200 years after first entering Nepal, the Nepali Sikh community has successfully retained its distinctive cultural and religious identity.
From India to Ireland, as Sikhs across the globe gathered in gurudwaras on Tuesday to celebrate the 348th birth anniversary of their 10th Guru, Gobind Singh, the small but proud Nepali Sikh community too congregated in one of the five temples across the country.
HIDDEN TREASURES: Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikkhism is believed to have meditated at this shrine in Balaju
Sikhs first started entering Nepal some 200 years ago following in the steps of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the founder of the Sikh Empire which at its peak straddled Khyber Pass in the west to western Tibet in the east, and Bahawalpur in the south to Kashmir in the north.Today, nearly 3,000 out of the 27 million strong Sikh population, call Nepal their home and have retained, to a commendably high degree, their distinctive cultural and religious identity.
The gurudwara in Kupondole forms the centre of religious and social life for Sikhs in the Valley. Members of the Guru Nanak Satsang gather here during major festivals with fervour and devotion and participate in kirtans(religious songs) and prayers followed by ‘langar’, which involves cooking and serving food to those in attendance.
Says Sardar Pritam Singh, president of the gurudwara, “At times like this, I feel blessed to have my Sikh community around me. We have not built this gurudwara for money, we just want to promote our tradition and help those who cannot help themselves”.
Aside from managing daily prayers and religious events, the gurudwara’s organisational committee has also taken in close to 30 orphans, mostly local children for whom they provide accommodation, food and education. Committee secretary Sardar Harpal Singh says that they have ambitious plans for the children, including taking them on a trip to the holy city of Amritsar in India.
While Sikhs form a tiny religious minority within Nepal, a lesser known fact remains that Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism spent more than a year meditating on the virtually unknown site now known as Nanak Math located in Balaju. Nepali and Punjabi books alike are silent and tourist maps too have conveniently overlooked the shrine.
But Nanak Math is definitely worth a visit for locals as well as tourists.The verdant surrounding and the minimal noise pollution provide much needed respite from the usual cacophony of Kathmandu. At the back of the temple, beyond the arching stairway and a number of doors, lays a stone slab with two carved feet marking the very inches where Guru Nanak lay in meditation.The resident Nepali priest, who maintains the shrine, entertains the visitors with folklore and tales of ancient kings gone mad.
“We need to appoint a Sikh scholar to wholly unravel the mysteries of the site and its relevance in Sikh history,” says Bhai Ranabir Singh, one of the Gurus who traveled from India for the birth anniversary.
The world over, Sikhs are stereotyped as brave, loyal soldiers, sturdy hard workers, and everyone’s favourite, the extremely boisterous, chicken tikka eating, Black Label drinking, Yo Yo Honey Singh listening bunch. Their small size and largely segregated lifestyle coupled with fellow Nepalis’ lack of knowledge and interest in the community, mean that these stereotypes will be hard to overcome.