SINGAPORE - Over the past four days, thousands of Sikhs from Singapore and around the region were at the Singapore Expo for the largest gathering of the Sikh community in South-east Asia that featured speeches, devotional music and a heritage exhibition.
This year's event took on an added significance, as it celebrates the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, who was born in 1469.
Organisers said the event, Naam Ras Kirtan Darbar, from last Saturday to Tuesday (Dec 22 to 25) also aimed to remind the Sikh community of the key principles of their religion - appreciation and respect for others, universalism, and inclusiveness - as well as to provide a deeper understanding of the Sikh faith and traditions to non-Sikhs.
These will help enhance understanding, eradicate misperceptions and strengthen relations between people of different faiths in Singapore's multi-religious society, they added.
The festival is held once every two years.
Adviser to the Naam Ras organising committee, former MP Inderjit Singh, said that as pressures for intolerance and segregation increase around the world, it is important that faith groups, especially minorities in small and open societies like Singapore, speak out against this trend to protect social solidarity and stability.
"Moreover, as Sikhs around the world prepare to celebrate the 550th birthday of our founder and first Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, who openly propagated these values of universalism and equality of all mankind, there is no better time to remind ourselves, the Sikh community, and the rest of Singapore of how it is in the community's ethos to uphold respect for other faiths and strengthen this social fabric," Mr Singh added.
Naam Ras Kirtan Darbar, which loosely translates to "Festival of Sikh Music", also featured a langgar or community kitchen manned by temple volunteers who served some 10,000 free vegetarian meals a day for participants as well as non-Sikhs.
Participants also had a dialogue with Mr Ravi Singh, the chief executive of Britain-based non-governmental organisation Khalsa Aid, who on Sunday spoke about his humanitarian work in war-torn and disaster-hit areas, based on the Sikh principle of treating all of humanity as one.
Members of the public also got a taste of Sikh culture and heritage - from a photo exhibition featuring Sikh buildings and heritage in Pakistan, where Guru Nanak's birthplace is, to turban tying stations. Around 150 representatives from various religious groups in Singapore also attended the event.
On Tuesday, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam visited the festival, where he was honoured with a shawl for being a strong supporter of the Sikh community.
Mr Baljit Singh, President of the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board, said the festival, is a testament to the spirit of volunteerism and philanthropy in Singapore.
"You will see people from all walks of life, no matter their means or background, getting involved and contributing in service or in-kind. This is the type of Sikh community we hope to build in Singapore that will contribute readily regardless of race, language or religion."
Property agent Jasvin Narulla, 40, who has been attending the festival since it was first held in 2002, said the event is something he looks forward to. "It brings the community together and allows me to make new friends, even from other faiths. It has been an enriching experience," he said.