The University of Birmingham is proud to host the UK’s Sikh community as they mark the 550th birth anniversary of the founder of the faith, Guru Nanak Dev Ji.
This spiritual gathering (or samagam) takes place across five days, and all are welcome to participate, learn and share. In total 10,000 people are expected to attend.
The event opened today with musicians and members of the community transporting the sacred scriptures onto campus. Usually kept in the gurdwara, the Guru Granth Sahib are treated with reverence: they are seen as the living body of the Everlasting Guru. Held aloft under a flowered canopy, the scriptures were ceremonially carried across the Green Heart amid chanting and music, into the marquees on Chancellor’s Court.
Beneath Old Joe, the huge network of marquees includes two Darbar Sahib (prayer halls), where worshippers can hear a 48-hour continuous reading from the scriptures from Friday to Sunday.
Other areas include a creche, a space-themed exhibition, and a scale model of the temple of Amritsar, ‘floating’ on water.
Across the days of the event, an exhibition in the Bramall foyer will invite the curious to learn the history of Guru Nanak’s life and teachings, and explore their own spirituality. Speakers from across the Sikh community will also take part in a programme of workshops and talks. The focus is on prayer, service, education and dialogue.
As one volunteer told us, however, ‘it’s all about the food’. One central pillar of the faith is Langar: a blessed vegetarian meal served, for free, to visitors regardless of religion, caste, ethnicity, gender or economic status. Equality is a fundamental aspect of Sikh teaching. Tradition has it that even if a king visits, they must sit down for Langar with people from all walks of life first.
It’s evidence of the generosity of spirit that characterises the entire event. Everything is donated – from food, fruit and vegetables to flower decorations and equipment. Everyone is a volunteer, providing a service as part of their faith. Although the focus is of course on reflection and faith, guests of all backgrounds are welcomed warmly and sincerely.
If you’re a visitor and you’d like to be guided around, just ask: there are plenty of friendly volunteers ready to help. Please be aware that, when entering the event area, you will need to cover your head (headscarves and headcovers are available to borrow), and remove your shoes. If entering the prayer hall, please wash your hands first. Here and at the Langar, please sit so that your feet are pointed away from other people and from the scriptures. But don’t worry: if you’re not familiar with any of the conventions, you won’t cause offence and a volunteer will discreetly let you know.
The Guru Nanak Dev Ji 550th Birth Anniversary event continues until 11 August 2019.