April –  The Month of Sikh Heritage in Canada

Canada is the first country in the world to dedicate a month to Sikh Heritage. It familiarizes the others in Canada with the History, Culture, Faith, and Way of life of the Sikhs, and recognizes  Sikhs’ contributions to Canada.  There are more than half a million Sikhs in Canada (about 1.7% of the Canadian population).

April 14th is called ‘Vaisakhi’, the first day of the month of Vaisakh, according to Nanakshahi Calendar. Guru Gobind Singh, their Tenth Guru formally proclaimed the institution of ‘Khalsa’ on this day in 1699. It is also celebrated as ‘Turban Day’ in many countries, including Canada.

The Inter-Faith Philosophy of Sikhs is the basis of their Culture and Religion. The Sikh way of Life and their Culture are based on the Gurus’ Philosophy enshrined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, their Holy Scripture, revered as a ‘Living Guru’. It stresses the universal values given by the Gurus and the Learned Scholars of all religious Faiths of different regions.

Bertrand Russell, Nobel Laureate, wrote “If some lucky men survive the onslaught of the third world war …  then Sikh Religion will be the only means of guiding them … It has the capability, but the Sikhs have not brought out in the broad daylight the splendid doctrines of this religion, which has come into existence for the benefit of the entire mankind. This is their greatest sin, and the Sikhs cannot be freed of it.”

Sikh Heritage is ingrained in their history. Muslim rulers forced them to convert to Islam. The Sikhs had to fight for their Faith and Survival. Their history is replete with stories of their battles and their heroes. Their forts have become Sikhs’ proud heritage. Love for the Army continued as Canadian Soldiers in World Wars and in the RCMP later.

Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, started our legacy in Canada. It celebrates Sikh Heritage Month in the same year as Canada marks its 150th birthday. After Canada became a new country, he wrote to Sir Henry Sumner Maine in 1867 that India could “Do us yeoman’s service by sending an Army of Sikhs” to save her (from the US). A Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada was founded in 2011, the Centennial year of the ‘Gur-Sikh Temple’ in Abbotsford, British Columbia (BC). The Museum exhibits events associated with the Sikhs, like the Ghadar Revolution, Sikh Feminism, the Komagata Maru Tragedy, and the Festival of Hola Mohalla, among others.

Agriculture is the main profession of Sikhs. Their language, family life, literature, culture, and heritage revolve around farming. April is the month of harvesting, the theme of their songs and dances (Bhangra for men and Giddha for women). Sikhs who came earlier to Canada brought their love of agriculture with them and worked hard on farms to boost the Canadian Economy.

Challenges to Sikh Culture include their struggle for identity, religiosity, and community aspirations. Elderly role models can help resolve the conflict of their Identity at home and in public. Maintenance of links with their mother language and Faith at home and in the Gurdwaras is essential to preserve their Religiosity. For this, highly educated, upright, and devoted preachers are required, who are well-versed in both English and French.  

Loyalty to the community and family values are most important. For harmonious family relationships, and to face these three (and other) challenges, Sikh youth should marry among Sikhs. However, there should be no disconnect from non-Sikhs and their parents. Their aim should be to integrate with other communities in the Canadian multi-cultural society without compromising Sikh Identity, Sikh Faith, Family Life, and a closely-knit Community Structure.  

Photo Above:

A Poster of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s First Prime Minister (1867 to 1873), and Sardar Harjit Singh Sajjan, Former Minister for National Defence of Canada (2015 to 2021), and presently the Minister for International Development of Canada (since October 2021).

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