SINGAPORE - The Sikh community in Singapore has lined up a month-long slate of initiatives to mark Vesakhi, including a new push to get more women to take on community leadership roles.
On Thursday (April 14), which is Vesakhi, celebrations began with the culmination of a three-day-long congregational prayer at the Sri Guru Singh Sabha temple in Wilkie Road.
Vesakhi marks a key event in the establishment of the Sikh religion and identity - the birth of the Khalsa or concept of a Sikh community instituted by Guru Gobind
Singh in 1699.
A similar prayer event will take place later in the day at the Sri Guru Nanak Satsang Sabha temple in Katong.
This year’s Vesakhi festivities kicked off last Saturday (April 9) with the light-up of Geylang Lorong 29 – the home of one of the seven gurdwaras or Sikh temples in Singapore.
Vesakhi celebrations will come to a close with a cultural and sporting event at the Singapore Khalsa Association on April 30.
There are about 12,000 Sikhs in Singapore, and Vesakhi celebrations are back in high gear this year after muted celebrations over the past two years amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Deep Singh, president of the Pardesi Khalsa Dharmak Diwan temple in Geylang, said: “The congregation has sacrificed a lot in the past two years...
"Now that measures are almost back to before for religious places of worship, we wanted to celebrate the festival of Vesakhi in a big way that will be memorable for everyone, Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike.”
Also on Thursday, the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board signed a memorandum of understanding with the National University of Singapore to set up a visiting professorship in Sikh studies.
The move is aimed at promoting academic scholarship in the field in Singapore and abroad.
It will be Asia’s first Sikh studies professorship outside the Indian subcontinent, said the board and NUS, and the board is aiming to raise $1.2 million for an endowment fund to support the visiting professorship.
Donations will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Government. The professorship will start in 2023, with each term lasting five months.
The appointed visiting professor will teach elective modules open to students in the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences as well as other faculties. The person will also conduct public seminars for the Sikh community, in coordination with the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board.
Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How, who spoke at the MOU signing at the Central Sikh Temple, said the visiting professorship is a major milestone for the Sikh community in Singapore.
He added that it will elevate insights gained from Sikh history, philosophy and culture, and position Singapore as a major contributor to the growing discourse in inter-faith studies.
On Friday, the Gurdwara Sahib Yishun temple will also launch a coffee table book as part of its Vesakhi day celebrations. The book traces the temple’s history from its founding in 1925.
The Sikh community will also host Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong on Friday when he visits the Khalsa Dharmak Sabha gurdwara to partake in langar and observe Vesakhi celebrations.
Langar refers to the community kitchen of a gurdwara. Free vegetarian meals prepared by volunteers in Sikh temples are served to all, regardless of religion.
For the last two years, the Sikh community has had to cope with measured prayer sessions during Vesakhi and be restricted in some of the usual ways of congregational praying, noted Mr Harpal Singh Bajaj, president of the Sri Guru Nanak Satsang Sabha temple in Katong.
Also launched earlier this month was a new initiative called EnKaur by the Sikh Advisory Board to study ways to increase female representation in the Sikh community.
The EnKaur working committee, which is made up of 21 Sikh women from diverse backgrounds, will study the reasons behind low representation of women in Sikh community organisations and initiatives, including at the leadership levels, and how to create greater opportunity for women to contribute.
Vesakhi marks the anniversary of the birth of the Khalsa - or concept of a Sikh community - a key event in the establishment of the Sikh religion and identity.
Khalsa, which means pure, refers to all Sikhs who have received Amrit or ambrosial nectar through the Amrit Sanchar or initiation ceremony.
Former PAP MP Inderjit Singh, who chairs the Coordinating Council of Sikh Institutions, said this year’s celebration will be a big morale booster for the community after the past two years, where key festivals had to be sacrificed due to the pandemic.
He said: “Vesakhi has always been a key event for the Sikh community here. We are fortunate to be able to come together this year to celebrate it in a big way again after the uncertainty the last two years.”
Correction note: An earlier version of this article wrongly described Vesakhi as the Sikh New Year. This is inaccurate. We are sorry for the error.