Melbourne: November 12 marked an important date in the calendar for Sikhs around the world as they united to celebrate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism. The celebration was one of the biggest in scale and saw hundreds of thousands of devotees throng gurudwaras globally.

In Australia too, the celebrations were on in full swing at different gurudwaras around the country. For the people of Victoria, it was no different with the Premier Daniel Andrews who showed his strong support towards the event as a true champion of multiculturalism.

Congratulating the Sikhs, who so generously pass on the message of Guru Nanak Devji to all Victorians, at the Humanity Walk, Andrews said, “The message of brotherhood, compassion, respect, kindness – is a powerful code and lesson to live life by. These celebrations of Guru Nanak’s 550th birthday have been a product of the hard work of many people – community leaders and volunteers.”

Lauding the Sikh community in Victoria as being not only Australia’s biggest Sikh community but also Australia’s best Sikh community, Andrews said, “As Victorians from different backgrounds, we say thank you to the Sikh community for your inclusion and commitment to our city and state, multiculturalism and for our future.”

Earlier in September, Andrews’s government announced a $200,000 fund to be shared by 18 organising groups to hold a range of events throughout October and November – fulfilling a key election commitment.

Photo credit: Jasmeet Singh Photography

The festivities were marked by tree plantation, organ donation, langar for many people and harmony humanity walk. The Humanity Walk on November 9 from Lansdowne Street, East Melbourne finished at the Treasury Gardens Lawn 4. Thousands took part in the walk organised by the Victorian Sikh Gurduaras Council (VSGC) with the support of other Sikh Gurdwaras, Sikh and Australian organisations and Victorian Sangat.

Also, as a gesture of gratitude, buildings and landmarks around Melbourne including the Bolte Bridge, the Arts Centre, Melbourne Museum and AAMI Stadium were lit in saffron in honour of the occasion.

In Sydney, Sikh Youth Australia organised a successful festival Divine Steps, which saw 4,000 attendees, 3,500 free vegetarian meals served (langar), 500 free vegetarian meals for the homeless, 16 performances and 7 hours of divine music from Sikh and multi-faith groups, with the support of two charities Can Too Foundation and Father Riley’s Youth Off The Streets in the spirit of being one.

“What started off as a simple idea to bring communities from all walks of life together, became Sydney’s first-ever multi-faith music festival to commemorate Guru Nanak’s philosophy of universal humankind and oneness,” the organisation said.

Photo credit: Jasmeet Singh Photography

Historic Kartarpur Corridor opening
The celebration got an extra significance with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on November 9 inaugurating the much-awaited Kartarpur Corridor in Punjab province, paving the way for thousands of Indian Sikh pilgrims to visit the highly revered Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara. India signed an agreement with Pakistan on October 24 on the modalities for operationalisation of the 4.2 km-long four-lane Kartarpur Sahib Corridor at the Zero Point on the international boundary.

As per the agreement, Indian pilgrims of all faiths and persons of Indian origin can use the corridor, while persons of Indian origin need to carry their OCI card along with the passport of their country.

Photo credit: Sidhu Photography

The pilgrims, who need to travel in the morning are required to return the same day, and the corridor will be operational throughout the year, except on notified days, to be informed in advance.

Devotees throng Melbourne’s Blackburn Gurudwara
Thousands and thousands of people including those from different backgrounds turned up at one of the oldest gurudwaras in Melbourne, the Blackburn Gurudwara. Prayers were chanted from the wee hours of the morning and continued late into the night. Candles were lit, food distributed and children programs were conducted. A devotee remarked, “Never have I seen such a congregation of people, it doesn’t feel like Melbourne, it feels like India.”

Photo credit: Sidhu Photography

Ik Oankar statue at Peace Park in Bendigo
For the Sikh community in the large town of Bendigo, a golden ‘Ik Oankar’ statue was unveiled at the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion to mark the celebrations. The symbol, which means “God is One’ reflects the first words of Guru Nanak Dev in the Sikh Holy Scripture.

The Ik Oankar statue, which is the first of its kind in Australia, has taken five years to develop and construct.

Golden Temple lights up in festive spirit
The holiest of Sikh shrines, Harmandir Sahib, popularly known as Golden Temple, was lighted up in Amritsar, Punjab. Fireworks display and millions of lights around the whole complex saw a sea of devotees turning up for the occasion.

Tens of thousands converge in holy land of Sultanpur
Devotees from across the globe converged in this holy town associated, where Guru Nanak Dev gained enlightenment at the end of the 15th century.

Organisers said the desire of devotees is to pay obeisance at the historic Gurdwara Ber Sahib and to have a ‘ishnaan’ (dip) in Kali Bein.

It is believed that Guru Nanak disappeared into the waters of the Bein rivulet, reappearing three days later as the enlightened Guru. The ground of Gurdwara Ber Sahib marks the spot, where Guru Nanak entered the rivulet.

If the people use the wealth bestowed on them by God for themselves alone or for treasuring it, it is like a corpse. But if they decide to share it with others, it becomes sacred food.

Musical tribute by renowned Sufi singer Sartaj
Renowned sufi singer Satinder Sartaj paid a musical tribute to Guru Nanak Dev at a function in Sultanpur Lodhi (Punjab). His recitations witnessed a huge rush of devotees as regaled them through his mesmerising voice. His voice connected the pilgrims with the life and teachings of Guru Nanak.

‘Ik Onkar’ on Air India
India’s national carrier Air India painted “Ik Onkar” on the tail of its Boeing 787 Dreamliner as part of celebrations. ‘Ik Onkar’, a sacred symbol of the Sikh religion, means “God is One”.

Guru Nanak Dev was the first Guru and founder of Sikhism, a poet, a wandering religious teacher, a social reformer and a householder. The experience of one God, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and beyond all form and name, determined every thought and deed of Guru Nanak.

The social doctrine denying caste which Guru Nanak preached must be seen in the light of his experience of a God before whom all men are equal. His wanderings should be acknowledged as an attempt to engage in dialogue with others and to spread his belief in one God who teaches tolerance.

Guru Nanak’s later life as a householder should be perceived as his compliance of God’s command to all men to act responsibly within the world.

Finally, the ‘bani’ Guru Nanak composed and the passing of his ‘Guruship’ to his successor can only be understood as devotional acts meant to instil among his followers a continued dedication to the God.

Guru Nanak Dev is one of the most travelled persons of his times. He spent almost 20 years of his life in travelling.

The earliest accounts of Guru Nanak Dev’s travels are mentioned by Bhai Gurdas. ‘Janamsakhis’ also provide information relating to his travels.

The ‘Udasis’ (travels) of Guru Nanak Dev began from Sultanpur Lodhi following the bestowal of the divine commission upon him.

In his first long journey, Guru Nanak Dev traversed Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha and Bangladesh.

In his second leg, he covered areas in the south up to Sri Lanka.

Some historians believe the east and south were covered in one ‘Udasi’ over an extended period of 12 years.

This appears to be more reasonable as a person who is to visit south need not come back to Punjab to resume his journey for South India.

Some important places associated with Guru Nanak Dev’s visit in Sri Lanka are Batticaloa (Mattiakullam), Kurukul, Madap, Katargama, Nuwara Eliya, Avisvella (Sitawaka), Anuradhapura and Mannar.

The third tour or ‘Udasi’ of Guru Nanak Dev was towards the interior of the Himalayan region where he visited the Kangra Valley, the Kulu Valley, Western Tibet, Ladakh, Kashmir and West Punjab (Pakistan).

After returning from the Himalayan tour, Guru Nanak Dev spent some time at Talwandi in Punjab and then decided to tour the countries of West Asia.
Wearing a dress of a Muslim devotee, he travelled to Sind, Baluchistan, Arabia, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

According to Janamsakhi of Meharban and Bhai Mani Singh, he also travelled to Palestine, Syria and Turkey. Some writers extend the range of Guru’s travels to other countries of Central Asia as well.

Some prominent places connected with this tour of Guru Nanak Dev are Multan, Uch, Lakhpat, Hinglaj, Mecca, Medina, Baghdad, Mashad, Herat, Kandhar, Kabul, Parachinnar and Gorakhhatri (Peshawar).

With the completion of his western tour, Guru Nanak Dev finally settled down at Kartarpur Sahib (now in Pakistan). From Kartarpur, Guru Nanak Dev occasionally undertook short tours within Punjab. One of them, according to Bhai Gurdas, was to Achal Batala and another to Multan.

According to a post on the Punjab government website, the word ‘Gurdwara’, which stands as the amalgamation of the words ‘Guru’ and ‘Dwara’, has its literal meaning the ‘Gateway to Guru’.

All gurdwaras worship the holy book of Sikhs, Guru Granth Sahib Ji, which is placed at the high pedestal of worship.

Out of the many famous gurdwaras throughout the world, Gurdwara Janam Asthan, also referred to as Gurdwara Nankana Sahib, is a highly revered shrine that was built at the site where the Guru Nanak Dev was believed to be born.

The shrine is located in the city of Nankana Sahib, near the city of Lahore in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

Another highly revered shrine in Pakistan is Gurdwara Sri Darbar Sahib, also called Kartarpur Sahib.

It is situated at Kartarpur in Narowal district of Punjab province.
It is built on the historic site where Guru Nanak Dev settled after his ‘Udasian’ (missionary travels) and lived for 18 years until his death in 1539. The shrine is located along the Ravi river.

The three guiding principles of Guru Nanak Dev are: ‘Naam japana, kirat karni, vand chhakana’ i.e. to repeat God’s name, to be ready to engage in the labour of one’s hands and to be willing to share with others what one has gathered underlying Sikh ethics and way of life.

“Good conduct is in itself the praise of God.”

“The Guru is God, ineffable, unsearchable. He who follows the Guru, comprehends the nature of the universe.”

“Speak only that which will bring you honour.”

“If the people use the wealth bestowed on them by God for themselves alone or for treasuring it, it is like a corpse. But if they decide to share it with others, it becomes sacred food.”

“Even Kings and emperors with heaps of wealth and vast dominion cannot compare with an ant filled with the love of God.”

(By TIW & agencies)