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Valley Sikhs observing most sacred celebration

Cowichan Valley Sikhs celebrate Vaisakhi in a more low-key fashion than the colourful event that will be hitting the street in the Lower Mainland this weekend. -
Cowichan Valley Sikhs celebrate Vaisakhi in a more low-key fashion than the colourful event that will be hitting the street in the Lower Mainland this weekend.
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Four months after Christmas, Cowichan’s Sikh folks fete one of their most joyously sacred celebrations, Vaisakhi.

While festivities at the Paldi and Duncan Sikh gurdwaras (temples) have tapered in the past generation or so, valley faithful still honour the tradition with prayers, opening their doors to share their rich cultural heritage with Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike.

That sharing is set for April 27 with a public reading from 10 a.m. to noon at the Paldi gurdwara. Vaisakhi also happened April 11 to 13 at Duncan’s temple on Sherman Road.

“Vaisakhi is our festival from ancient times; it’s many centuries old,” local Sikh elder Joginder Parmar, 85, said Vaisakhi’s deep roots in India’s Punjab state.

“It was a seasonal festival because of harvesting crops. People harvest crops and celebrate their good luck.

“Little by little, it became associated with our religion. Vaisakhi is a cultural recognition.”

Valley member Ranjit Dhami explained Vaisakhi is just part of being a Sikh.

“It’s hard to say you’re Sikh if you don’t celebrate it.

And he echoed Parmar’s description of how more than 100,000 Sikhs aimed to celebrate Vaisakhi in Vancouver and Surrey.

“When the (Cowichan) sawmills started closing,” Dhami said of woodworking jobs held by many valley Sikhs, “some people started moving to the mainland, and that created a bigger (Sikh) network.”

That network fueling mainland Vaisakhis is also fed by some locals traveling there for the annual cultural kaleidoscope.

“For us here in the Cowichan Valley, it’s a very religious thing. “We pray and have lots of food to eat, and enjoy each other’s company — but in a bigger city, it’s greater celebrations and equivalent to Christmas for the Sikh religion.

“I’d compare it to going to the Vatican for a (Catholic) mass service on Christmas.”

But the Sikh religion is inclusive, he said, exemplified by Vaisakhi.

“Our culture is very open. It doesn’t matter what religion you are.

“For someone who’s not Sikh, they’d get a true sense of our religion at Vaisakhi — the food, colours, parades, comradarie, the music, and the religious side of it,” said Dhami, noting there are temple protocols such as covering one’s head, and removing one’s shoes.

“Part of Sikh culture is making sure people are fed — try our food and listen to our music.

“If you were parachuted into this festival, you’d really know what Sikh culture’s all about, and what Sikh people are about.”

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