Canwest News Service: Vaisakhi celebration: A community of givers

Doling out the hot jelebis at the communal kitchen in Surrey's Dasmesh Darbar Sikh temple, Babar Singh Tumber calls out to a group of young men enjoying his fare to remind them of the work to be done.

Doling out the hot jelebis at the communal kitchen in Surrey's Dasmesh Darbar Sikh temple, Babar Singh Tumber calls out to a group of young men enjoying his fare to remind them of the work to be done.

"We need to clean the Nishan Sahib," says the turbaned contractor, referring to the towering flagpole, which rises some 42 metres above the ground outside the gurdwara at the foot of 85th Avenue in Surrey.

It will be a delicate operation as the hydraulic pole is levelled to remove the yellow cloth that binds it and the triangular flag with the Sikh symbol — the khanda — is replaced in a reverent ceremony involving milk and water.

Refreshed and restated, the Nishan Sahib will be the focal point of this Saturday's Vaisakhi celebrations and the mammoth 2010 Khalsa Day parade in Surrey.

"You can see this Nishan Sahib from many parts in Surrey," says Tumber proudly.

"It is a sign that this is a place where the hungry can come to eat, the faithful can come and pray and the suffering can find refuge."

For the past few weeks, Tumber, his wife, three children and fellow Sikhs have been busily preparing for the Nagar Kirtan, as the annual Vaisakhi parade is known, building floats and organizing details for an event that is expected to attract some 150,000 people from Alberta, Washington state and B.C.

A similar but smaller parade was held in Vancouver last week.

Vaisakhi is held every April to celebrate the birth of the Sikh identity or Khalsa in 1699 by Guru Gobind Singh at Anandpur Sahib, a village in Punjab.

Guru Gobind Singh, Sikhism's 10th guru, created Khalsa to proclaim the oneness of humanity and unite everyone regardless of caste, colour, race or gender in a culmination of the Sikh faith, which was founded by Guru Nanak Dev Ji.

Love, service to humanity, tolerance and forgiveness are the elements of the Khalsa code of conduct, which demands Sikhs use their ordinary and everyday lives as a way to get closer to God.

For Tumber and the event organizers, the Vaisakhi festival in Surrey is more than just the birth of the Sikh identity.

It symbolizes diversity and multiculturalism as tens of thousands Sikhs from all walks of life take their message of pray, work and give into the larger community.

"We are supposed to serve God by serving other people every day," explained Tumber, who after work spends an average of about four hours a day at Dasmesh Darbar Sikh temple, cooking in the kitchen and cleaning the floors.

Like him, B.C. Sikh's community is front and centre when it comes to community service, supporting charitable causes and providing relief aid.

One group called Sikhcess Vancouver has taken the concept of Langar, or the free community kitchens, into the Downtown Eastide to feed the homeless on a regular basis.

Last January, Vancouver-area South Indian radio stations raised more than $1.5 million in donations for victims of the Haitian earthquake, continuing a pattern of generosity seen after the Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and natural disasters in Pakistan and Indonesia.

The B.C. Children's Hospital also receives hundreds of thousands of dollars from B.C.'s Sikh community every year, which are raised by individuals, at charitable events and by individuals.

" We are a community of givers and Vaisakhi is a celebration of service and sacrifice to bond a universal brotherhood," said Harbinder Singh Sewak, publisher of Vancouver's South Asian Post newspaper.


The Khalsa Day parade will start at 9 a.m. Saturday at Gurdwara Sahib Dasmesh Darbar, 12885 85 Ave., Surrey and move toward 128th Street on 85th Avenue. It will then proceed to 82nd Avenue, where it will turn right and move toward 124th Street, where it turns left. From there the parade proceeds to Strawberry Hill, where it will stop for a while. It will then continue on to 76th Avenue, turn left at 128th Street and head back to the Gurdwara.

Area residents and businesses should be advised there will be road closures, traffic disruptions, restricted access and temporary parking restrictions to facilitate parade activities.

Traffic controls will be in place beginning about 7 a.m. until approximately 5 p.m.

Increased delays may be expected for travel through and within the area between 72nd Avenue and 88th Avenue, and 124th Street to King George Highway.

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