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Case Study: Guru Nanak 550th Birth Anniversary

When the University of Birmingham was offered the opportunity to welcome over 15,000 visitors over a 5-day event, ‘yes’ was the only possible answer.

Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ) is a Sikh organisation based in Birmingham. Their charitable work extends to Kenya and India, as well as continuous efforts to improve inter-faith relationships nationally and internationally.

They approached the University hoping to find support for a key event in their calendar: the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji.

The challenge

The last such celebration took place in 2004, in Barcelona. Finding a venue with the scale, prestige and easy access from across the country required was vital.

The setting needed extensive space for a Darbar hall (main prayer hall), a Keertan Darbar (hymn hall), several exhibitions, washing space and shoe racks, a creche, practice space for musicians, and a hall for a civic reception.

There also needed to be room for several large dining areas, a kitchen space, and storage for an enormous quantity of food for Langar, a free vegetarian meal from the Guru’s Kitchen.

People listening to prayer reading

 

The action

The community leaders who brought this event together have plenty of experience in organising large-scale gatherings.

Where the University of Birmingham could help was by bringing their own experienced teams together to deliver a huge range of services – from security to technical set-up.

Teamwork

Hosting such a huge event meant installing the largest ever network of marquees on Chancellor’s Court. The Events team worked with the University’s Estates staff to ensure correct siting, and access to campus for the marquee providers.

Old Joe clock tower surrounded by marquees

Security staff met with the GNNSJ event volunteers to develop an event safety plan, ensuring every eventuality had been prepared for.

The Bramall’s in-house AV team laid cable to provide power, and supported the formal evening event in the Great Hall.

The whole event was managed by the Events team, with a single point of contact for GNNSJ to ensure nothing was overlooked.

It has truly been a pleasure and a wonderful experience to have worked so closely with the University of Birmingham’s Conferences & events Team over the last few weeks. Throughout the planning and delivery of the 5-day celebratory event marking the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the UoB staff worked side by side with Nishkam volunteers to ensure the smooth delivery and success of all aspects of the event.

Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha

Respect and communication

This event held great significance for GNNSJ and the wider Sikh community.

Sikh men reading prayer

There were traditions to be respected: no alcohol, meat, fish or eggs could be prepared or served in the event area, and all attendees wore respectful headcoverings (which could be borrowed by visitors who were unaware of the conventions).

More importantly, however, this was an opportunity to experience the generosity that characterises Sikhism, in an extraordinary and unique event. University staff and local residents, both secular and those of other faiths, were welcomed warmly and universally.

They were encouraged to enjoy a free meal, to hear the continuous reading of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji (the Eternal Guru of the Sikhs), and to learn about the background to Sikh Dharam, its traditions and culture.

People enjoying food in the langar

The University is an institution dedicated to acquiring new knowledge. It’s fair to say that everyone who attended took away a deeper understanding of what the Sikh Dharam means.

The results

We feel deeply indebted and humbled by the care, compassion and inclusiveness afforded by everyone who worked tirelessly to meet and exceed our expectations on this auspicious occasion. With heartfelt thanks and gratitude to you all.

Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha

Visitors to the event came from all over the UK, Kenya, India, America, Canada and the EU.

Sikh women making chapattis

Approximately 3000 people were fed each day, with 40-50 volunteers cooking and serving the Langar. A civic reception was held in the Great Hall for 350 guests.

An Akhand Paath took place in the Main Darbar, consisting of a continuous reading of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji over a period of 48 hours. Hymn singing took place throughout the event in the Keertan Darbar and Main Darbar. Symposium, seminars, workshops and discussions took place about the life and legacy of Guru Nanak Dev Ji and how to become good human beings. An event for children, Guru Ji Da Virsa, took place in the Arts block over a 4-day period to educate them about the life and legacy of Guru Nanak Dev Ji.

Women cleaning trays

As well as being livestreamed on Youtube, the event was featured on ITV Central news. Watch their report from inside the Langar, featuring an interview with one of the GNNSJ volunteers, Munpreet Kaur.

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