A journey through Sikh Musical Heritage
Music is a core part of Sikhi, and having learned the harmonium from a young age, it's something that fascinates me. However, the vast majority of Sikh music you hear today uses neither the traditional instruments of the Sikhs, nor is it sung in the way the Gurus intended the compositions to be sung. This point, as well as the evolution of Sikh music, is beautifully explored in a new documentary on Amazon Prime called the Sikh Musical Heritage - the untold story. This article is my review of this award winning documentary.
Currently in India, we are witnessing the largest protests in human history. These are economic protests by farm workers against billionaires, a nationalist government and corporate exploitation. On a human level, these protests are for the individual livelihoods of millions of farmers in Panjab, Haryana and across India.
I've previously written about the cause of the protests (and you can read about them here), so today, as the protests develop, I want to clear up three misconceptions; (1) the farmers are illiterate and don't know why they are protesting, (2) these new bills are beneficial, and (3) Panjab is the only state protesting.
The farmer's (kisaan) protests in Northern India are reaching a climax, and I'm going to try and summarise a complex movement as simply as possible in 500 words for audiences outside of India that might be curious as many have families back in Panjab that might be affected.
The Travelling Singh on podcast
I recently did a podcast on understanding cultures and travel with Australian travel and lifestyle show Priya's Heart.
I spoke about my experiences travelling the world, the places I enjoyed - and those that I'd rather forget. I also spoke about some of the issues I've experienced as a Sikh in parts of the world where Sikhi isn't so well known, including getting taken to a police station in Peru, having a sniffer dog go through my luggage in Bangkok and having an argument with a security guard in the airport in Madrid.
It's the most in-depth discussion I've done so far, as I talk a little about my background and beliefs, as well as describing why I started this blog almost 5 years ago and why I think it continues to serve an important purpose.
You can listen to the full podcast here.
Don't forget to follow The Travelling Singh on Instagram @thetravellingsingh and you can also follow Priya Sharma (who conducted the interview) on Instagram @priyasheart.
This weekend, 4 sikh men in turbans were kicked off a plane in the US, and if Sikhs can just be kicked off planes for wearing turbans, it's a dangerous precedent.
A Sikh gallery in London
When I heard a temporary exhibition housing priceless artefacts from Sikh history would be opening in the summer of 2018, I can't tell you how excited I was. Having spent a lot of my time in museums around the world (and you can read about it in the travel section of my blog), the opportunity to see Sikh history from a Sikh perspective isn't something that comes around very often. Here I review my visit to the Brunei Gallery in London to view the Toor Collection, and the Empire of the Sikhs exhibition.
Catalunya and Catalan nationalism
I fell in love with Catalunya the first time that I visited. The people of Catalunya remind me of Panjabis in so many ways. Their openness and welcoming nature is coupled with a fierce independence and cultural identity that is remarkably similar to Panjabis, and Sikhs in particular. The relationship of Catalans with the Spanish state is also similar to the relationship of Panjabis with India. Both regions have elements of a shared history with their respective states, but differences in language and culture effectively make them a nation within a nation.
I returned a number of times to Catalunya, including attending a Summer School at the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics, and each time I felt an increasing attachment with the area. Not only do the Catalan people remind me of Panjab, but the city of Barcelona has a large Panjabi population, and I was surprised to see just how many Sikhs now call the city their home. Even more impressively, I spoke to the Giani of a local Gurdwara who told me that not only do the locals treat them with respect, but they actually attend the Gurdwara in large numbers on weekends as part of yoga retreats where they learn about, and respect the Sikh belief system.
It's this love for Catalunya that had me so interested in the recent Catalan independence referendum, a vote that highlighted to me many similarities with the independence movement for Panjab in India.
The General Election
On 18 April 2017, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May announced that she would be calling an election on 8 June 2017. This follows a General Election in 2015, just two years earlier.
The Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 had removed the power of the Prime Minister to call an election at the drop of a hat, or when conditions were favourable to the governing party. Under the Act, elections would be held every five years unless the House of Commons voted by two thirds to the contrary. With the spectre of Brexit hanging over the country and the opposition party in disarray, Theresa May decided this would be the perfect opportunity to strengthen her position both domestically and in terms of negotiating the withdrawal from the EU.
Unfortunately for her, as the campaign season kicked off, she began to show signs of weakness, no matter how many times she said she was "strong and stable", whilst the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn somehow got his sh*t together and began closing the gap in polls. Now, for all intents and purposes, the question isn't whether the Conservatives will win, but by how much they will win, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't go out and vote.
I'm not telling you who to vote for, you should do the research and make an informed decision. However, for the Sikh community to prosper, we need to become more politically engaged and therefore I will say; go out and vote.
Sikhi and sacrifice
My favourite part of visiting new places is listening to local stories and histories. Its easy to read about different cultures online, but completely different hearing someone tell the stories about their people with passion. It also allows me to contextualise the history of my own ancestors.
Every culture is told they have they have an exceptional history and Sikhs are no different. There are many cultures, countries and religions that have extraordinary individuals and histories. Christians and Muslims were both persecuted during their formative years, Jews were persecuted for almost 2 millenia. Hindus at one point had a culture that extended from Iran all the way to Vietnam. The Inca tell the stories of Tupac Amaru, the Americans of George Washington, the French have Charlemagne and the English have Richard the Lionheart. In fact, in the presence of a few common factors, it is almost inevtiable that extraordinary individuals or events will arise.
Sikhi was borne into a situation where all three of the above factors were prevalent, however it still doesn't explain the disproportinate number of events in Sikh history nor the large number of extraordinary individuals in the Sikh nation within such a short period of time. For this, there is the presence of an extra couple of elements, the first of which is Sikh philosophy.
English company men from the East India Company were astounded when watching the execution of Banda Singh Bahadur and his Sikhs in 1716 by the Mughal Empire. Not only did every Sikh refuse to save his/her life by converting to Islam, but Sikhs were actually fighting with each other to be executed first. The earliest English explorers termed Sikhi as a death cult, erroneously claiming the Sikhs worshipped death and that they would cry at the birth of a child and celebrate the death of a fellow Sikh. In fact, what the British were seeing was the concept of Chardi Kala a central part of Sikh philosophy that focuses on optimism, even in adversity. They were also witnessing the power of Naam where a Sikh in a meditative state of mindfulness can divert their attention from physical pain to a state of serenity.
I recently gave a quick interview to a popular lifestyle website on the concept of The Travelling Singh blog, discussing amongst other things difficulties encountered by Sikh passengers and the backlash Sikhs have faced globally as a result of mistaken identity,
I was keen to highlight the various sacrifices Sikhs have made in both World Wars and the economic contributions of Sikhs today.
I also spoke about my adventures, some of the places I have visited and my future bucket list.
You can read the full interview here.
Don't forget to follow The Travelling Singh on Twitter @travellingsingh and you can also follow Suzannah Sylvian (who conducted the interview) on Twitter @suzannahsylvian
British Sikh in my twenties, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.