Bahai News - Beyond Turbans And Shawls Sikh Religion Often Has Outward Signs, But True Practice Is
Beyond Turbans And Shawls Sikh Religion Often Has Outward
Signs, But True Practice Is
They have no temple in Nashville, but local Sikhs still manage the way
they have for decades, confident in their faith that the one God is
everywhere. Sikhs are a tiny minority -- perhaps 40 families in Middle
Tennessee -- but are recognizable for the turbans that men traditionally
wear, which is why Prem Singh Kahlon plans to wear his tomorrow when he
enters a local Unitarian church as guest speaker about his religion. But
his message goes further than headwear.
`Everything in the religion points to equality before God,` said Kahlon,
a longtime Nashville resident who teaches biology at Tennessee State
University. Kahlon speaks at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Greater Nashville
Unitarian Universalist Church, 374 Hicks Road in Bellevue. It's part of
the church's continuing series of speakers on world religions. On
Wednesday, Kahlon returns to discuss Sikh traditions at 7:30 p.m.
Sikhism's low profile here obscures the fact that it's the world's
fifth-largest religion, with about 20 million practitioners, most of
them in India's Punjab region, and is about 500 years old. The word
`Sikh` (Westerners pronounce it `seek`) means `disciple` in the Punjabi
language. Sikhs believe in one God and follow the teachings of 10 gurus
who lived between 1469 and 1708, starting with Guru Nanak.
Sikhs revere their scriptures, called the Guru Granth Sahib, which were
written to be sung in worship settings. The message has a strong
egalitarian instinct, declaring that salvation comes not from social
caste, superstition or asceticism but by meditation on God. `God is
known by different names but is the same God,` Kahlon said. `He has many
names and no name -- God is formless, never born, and never dies.`
Sikhism has been described as a faith that emerged out of religious
conflict in northern India. `It was a time also of vivid and moving
devotion to God, all of which was influential on Guru Nanak, though even
more so was his own profound experience of God,` says The Oxford Concise
Dictionary of World Religions. `He did not attempt to merge Hinduism and
Islam, but simply insisted on the worship of the True Name, God who can
be found within and does not require the rituals and doctrinal
controversies of existing religions.` The religion is also known for its
practitioners who never cut their hair -- men who bundle it up in a
turban, women who gather it in a shawl.
Traditionally, this was a practice of especially devout Sikhs, called
Khalsa, one of several ways of shaping Sikh identity and solidarity at a
time of persecution and military struggle in the early days. The Khalsa
also wore a bracelet to remind them of ethical restraint, and kept a
ceremonial sword as a symbol of dignity -- not a weapon, but a reminder
of the struggle against injustice. In Nashville, far from the pull of
homeland custom, some Sikhs keep their hair long; others do not. `I still
wear the turban -- I wanted to be easily recognized,` said environmental
engineer Devinder Singh Sandhu, 46, who does not cut his hair.
`Traditionally, the reason was to give a person a distinctive look that
forces you to stand up for you who are.` Long hair was also a traditional
sign of holiness across religious traditions. Moses and Jesus are
customarily depicted as long-haired.
Prem Kahlon, 64, started cutting his hair after he arrived in Nashville
in the 1960s, but he said the heart of Sikhism is believing in the one God
and treating people compassionately, as equals. `Truthful living is higher
than truth, in the sense that you must practice what you believe,` he said.
`God is the reality, but if you don't practice it in your heart, God's
words are meaningless.`
Local Sikhs worship together about once a month. They take turns as hosts
of the gatherings in people's homes. For years there has been talk about
building a temple, but the number of families remains relatively small
and, so far, no definite plans have formed.
Kahlon's talk is part of an ongoing survey of other faiths at the Greater
Nashville congregation, which welcomed Baha'i and Mormon representatives
earlier this year. The subject will be contemplative Catholicism on Jan.
21 and 24, and Sufism on Feb. 11 and 14. `We wanted to explore some lesser
known world religions -- it's a beneficial exercise to expose ourselves
to new ideas, new thoughts,` said church member Bill Perkins.Additional
caption: Prem Singh Kahlon reads from the Sikh scriptures, called the Guru
Kahlon will speak about the Sikh religion next week as a guest at Greater
Nashville Unitarian Universalist Church. `God is known by different names
but is the same God,` Kahlon says.Kahlon does his reading in the temple he
has created in his home in Nashville. Local Sikhs do not have a temple in
town but meet together to worship in one another's homes.
©Copyright 2000, The Tennessean
Page last updated/revised 122100
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