That’s Sikh: Yuba City’s Annual Nagar Kirtan

Many students at Granite Bay High School attend the annual parade in Yuba City, celebrating the Sikh’s holy scripture & everlasting eleventh Guru, one of the messengers, or holy teachers from god. More than 100,000 members of the Sikh community attend this yearly event known as Nagar Kirtan, along with some who aren’t of the Sikh religion.

“Anyone is welcome at this event. Every time I go I always see diverse people, it’s not only Sikh people, they’re a very welcoming community,” senior Aisha Qureshi said.

Since 1979, this celebration known as Nagar Kirtan, has been celebrated on the first Sunday of November every year. To celebrate the Guruship, the whole road leading up to the Temple is full of free food stalls. Well known Punjabi food is provided, such as chole bhature, pakoras, samosas, jalebis, aloo tikki, gulab jamun, and chai. The langar [food] served is vegetarian, which ensures that anyone can eat it.   

“My favorite food at the mehla [fair] is chole bhature… fried bread dipped in … chickpea curry. My favorite drink at the mehla is chabeel, which is rose-water syrup, and milk or water,” senior Vaaris Gill said. 

Chole bhature is the most sought after dish that will be served at the Nagar Kirtan event. It’s a very popular Punjabi dish and is loved by many.

Not only is there free food available to all, free religious shirts, books and more are handed out in the morning of the event. The reason for this act of generosity is the concept of Seva, or selfless service and including the sharing of resources. Seva is an important teaching in Sikhism since it emphasizes belief on equality and the importance of all people.

In addition to this event, there’s an enormous parade. Helicopters fly above and drop rose petals onto the road to start the parade. Volunteers will then clean the road for the floats in a way to show respect for the welcoming of the holy scripture. 

A lot of the floats also contain important events in Sikh history like when Bhai Dayal Das was boiled alive, though not gory at all. The floats are packed with people, especially children, and there are Sikh hymns and Punjabi music blaring,” Gill said.

COVID-19 has impacted a lot of events this year, so naturally there will be some restrictions set for Nagar Kirtan as well.       

“I think the main difference will be that there may be a lesser turnout and people will likely wear masks, but I don’t think that the spirit of the event will be diminished at all,” Gill said.

Parade attendees noted that if anyone needs assistance of any sort, there will always be someone willing to help. This ties back to the concept of Seva.

“In line, I met a girl that showed me around and explained to us what everything was about,” Julia Tastor said. 

Tastor had attended the event once in the past years with her friends. 

“I grew up Catholic … we don’t have events like this … but everyone was having such a good time and it looks so fun. Everyone was so welcoming … and wanting to make sure we were comfortable,” Tastor said. 

People can even see the Gurdwara, which is a Sikh temple, from the inside. The literal meaning of the Punjabi word Gurdwara is  ‘the residence of the Guru’, or the door that leads to the Guru’. Entrants need to be dressed appropriately for admittance. This includes wearing a head covering and removing one’s shoes.

Everyone is welcome in the Gurdwara, but asked to be respectful since prayer is usually taking place. There are  4 entrance doors to show that everyone is welcome, regardless of status, occupation, gender, religion or wealth. One may also see prasad, or a devotional offering made to God, typically consisting of food that is later shared among devotees. 

The Sikh’s eleventh Guru and Holy Scripture is known as Guru Granth Sahib Ji, which Sikhs regard as their living Guru. It contains the actual words that were spoken by the founders of the Sikh religion, which are the 10 Gurus in human form. At the very front of the inside of the Gurdwara is where one can see the holy scripture, adorned with flowers and decorations.

Anshal Walia, a senior at Maria Carrillo high school, has had a lot of exposure to this event. Walia’s father, Jaspal Singh, is the board member of the Gurdwara in Santa Rosa and helps to run and organize some stalls at the event. Walia and other volunteers participate every single year without fail, besides the 41st annual parade since that was the year the global pandemic hit. 

“I have been participating in the set-up, Seva, and clean-up since I was 10 years old. My father has been participating in this event for around 31 years now, devoting an entire day to serving the community during a festival,” Walia said. 

Nobody is being asked to take part in this event, people are choosing to volunteer and dedicate their time to this event. The volunteers are helping to maintain the Nagar Kirtan parade route, float building, Gurdwara readiness, food preparation, and clean up.

“I just think that if someone has the opportunity to go they should… I don’t know how much more I can like reiterate…how cool it is to see other people’s cultures and religions,” Tastor said. 

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