Posts Tagged ‘Panj Pyare’

Vaisakhi in Gravesend – 2012

Sunday, April 14th, 2024

Vaisakhi in Gravesend – Saturday14 April 2012: Gravesend is in Kent around 20 miles east of London on the River Thames and home to around 15,000 Sikhs in a population of just over 100,000. The first Gurdwara opened here in 1956 but in November 2010 a splendid new Gurdwara was opened, the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara. This is said to be the largest Gurdwara in Europe and one of the largest outside India and cost £12 million, financed by donations.

Vaisakhi in Gravesend

The temple is on a large site around half a mile east of the railway station and I arrived too late to make a tour of the place as the Nagar Kirtan procession was getting ready to start.

Vaisakhi in Gravesend

I took a short look inside then went back outside to photograph the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh Scriptures) being carried out ceremonially to be put inside a model of the Golden Temple of Amritsar on one of the floats at the head of the procession.

Vaisakhi in Gravesend

Vaisakhi in Gravesend

There were lengthy prayers outside the Gurdwara before five Khalsa, baptised Sikh men in saffron robes carrying Sikh standards and five more with raised swords representing the Panj Pyare baptised at Ananpundur in 1699 by the last living human Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Sahib, the founding of the ‘Khalsa’ took their place in the procession behind an open lorry carrying a large Nagara drum and its beaters.

Behind them was the Guru Granth Sahib and then the walking congregation (Sangat) led by Punjabi School children, then the women and after them men, along with several vehicles carrying the elderly.

The Gurdwara also has various cultural, social and sports groups, including Bhangra music and dance groups, the Guru Nanak Football Club and children from local primary schools and lorries carrying some of these made up the end of the procession.

I hadn’t arrived early enough to visit the Langer, but as the procession made its way around the centre of Gravesend there were a number of stalls handing out free vegetarian food and drink. I enjoyed some delicious vegetable curry with a strong mint flavour as well as some very sweet chai and a couple of vegetable samosas, but there were also plenty of treats for the children, lollipops, soft drinks and sweets.

Shri Guru Ravidass Gurdwara in Brandon Street

Close to the very much smaller Shri Guru Ravidass Gurdwara in Brandon Street there was a large crowd waiting to see the procession and more people handing out free food. I paid a very brief visit to see the interior of this temple.

The procession was going back towards the Gurdwara when I waited to see the end of it go past before going to catch a train. The celebrations were to continue the following day with a religious service in the Gurdwara.

Many more pictures at Gravesend Vaisakhi.

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Knife Crime & 1984 Sikh Genocide

Saturday, June 3rd, 2023

Five years ago today on Saturday 3rd June 2018 I photographed two events in London, beginning with a protest opposite Downing Street by campaigners against gun and knife crime and moving on to an annual march remembering the 1984 Indian Army attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar where thousands of Sikhs were massacred, and the Indian government encouraged mob killings of Sikhs across the country following the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards later in the year.

Anti-Knife UK protest – Downing St

Knife Crime & 1984 Sikh Genocide

The event was organised by Anti-Knife UK, founded by Danny O’Brien in 2008 which monitors knife crime incidents from across the UK on a daily basis. 2008 had been a particularly bad year for the murder of teenagers on London’s streets, with 29 deaths, and thought the numbers had gone down until 2012 when there were 9 such deaths by 2017 they back up to 27.

Knife Crime & 1984 Sikh Genocide

All of these deaths are tragedies for the teenagers and their families, and the numbers of crimes involving knives across England and Wales is huge – now over 45,000, though many of those are for possession of knives – and the total number of deaths is the year ending march 2022 was 261.

Knife Crime & 1984 Sikh Genocide

Many of those at the protest were bereaved family members and their supporters and were wearing t-shirts or holding placards with photographs of the knife victims and pairs of empty shoes as well as banners.

Knife Crime & 1984 Sikh Genocide

Speakers called for measures to tackle the problem including tougher sentences, tagging of all knives, knife arches in night clubs, equal rights for victims and families, a review of the laws governing self-defence and reasonable force and work in schools and communities.

More pictures at Anti-Knife UK protest.

Sikhs remember the 1984 genocide

I went to meet a large crowd of Sikhs at a rally in Hyde Park before the march, sitting on the grass. It was 24 degrees in London, and without any shade I was far too hot. Few of the speeches were in English, but many of the placards were and others graphically made their message clear.

Sikhs were badly treated by the British at the time of partition which divided the country up between the Hindus and Muslims, with millions of people having to flee across the borders of the new states and millions were terribly killed in doing so. Sikhs had called for an independent Sikh state in the Punjab, but most were simply lumped in, along with Buddhists and Jains with Hindu dominated India, although large numbers also remained in the part of the Punjab which had been designated as Muslum Pakistan.

Although there were large numbers of Sikhs across the Punjab before partition were still a minority population and they were not united in their demands for an independent state of Khalistan. Althugh they would probably have been better joining Pakistan, their cultural ties to Hinduism as well as a history of persecution by Muslims led them to instead unite with India. Many Sikh leaders had been involved with the Indian Congress Party which had made them promises about their position in India where the are less than 1% of the population but these were never kept.

The idea of a separate Khalistan became talked about more widely particularly in the diaspora in the 1970s, with the movement in Punjab led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale advocating an autonomous state within India. The movement had become increasingly militant with a number of armed supporters, setting up in 1982 what Wikipedia describes as ‘what amounted to a “parallel government” in Punjab‘.

In June 1984, the Indian Army launched Operation Blue Star to remove Bhindranwale and his armed followers from the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar, killing Bhindranwale and large number of his supporters as well as many civilians as the temple was packed with pilgrims. The figures for deaths are disputed but probably between 5-7,000, with around 700 of the Indian army also dying.

In 2018 I commented “Since this 1984 Sikh genocide there has been a continuing program of police arrests, torture and killing of Sikh males in the Punjab and crippling economic and social policies. Sikhs demand independence from India and a Sikh state, Khalistan.”

After the rally the march set off, led by Sikh standard bearers and five Khalsa representing the Five Blessed Ones or Panj Pyare holding swords and walking barefoot in their orange robes and followed by several thousand Sikhs with flags, placards and banners. I talked with them past Marble Arch and down to Hyde Park Corner where I left them going down Piccadilly towards another rally at the end of the march in Trafalgar Square.

You can see many more pictures and captions describing the event on My London Diary at Sikhs remember the 1984 genocide.