Great Britain is a country of multicultural community, people from various parts of the world have been emigrating here for hundreds of years and, many of them, have created here their enclaves, the little substitutes for their countries and cultures. For these people living far away from their families and friends religion became very important part of their lives. And today I would like to tell you about what is supposedly the youngest religion in the world, about Sikhism. I know about them because some of my greatest friends are Sikhs. There is quite big number of them settled in the town where I used to live for many years, in Gravesend. Twice a year, beautiful religious processions are held in this town, throughout the streets. The view of it is just incredible and unforgettable. I had a privilege to be part of it..
You will recognise Sikhs by their characteristic turban, black beard and simple metal bracelets on the wrists.
Sikhs in Gravesend built and incredible temple, apparently the largest of this type outside of India. It looks stunning inside and outside.
But first, I tell you a bit about the genesis of religion itself. It’s founder was Guru Nanak. He was born on April 15, 1469, in a merchant family in what is now Pakistan. During his life he was influenced by two great religions: Islam and Hinduism. However neither of them met his intellectual and religious needs. Nanak was very spiritual and studied the various faiths of this world since he was a child. He travelled a lot, and according to some he visited Tibet, Mecca, Jerusalem. One day, after returning from a trip, he was meditating by the river and according to his account, he was taken to heaven, where he was fed with nectar (Hindu amrit), he was missing for three days. His family found his clothes on the river bank and thought he had drowned. Nanak appeared on the third day, pale and quiet at first. In the end he said: “There is no Indian, there is no Muslim, there is only man. Whose path should I go? Only divine. God has many names, but he is one”. Nanak’s teachings combined elements from both religions; he spoke of the existence of one God, but he believed in reincarnation and the possibility of reaching God through meditation, he believed people are equal, he rejected the caste system and categorically forbade sati, the custom according to which the wife, after her husband’s death, went to the stake to die with her husband. Nanak became a Guru, or teacher, and Sikhism was born from that moment. After he died he had nine more incarnations, another Gurus. The Sikh faith is based primarily on the words of those first ten gurus recorded in the Holy Book (Sri Guru Granth Sahib).
Sikhism is a religion that requires its followers to strictly adhere to the principles of morality, diet and dress code. I have many friends among Sikhs, they are incredible people, they take their children’s education and their work very seriously and what counts for me the most, they are very compassionate and very helpful to others. I was never disappointed in them. Once you make friends with Sikh, it feels like you become part of a great social family.
At the beginning I mentioned Gravesend, where the beautiful marble Gurudwara temple was built. It cost £ 12 million, and Sikhs living in the town collected the money by themselves. Opening ceremony was such an important event that former British Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife arrived to celebrate it.
Anyone can go inside. However both women and men need to cover their heads and remove shoes. The temple always has a designated place where you can eat, because one of the principles of this religion is to help the poor. There is no such thing as a liturgy; followers only recite the book together, sing psalms or pray individually. Even during the funeral I attended, the designated guru was reciting holy verses. My beautiful friend Narinder works as a volunteer in the temple every week; sometimes it is serving food, but most often Narinder helps people in other matters regarding life in England. One of the basic principles of religion is to help another person. Beautiful right?
Thanks to my other amazing friend Sonny I had a privilege to visit the temple during the Diwali festival. It looks absolutely amazing, so colourful and majestic. Sonny showed me around and really recommend to anyone to go there and experience this for yourself.