Hemkunt and the Valley of Flowers

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This a complete reproduction of a booklet published by the Hemkunt Jatha of Kenya that recently marked it’s 21st Annual Yatra to the revered heights of Gurudwara Sri Hemkunt Sahib.

Early History
The natural beauty of the mountains, valleys, rivers, plants and crisp clean air trigger a spiritual awakening. It also embraces the sacred sanctity derived from the mythological beliefs of the Hindus and the Sikhs. Sacred shrines built in the remembrance of them attract thousands of religious devotees every year.

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Located in the Uttakand Himalayas, bordering Tibet and Nepal at the place where seven mountain peaks are prominent, and the rivulet Lakshman and the rivulet Pushpa meet in the area called Ghaghria, there are devotional shrines of great spiritual value to both the Hindus and the Sikhs. For the Hindus it is the Sri Lakshman Mandir and the neighbouring Badrinath which are the most important pilgrimage centers in the Himalayas. For the Sikhs, it is the Gurdwara Sri Hemkunt Sahib (lake of ice) regarded as one of the holiest places at an altitude of 4,329m built on the shores of the lake. The harboring lake has equal significance; it is considered holy water known to the Sikhs as a sarovar. The nectar of this pool is believed to wash away one’s sins and vices. These are the highest temples in India.

Long before the Sikhs started coming to Hemkunt, the lake was known to the people who lived in the surrounding valleys and the Bhotia tribe (Indo-Tibetan people), as Lokpal. It was here that the Hindu God Lakshman is said to have meditated and King Pandu to have performed Yoga. It is also at this mystical spot that the Sikhs tenth Guru, Sri Guru Gobind Singh, is believed to have meditated in his previous life thereby achieving union with God.

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Meditating through his paintings

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“Images keep coming to me, as they are waiting for a call, all those I met with while trekking in the Himalayas, Kenyan deep blue nights and watching the moon nights in my village in Punjab.”

I have known Jaswant Singh for the last 10 years, 5 of which I have lived and worked with him in Nairobi, Kenya. I was lucky to have been his neighbour for about two years, during which time I have had the opportunity to know the man behind the divinely guided brush that has spelled out some of the most deeply spiritual paintings I have ever seen. Though he is now settled in Canada, I continue to admire his progress for I believe that the colours and images spring forth from a man who is himself so immersed in the Words of Gurbani, that they are now etched in his yearning soul, and poured out so beautifully in the colours of his canvas.

In a small village ‘Tung’ in the scenic Punjab region of India, where folk arts, crafts and folk poetry are integral parts of daily life, Jaswant was born in 1960 and raised in this idyllic setting. Following tradition, he continued as a youth to develop his talent by choosing his surroundings as his muse. Even at an early age, Jaswant knew that he wanted to pursue his art both academically and professionally. However, he did not know that his combined love of art, nature and people would propel him to travel extensively in search of inspiring subjects.

His travels began rather close to home in Chandigarh, India where he earned a Degree in Painting at the College of Art. During his five years there, he travelled around Punjab and the foothills of the Himalayas where he painted landscapes in oil and watercolor as well as a series of village life sketches. Upon graduation, he lectured for the Government Polytechnic in Ambala City before leaving for Nepal where, in the mid-eighties, he spent several years painting large murals and paintings for prominent fivestar hotels in and around Kathmandu. In the late eighties he went to Kenya where he painted African wildlife in watercolors, acrylic and oil. Since 1999, he has been living and working in the US, before settling in Canada.

Jaswant has exhibited in over 50 solo, group and art exhibits throughout India, Kenya, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. He has received several awards. His paintings are included in the permanent collections of Galleries, Museums and private collectors throughout the world.
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The legend of Sikh sacrfices in world conflicts

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When you go home tell them of us, and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today.

The image of the Sikh is so powerfully distinct, that no matter where they have gone, they have portrayed what Guru Nanak intended to make them – saints and soldiers. Where you see a Sikh in meditation, the same saintly soul is blessed with the ability to fight in the thick of the battlefields. No other peoples have such an indenity which depicts the very quality of their founder Gurus and their GurSikhs.

In the following essay, the intention is to highlight a heritage that will forever live in the Sikh spirit – soldiers of the highest discipline and courage who are ready to lay down their lives in the name of the Guru’s message of upholding righteousness. Guru Arjan Dev Ji began the endless legacy of the ultimate sacrifice which only the Sikhs are known to give in the highest numbers, for any government or power under which they serve in complete loyalty. In the images, you can see the Guru in these fearless soldiers. They carry the roop of the Guru and fight unto death to preserve the honour of the Guru’s identity. Those that have broken off from this identity for feeble excuses of the mind cannot compare to what these great Sikhs have given to preserve the gift of the Guru even in the midst of life and death. It’s a heritage Sikhs will ever own, for that is their Gurus’ blessing to them . . .

By Vicky Singh

Sikhs primarily come from the Punjab, a province of Northern India. Sikhs are one of the most visible minorities. With his beard and turban, a Sikh can be identified in any crowd. Still they are perhaps the least understood as a people. Not many people know about the beliefs, practices and ethics of the Sikhs, and still fewer will understand their significance. Right from the ancient period of the Indus Valley civilization (3000 BC), the Punjab has played a significant role in the history of India. Its geographic location makes it the gateway of India from the northwest. All through the ages, the fertility of its plains became the cause of its wealth as also the reason for many invasions. Hardened with the extremes of climate that exist in the region, it soon became the birthplace of a war-like people. The Sikh religion originated in India in the fifteenth century.

Guru Nanak, the founder of the religion, preached oneness of God and brotherhood of man. At that time Hinduism and Islam were the predominant religions in India; and relations between the two communities were not good. Guru Nanak preached dignity of man and tolerance for the viewpoint of others: “The World is burning, O Lord, Save it, O Save it, by whichever door it pleases thee.”

Guru Nanak was followed by nine successor Gurus, followed by the Holy Scriptures, Guru Granth Sahib which was ordained as the Guru of the Sikhs. In Sikh thought, the Word (contained in the Granth Sahib) is the Guru. During the eighteenth century, Sikhs suffered great persecution at the hands of the local rulers, but by the end of the eighteenth century they had established their rule in northwest India.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the kingdom collapsed, and it was incorporated into British India. After some time the relations between the Sikhs and the British improved, and they joined the army in great numbers. The valor of Sikh soldiers during the two world wars was internationally recognized. Most people associate the Sikhs with the army and sometimes with violence. This is a very inaccurate picture and misleading.

As the allied nations stepped closer to the second global conflict, this time with the Imperial Japanese and the Germans, Sikh soldiers once again stepped forward and became the back bone of the British Indian Army. Despite the rising voice of independence from the British, in India during WWII, Sikhs still made the majority of the forces that India gave to the war effort. India entered the war when the then viceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow, without consulting Indian leaders, declared war against Germany on behalf of India. There was widespread violence in many cities all across India as British quelled demonstrations that would finally lead to end the British rule in India.

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However, states like the Punjab from where the concentration of recruits into the British army came, looked curiously at the events. With only voluntary recruitment into the army, young Sikh men helped to swell the Indian army from 189,000 at the start of the war to over 2.5 million at the end of the war. Those Indians, who secretly supported the Germans, were shocked on 7 December 1941 to know that the Imperial Japanese Air Force had launched an attack on the American Navy at Pearl Harbor. Read the rest of this entry »

Rarely seen images of the Sikh past – Part I

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As usual, I can’t seem to keep my hands off the internet and discovering newer and newer things connected to Sikhi. In this PhotoEssay are collections in pocession of the British. Our history is almost like a jigsaw puzzle . . . as we piece together the scattered snapshots of our history, a picture begins to form in the mind and give us a glimpse into our glorious past . . . and what a feeling it is to step into the past and step back into the present!

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01 This is the frontispiece to the ‘Dasam Granth’ or ‘Dasven Padshah ka Granth’ – the ‘Book of the Tenth King’ – attributed to the tenth and last of the Gurus, Guru Gobind Singh (1666 -1708). It was written in Braj Hindi, Persian and Punjabi, and collated by Bhai Mani Singh in 1730. This manuscript, dating from between 1825 and 1850, includes a catalogue of weapons as well as devotional works and the Guru’s autobiography. Read the rest of this entry »

Historic Gurudwaras in Pakistan – Part V

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The partition of India had a debilitating and damaging effect on the Sikhs, particularly on those who had established for themselves flourishing farms and businesses. Leaving everything behind, and fleeing to East Punjab was a very painful, traumatic and disheartening experience. Perforce, the sacred places had to be abandoned, and there was nothing that they could do about those. For a half century, the Sikhs have been praying for the opportunity to be granted to them to visit the shrines, sacred to the memory of the Gurus, and to those of the Sikh ancestors who had given their all for the preservation and promotion of the Khalsa Panth.

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