By Suresh Nair
THEY’RE 77 years apart but this special sporting comparison sums up the true spirited Sikh solidarity as Vesakhi was celebrated on Friday by the Singapore Khalsa Association (SKA).
Aljit Singh is 89 years, an iconic hockey player who starred in Singapore’s only appearance at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. His golfing partner is 12-year-old Aryan Singh. These oldest and youngest golfing pairs made heads turn at a SKA-hosted charity golfing event at the Sembawang Country Club.
“Aryan symbolises the new spirit of young Sikhs who take to golf as a wonderful sporting recreation,” says retired educationist Ajit Singh. “I feel blessed to see the younger generation believing and celebrating the spirit of Vesakhi.”
Schoolboy Aryan Singh said he was “very humbled” to meet a sporting legend like Ajit Singh. Their ages may be 77 years apart but they bonded together like a dad-son pair to enjoy the auspicious north Indian harvest festival, Vesakhi.
He adds: “Mr Ajit is truly a remarkable role-model for everyone in the way he keeps himself fighting-fit at 89 years. I wish I can come close to his life-long principle of always keeping healthy, in mind and body.”
Wow, few can ever close to the charismatic colour and charm of these Punjabi folks who toast to an abundant good agricultural year and pray for abundant crop produce for the next season.
In land-scarce Singapore, among the heartlander-based events of SKA, I was thrilled to join my Sikh friends at the Sembawang Golf & Country Club, where a Friday of fund-raising golf culminated with a rousing splendour of evening dinner and entertainment.
From SKA President Mohinder Singh, Past President Charanjit Singh and prominent Sikh personalities like Ricky Sapuran Singh and Puran Kaur, Colonel Gurcharan Singh and Major Tarlok Singh, and even 89-year-old educationist Ajit Singh, they sang, danced and rejoiced in true celebration of a special Vesakhi festivity.
Yes, Vesakhi is celebrated with vigour in many North Indian states (Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand), but even in Singapore, the SKA holds the festival in special significance for Punjabis and Sikhs, primarily for four reasons.
First, it marks the beginning of their solar year and the harvest of rabi crops. Since homeland Punjab is primarily an agrarian state, this day holds greater importance as farmers thank their Gods for good harvest and hope for another good year.
Second, it was on this day in 1699 that Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh guru, founded the Khalsa Panth and famously evoked nationalism and unity among his people at a meeting in Anandpur Sahib.
He is also believed to have converted his first batch of five disciples (the Panj Piaras) into Singhs by administering nectar to them, and thus inducting them into the martial community.
Also, this day in 1699 marked the end of the long tradition of gurus in Sikhism and established the Guru Granth Sahib as the eternal guide for the community.
The SKA got the fraternity together to celebrate, urban-turban-style, as much as it is done in north Indian schools, colleges, gurudwaras, fields and homes.
From the vibrant traditional clothes, preparation of locally-grown and loved food (makke di roti, sarson ka saag, aloo poori, gajar ka halwa, chhole, lassi) and dancing to the beats of dhol to celebrate prosperity. SKA also organised varied competitions, and gurudwaras prayers, religious ceremonies and processions to mark the day.
As a Malayalee, I know of many Indian-styled harvest festivals similar to Vesakhi which are observed, from popular examples like Makar Sankranti, Onam and Pongal.
Though most of them essentially involve prayers to the sun god for a good harvest, they differ in the ways they are celebrated and the communities that observe them.
Pongal, for instance, is a four-day festival celebrated by the Tamil community with cow as a major symbol. Sankranti involves kite flying, lud music and is celebrated widely in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Onam is celebrated by Malayalees and famously involves activities like boat racing, Kaikottikali dance and rangoli making by women.
As prominent entertainment-businessman Ricky Sapuran Singh, a senior community grassroots leader, who runs the famous Moshi Moshi Bollywood joint along Koek Road, Orchard Road, says: “We always want to make Vesakhi a rousing Singapore-styled celebration.
“We’re Sikhs living in non-Sikh territory but we invite every multi-racial blend of Singaporeans to partake in the celebrations in attempts to build and strengthen community ties. Sikhs are proud partners in Singapore society, a minority but with majority feel to foster a multi-cultural community.”
He reminded that Sikhism is a monotheistic faith founded on the principles of equality, freedom of religion, and community service.
He adds: “As the fifth-largest religion in the world, one of the core teachings of the Sikh tradition is that all Sikhs must cultivate spirituality while also serving the world around us. We’re always committed to universal equality and justice.
SKA President Mohinder Singh said Singaporean-Sikhs continue the traditional worship by singing from the scripture and reflect on their Gurus’ teachings as a way to model values and principles within their own lives.
He says: “Vesakhi is fundamentally about celebration, remembrance, community, and progress. This week Sikhs will gather with their communities at gurdwaras, local places of worship, and reflect on these values.”
Here’s plentiful of cheers to my turbaned and non-turbaned Sikh friends. Now I know why the Guru gave all Khalsa men the surname of Singh (Lion) as a reminder to be courageous. And indeed, women took on the surname Kaur (princess) to emphasise dignity.
I know with the distinct Khalsa identity, Guru Gobind Singh gave all Sikhs the opportunity to live lives of courage, sacrifice and equality.
Even in Singapore, my hundreds of Sikh friends dedicate their lives to the service of others and the pursuit of justice.
If I may add in the final line, big salutes must go to Sikh parents for playing an important role in associating the new generation with their sacred Guru-hailed heritage. Just as Ajit Singh and Aryan Singh are distinct role-model examples.
I remember, too, as I write this article, rather tear-jerkingly, my beloved journalist buddy Santokh Singh, a very staunch SKA leader, who passed on June 3 last year. Beautifully, his last Sikh bash was on Vesakhi 2016.
• Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist, who counts on the Sikhs as among his most endearing friends. They have symbolically hailed him ‘Nair-Singh’.