I was thrilled to have the opportunity to visit a Sikh Gurudwara in the Philadelphia suburbs on March 23rd with the Lauder Hindi Track. Growing up in Delhi, I had plenty of Sikh friends and was keenly interested in learning more about their faith as a child. I was always struck by the Sikh sense of community, its service oriented culture, and the faith’s inclusiveness. Inclusiveness was especially interesting to me, given the manifestation of institutionalized religion that I observed growing up in India. Religion was a complex, taboo, and heavily politicized topic.
I witnessed the same form of inclusive community that I saw in Delhi over seven thousand miles away in the Philadelphia suburbs. We attended a service and partook in conversations over lunch at the Langar, or community kitchen, where food was prepared and served by volunteers to anyone who needed a meal – Sikh or not. Community members were extraordinarily generous in sharing their time with us and explaining the roots of their tradition and faith. We learned a great deal about Sikh history, the underlying principles of the faith, and about the Gurudwara itself.
The Gurudwara had been established by local community members roughly fifteen years ago, and was entirely financed by donations. In the Sikh faith, there is no hereditary priestly class, and everyone is entitled to participate in the process of learning from the Gurus. To that extent, readings from the Holy Scriptures, interpretations, and discussions were led by senior members of the community to impart an understanding of the faith. I came to learn that the Holy Scriptures, called the Guru Granth Sahib are revered as a living Guru, and incorporate teachings from a wide range of spiritual leaders from several traditions in a diverse set of languages. The language of the Guru Grant Sahib is collectively called ‘Sant Bhasha’, or Saint Language, and incorporates elements of regional vernacular, Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian, and is written in the Gurumukhi script.
During the service, there were also recitations of historical accounts describing seminal events and challenges that the ten Sikh Gurus faced in order to establish and preserve their faith in medieval India – for example, Guru Nanak’s journeys around India and to Mecca and Baghdad, and Guru Gobind Singh’s struggle against the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. Collectively, the Lauder Hindi Track left the Gurudwara more knowledgeable about the Sikh faith and keen to explore the diverse religions and traditions of India.
By Nachiketa Rao (Wharton/Lauder ’15, Hindi track)