Singaporean Sikhs pay homage to Guru Nanak, the founder of their religion, on his 550th birthday

(From left) Adviser to the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board Gurdip Singh Usma, former MP Inderjit Singh and Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat at the Central Sikh Temple on Nov 10, 2019. PHOTO: GURDIP SINGH USMA

SINGAPORE - At least 5,000 Singaporean Sikhs paid homage to the founder of their religion, Guru Nanak, over the weekend on the occasion of his 550th birthday.

A replica of one of Sikhism's holiest sites, Gurdwara Janam Asthan, was paraded on a float which stopped at all seven Sikh temples in Singapore on Saturday (Nov 9) and Sunday. Large enough for followers to enter and worship, the float passed through heartland and tourist areas like Chinatown, Little India and Orchard Road.

Gurdwara Janam Asthan, in present-day Pakistan, sits on the site widely believed to be where Guru Nanak was born in 1469. It is one of the most revered shrines for Sikhs.

"Through the float, we want to allow Singaporean Sikhs who have not had the opportunity to visit Pakistan to have a glimpse of the holy site. We also want it to promote Guru Nanak's philosophy of universal brotherhood, where everyone is treated as equals without discrimination," said Mr Gurdip Singh Usma, adviser to the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board.

Mr Usma, who is also the chairman of the Sikh Welfare Council, said the community's inclusive approach allows the Sikh Welfare Council to reach out to more than 1,000 people, regardless of their religion, each year.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who was at the Central Sikh Temple in Towner Road for the festivities on Sunday, said the teachings of the guru has helped Sikhs in Singapore contribute greatly to the country in the past 150 years.

"Guided by the teachings of Guru Nanak, and your core beliefs of hard work and selfless service... I am confident that the Sikh community and Singapore will continue to do well for many years to come," Mr Heng said.

Citing examples of Sikhs excelling in areas from medicine to sports, the minister also noted that Sikhs had progressed with Singapore, with quite a number among them distinguishing themselves in their chosen professions.

Notables included the late Justice Choor Singh, who was a judge of the Supreme Court, and Mr Jarmal Singh, who captained Singapore's national rugby team when it was awarded Team of the Year in 1978.

In his speech, Mr Heng said he was impressed with the key role the Sikh community has played in promoting racial and religious harmony, noting the Young Sikh Association's unorthodox approach to an Instagram influencer's controversial remarks in September.

They invited Ms Sheena Phua to the Central Sikh Temple after she posted controversial remarks about two men wearing turbans being "huge obstructions", introducing her to Sikh religion and culture.

"Through this, you turned a potentially divisive incident into an opportunity to deepen mutual understanding and respect. Your thoughtful actions are commendable," said Mr Heng.

The first Sikhs, noted Mr Usma, were brought to Singapore by the British as police personnel in the late 19th century. "Today, we are integrated and present in every aspect of Singapore life," he said.

"As a minority in a minority, we firmly believe in the need for fair and open systems. These conditions are what has helped us excel in and contribute to Singapore over the years," Mr Usma added.

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