up if you have long hair!... [Some girls put their hands up.] Now is it odd for someone to choose to not cut their hair because they feel their hair is lovely and they look beautiful? [The children answered "No."]... Some people have their hair tied in a pony tail, others loose, but Sikh boys and girls tie their hair on the top of their head. This helps keep the hair out of their face, and makes you feel awake and alert. Is it strange if someone decides to tie their up hair on the head, and keep it covered? [The children responded, "No".] [The objective was to normalise keeping Kesh and wearing a Patka or Dastaar, because there was one Sikh child in the assembly who used to have cut hair but has now recently kept his Kesh and wears a Patka.]

2. As you can see in these pictures, these lovely animals are being treated horribly. There is a photo of dogs in cage ready to be eaten, a cow crying, pigs squeezed in bars, and two chickens cuddling one another looking scared. Well, Sikhs are against animal cruelty. Put your hands up if you are against being cruel to animals? [All the children put their hands up, even the teachers]. 

Now, what is the worst thing you could do to be cruel to someone? [A child replied, "Kill them."]. Yes, to kill an animal just because you want to eat it and find it tasty, is the cruelest thing you could do to animal. For this reason Sikhs don't kill animals to eat. Kindness and compassion helps us to connect with Naam. Does that sound strange or odd? [All the children responded "No."]

3. As Sikhs we are instructed by the Guru to treat every other woman and man as your sister or brother. We are to live like one big family. So we are nasty to one another, and instead we should stick up for one another, and treat others with the same respect of an elder brother or sister. It is our duty to protect and defend our brothers or sisters. Does that make sense and sound a good idea? [All the children responded "Yes."] Keeping pure thoughts helps us to connect with Naam.

4. We don't eat, drink or do anything which makes (1) our mind sleepy and sluggish so that we forget the Amazing One; (2) make the mind crazy so it does silly things and behaves like a monkey; or (3) which harms or destroys this beautiful body. Does that sound a good idea? [Everyone responded "Yes."]. So do you think it is a good idea to smoke? [The children said, "No."] To drink alcohol? [The children said, "No."] To take drugs? [The children said, "No."

So, Sikhs don't drink alcohol, smoke or take drugs. We treat this body like a church, mosque or Gurdwara.

 7. The Sikh dress code
To end with...

Why do I Iook like this?

To help us to connect and feel the Amazing Power, we wear this amazing uniform!

So let's start from the top and work down.

1. So, I have already talked about the hair being special. But I am also wearing a turban on my head. What does a king or queen wear on their head? [The children responded "A crown."] Now, someone who wears a crown sits on a special seat. What is that the special seat called? [The children said "A throne."] Well, my turban is a crown! It reminds me that just like someone who sits on a throne has duties and responsibilities, I have a duty and responsibilty as well. My duty and responsibility is to behave in a beautiful way, and help make the world around me a beautiful place. It also protects my head and keeps my hair nice and tidy.

2. Now, inside my special turban, I have a very special comb. [I showed them a Kangha]. This special comb is made of wood and it is kept nicely tucked in my hair. Why do you think I keep this on me? [The children responded, "To comb your hair."] To keep myself nice and tidy I have been given this special comb. A Sikh should always be clean and ready to represent the Guru.

3. On my arm I am wearing this lovely iron bangle. Christians wear a bracelet which has "WWJD" written on it. Put your hand up if you have seen one of these, or you have worn one of these? [None of the children had]. "WWJD" stands for "What Would Jesus Do?" Similarly, wearing the Kara is a constant reminder to a Sikh of "What would the Guru do?" We do silly things or good things with our hands, so its a lovely reminder to help me stay connected with the Amazing One.

4. Underneath, I am wearing some special shorts. These shorts are really wide [I stretched my arms out]. But I am not that fat. So why are they so big! Well, they have a special cord. When you pull the cord, the shorts become smaller and you get loads of folds. These shorts are really great because you can run, walk, or jump and you are always covered and never need to feel embarrassed because you are naked. They are practical and reminds a Sikh to behave like a saint.

5. Lastly, we wear a small special sword. Police Officers carry a baton-- should we be scared of a Police Officer? [The children said, "No."] Why? Because the Police Officers carry it to protect the community and keep everyone safe. Soldiers in the army carry a gun-- should we be scared of a soldier? [The children said, "No."] Why? Because the soldiers carry a gun to protect us. A doctor in hospital has a knife when doing surgery. Would we be scared of him? [The children said, "No."]. Similarly, a Sikh wears their small special sword to defend and protect others, not to harm others, and therefore there is nothing to feel scared of when you see a Kirpan. It should only be used as a last resort.

8. Any questions

9. Ending
Thank you so much for listening today and behaving so well. You have done your teachers proud! If you ever see a Sikh now, you can always say "hello" now that you know about them. The Sikh place of worship is called a Gurdwara, where the Guru lives and Sikhs get together to pray, learn and eat together. Every Gurdwara has free vegetarian meal served called Langar, which is offered to all visitors. So, next time you see a Gurdwara, you are welcome to come in and have a look around. Bless you all.