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Friday, July 21, 2006

All religions invited to Sikh peace march

Release Date: 07/21/06
News Source: ContraCostaTimes.com

EL SOBRANTE: Group promotes unity, tolerance in remembrance of leader who was killed 400 years ago

By Tom Lochner

Sikhs in the East Bay and around the world are commemorating the martyrdom of Sri Guru Arjan Dev Sahib Ji, who was tortured to death by India's Mogul rulers 400 years ago for advocating a forbidden religion.

The message of unity and tolerance of the sage, revered by Sikhs as the Embodiment of Peace, is particularly poignant today, with so many armed conflicts rooted in religious differences, said J.P. Singh, president of Gurdwara Sahib, the Sikh temple of El Sobrante.

The temple's governing entity, formally known as the Sikh Center of the San Francisco Bay Area, is sponsoring a Sunday spiritual march for peace to commemorate Guru Arjan Dev's gifts to mankind and his martyrdom. It parallels the poisoning of Socrates and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as "a messenger of love of God ... executed because of his growing popularity," according to a treatise distributed by the World Sikh Council.

"He was well beyond the 21st century," Singh said. "What he contributed in terms of being secular, no one has come close. His contributions are just outstanding."

The fifth among a succession of 10 gurus who led the religion after it officially began in the 15th century, Guru Arjan Dev left arguably the greatest legacy, Singh said.

He compiled the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, which consists in large part of his writings. He also contributed more than 2,000 hymns to the holy book, as well as hymns of Muslim and Hindu saints and people in lower castes.

Sikh writings of previous centuries contain references to the martyrdom of Christ on the cross.

The El Sobrante temple is asking faithful of all religions and all people devoted to peace to join in Sunday's march, called a Nagar Kirtan, which also is dedicated to interfaith understanding and harmony, universal brotherhood, love and hope, and recognition of the human race as one.

It will leave the temple at 10 a.m. and proceed down Hillcrest Road, then via San Pablo Dam Road and Appian Way to the Appian Triangle, before returning to the temple.

Guru Arjan Dev also built the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, Sikhism's holiest shrine, selecting a Muslim to lay the foundation. The Golden Temple has doors on all four sides, symbolizing openness to all religions and people, Singh said.

Another temple, Kesgarh, in Anandpur, India, inspired the design of the El Sobrante temple, Singh said.

Sunday's march will include floats with themes reflecting the teachings of Guru Arjan Dev, as well as one with a model of an expanded El Sobrante temple. Sikh leaders have applied to the county to double the size of the temple size by adding a community center, classrooms, a library, a dining hall and a kitchen.

Conceived primarily as a place of worship, the temple must reinvent itself to serve a changing population, including American-born Sikhs with limited knowledge of the culture and religion of their ancestral homeland, Singh said.

The Sikh religion originated in the Punjab region of India in 1469 with the birth of Guru Nanak Dev. The 10th in the succession, Guru Gobind Singh, died in 1708.

The Sikh holy book is considered the 11th and Eternal Living Guru. A series of followers read the Guru Granth Sahib cover to cover beginning Fridays, a 48-hour process that culminates with the Sunday worship service.

Sikhism, like Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is monotheistic. It teaches honesty, humility, charity, hospitality, hard work and love of family.

Sikhs do not urge people to convert, but instead encourage them to seek enlightenment through their own religion.

"All the holy books, at bottom they all preach peace and love," Singh said. "That's basically the bottom line of all religions.

"And that's part of the reason why we are doing this."

Reach Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760 or tlochner@cctimes.com.

If you go:

WHAT: Nagar Kirtan -- a spiritual peace march with song.

WHERE: El Sobrante Gurdwara Sahib, 3550 Hillcrest Road, El Sobrante

WHEN: 10 a.m. Sunday (07/23/06)


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