Sikhs in Malaysia celebrate Vaisakhi on April 14 this year. However, the community is often involved in activities during the whole month of April.
A historical, cultural and religious festival, Vaisakhi celebrates the founding of the Khalsa in 1699. Khalsa basically means “pure” and it was from this day onwards that the title of Singh (Lion) was affixed to the name of a male and Kaur (Princess) to that of a female Sikh.
Prayers, meditation, performances and all kinds of activities are held every year in celebration of Vaisakhi. Charitable acts are also carried out and the needs of the underprivileged are not forgotten.
In this month, members of the community try to raise awareness about the Sikhs, their values and their way of life which includes remembering God, earning an honest living and sharing with others.
Senior risk manager Harjindar Singh, 49, and his wife, IT executive Harpreet Kaur, 44, have been actively engaging with youths and children in the Sikh community. This couple believes they can make a difference by organising healthy activities that will enrich lives and protect the youth from social ills.
They recognise there is a risk for the young to be tempted by drugs and alcohol, or even contemplate suicide when the going gets tough.
Harjindar and his brother Davindarpall set up a volunteer group called Nishan Kirtani Jatha (NKJ) in 1990 to address these concerns. NKJ organises activities to engage children and the youth in various social and soul-enriching activities at Gurdwara Sahib Selayang in Selangor. From 10 members initially, NKJ now has over 100 members.
To celebrate Vaisakhi, NKJ and other Sikh groups in the various gurdwaras (Sikh temples) will normally put on religious performances and a musical form of narration called Kirtan.
At the Malaysia Tourism Centre (Matic) Vaisakhi Fest on April 29 this year, various Sikh groups including NKJ will showcase a Sikh martial art performance called Gatka where wooden sticks are used to simulate swords in sparring matches.
To preserve these Sikh traditions, NKJ has been conducting Gatka and Kirtan classes for about seven years.
“Every week, we hold Gatka and Kirtan training as well as Satsangs (spiritual group meetings) for children and youths. The classes are free of charge,” says Harjindar, who works closely with NKJ advisor Mahabeer Singh to conduct all the activities.
There are currently 25 youths attending the training by Gatka Master, Karamjit Singh, every Sunday morning.
Six children from the NKJ Gatka team have taken part in a national level competition, and there are plans to bring in experts from abroad to teach the group. There are currently 50 students in NKJ’s Kirtan classes.
“To cope with the increasing number of students and to enhance their skills, we sourced the services of Master Surjit Singh since May last year to teach tabla and harmonium. We will be rolling out string instrument training (tanti saaj) by June this year,” says Harjindar
“We also use the keyboard to attract the new generation but feel that traditional instruments are still relevant. These students have progressed well and they perform Kirtan throughout the country, with the youngest being five years old. It’s both refreshing and encouraging to see their youthful zeal,” he adds.
NKJ’s efforts have not been in vain for they have trained over 40 talents who can sing, play the harmonium, keyboard and tabla, as well as narrate and emcee. They also have martial arts exponents, communicators, potential leaders and volunteers.
“The children have a supportive and non-competitive platform that deepens awareness, builds confidence and broadens skills and experience. They are committed and work hard,” says Harjindar.
“Parents, too, tirelessly encourage and provide hope for their children to move forward. These children will shape and create a brighter future for themselves, their families, the community and country,” he adds.
NKJ also organises various activities such as annual family getaways, visits to the Sungai Buloh prison, home visits, distribution of free food to patients in Hospital Kuala Lumpur and a goodies distribution at the Sungai Besi toll booth to create awareness on Vaisakhi. NKJ parents and children also visit the less fortunate and needy Sikh families during Vaisakhi month to distribute food hampers and ang pows.
The group also organises yearly motivational camps for the youth. “We are very happy to see that NKJ’s efforts have resulted in so many youths getting connected to the gurdwara,” said the president of Gurdwara Sahib Selayang, Gurmit Singh.
“By instilling the teachings of the Sikh Gurus which include healthy values and self-reflection in children, they start believing that they can change the world for the better. Ultimately, we want them to become who they are meant to be by using their God-given talents to do something to the best of their abilities,” says Harpreet.