Experiencing Sikh and Hindu Cultures Through Festivals (Vaisakhi, Diwali, Maha Shivaratri)

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My partner, Piyush Dhir, and I chose to explore our cultures main celebrated festivals for our first cultural outing. Since our cultures originated in the Indian Subcontinent, we thought it would be interesting to explore the similarities and differences surrounding our topic. We chose to discuss only three main festivals as there is a vast amount of information for each. We met at my house and then again at my partner’s house, which allowed us to share information as told by our relatives and the Internet.

Cultural Outings

My Culture: Sikh

For this first outing, I chose to discuss and research two Sikh festivals, Vaisakhi and Diwali. These festivals are of common knowledge to all Sikhs as they hold a great amount of cultural significance. In fact, Diwali is also a Hindu festival so we decided it would be useful to have one common and one different festival for each culture as a way of comparing and differentiating the two cultures.

Starting off with Vaisakhi, it is both a historical and religious day. This day signifies the birth of ‘Khalsa’, which is basically a commemoration of Sikhism as a unified faith. It is represented as a New Year for us Sikhs and is held on the 13th of April. We welcome this new year by holding prayers in our households to remember the teachings of our gurus. Our tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, founded Khalsa as a way of transforming Sikhs into solider saints (“Vaisakhi”, 2009, para.1). He challenged his followers to sacrifice their life in the name of religion and out of the many who had gathered, there were only five men brave enough to come forward. These men became known as the Panj Piare (Beloved Five) (C. Gill, personal communication, May 18, 2019). They were baptised with holy water following prayers and that became our basis of a Sikh baptism ceremony. So this ceremony signified our faith and it is what allowed us to be recognized as Singh’s and Kaur’s. These were the surname’s given to us as a way of showing equality within our culture. As our belief is that everyone is equal before God. Hence, the men were recognized as Singh’s and the women as Kaur’s. Overtime, this changed as the caste system was introduced in India, which resulted in us adopting these surnames as middle names. That is why my last name is Gill but my middle name is Kaur. I belong to the Jatt caste, which are known as the farmers of Punjab (S. Brar, personal communication, May 18, 2019). I think the main reason behind this was for people to gain power over one another by classifying themselves in a higher level of the caste system.

Aside from this, the Vaisakhi festival is marked by the Nagar Kirtan, which is a Sikh Parade that allows us to bring the message of God within the community. Specifically, I came to know of Vaisakhi through this parade because I attend it every year. It is supposed to be held on the day of Vaisakhi, but since the Calgary weather can fluctuate, the parade is held in May. I had invited my partner to participate in the Sikh Parade this year, but he was unavailable that day so I had sent him videos and photographs as a way of allowing him to visualize the parade. This parade is the same each year and the only difference is the increasing attendance. It begins with the Panj Piare, who lead the procession, then follows a float that carries our holy scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, and we follow behind that. We sing holy hymns throughout the length of the parade as a way of reaching a state of Nirvana. It is an amazing experience as you find peace amongst the thousands walking along with you.

The attire for this festival is very crucial as we have to dress culturally appropriate for this occasion. The Panj Piare are seen wearing a kurta pajama, which consists of a loose shirt that falls above the knee and has pyjama type bottoms. The color of this attire is orange as that signifies the Khalsa Panth (C. Gill, personal communication, May 18, 2019). Along with this, they are seen wearing white turbans as a way of covering their heads. Not only do these five men where these specific clothes, but other baptised and non-baptised Sikhs can be seen wearing the same. The only difference is that not all wear the color orange. Whereas, the women wear salwar suits, which consist of a tunic, trousers and a scarf to cover their head. Although, you will see some baptised women wearing turbans as well. We cover our heads to pay our respects to the holy scripture and preserve our identity. As we bow down before our scripture, we want to protect our hair as it is one of the five K’s of Sikhism. By this I mean symbols of an individual who has devoted themselves to God. This includes the Kesh (uncut hair), Kara (steel bracelet), Kacha (cotton underwear), Kirpan (steel sword) and Kanga (wooden comb) (C. Gill, personal communication, May 18, 2019). My partner questioned as to why I was not wearing the full attire and I told him that I had not been baptised yet. Once baptised you have to dress in the attire of the guru, value all those symbols, and pray. Regardless of being baptised or not, we should be embracing the idea of working honestly, helping others and remembering God. My partner found this interesting because his culture does not have this type of baptism ceremony.

In regards to this, a festival my partner could relate to was Diwali, which is a festival of lights. Sikhs refer to it as Bandi Chhor Divas as our sixth guru was released from prison along with 52 princes (“Diwali”, 2011, para.1). They were held captive by Emperor Jahangir and upon release, the Sikhs lit the Golden Temple and this festival still continues to this day (“Diwali”, 2011, para.1). I learned this alongside my partner as I was unaware of the prison backstory. I knew we cleaned our homes as a way of bringing cleanliness into our lives, we lit lamps to bring light, we exchanged gifts and sweets and prayed to celebrate the good over the evil. It was like Christmas in the West (“Diwali”, 2011, para.3). But I did not know the most important fact of this celebration, which was the release of my sixth guru. I guess me and my partner learned this fact together. Also upon surfing the Internet, we realized that it is a day to celebrate a strong harvest (“Diwali”, 2011, para.3).

The attire of this event was very similar to that of the Vaisakhi festival as we wore our traditional clothes. So the women were seen in salvar suits and the men in kurta pyjamas. Keeping in mind that we cover our heads. Since this is also a very cultural festival we do pray at our temple and bring forth as much light as we can to avoid any spiritual darkness. Therefore, with this I ended my portion of the discussion and looked forward to the learning about my partner’s festivals and how they celebrated Diwali.

My Partner’s Culture: Hindu

Similar to my outing experience, I visited his house this time and we discussed his festivals with the help of his knowledge, the elder’s inputs and the Internet. He chose to discuss Maha Shivaratri and Diwali as his two cultural festivals. Beginning with Maha Shivaratri, it is an important festival amongst Hindu’s as they worship Shiva who saved them from darkness. This day falls in the month of February or March and this year it was on March 4th (P. Dhir, personal communication, May 19, 2019). On this day, the culture prays, fasts and meditates as a way of commemorating the darkness and ignorance they overcame (P. Dhir, personal communication, May 19, 2019). Allowing them to focus on kindness, forgiveness and self-restraint as a way of celebrating this festival. Thus, making it a very spiritual celebration.

In this festival, people will offer akwan flowers, water and milk to the Shiva idol as a way of worshipping to this God of destruction (Guzman, n.d., para.7). This allows them to devote themselves to the God and be able to look beyond the darkness that is within the universe. They believe that this God helped bring light and allowed them to looked beyond themselves. That is why Shiva is so respected and my partner even wears a gold necklace with a tiny idol of him on it. He says it’s to represent the duality of being alive as Shiva is one of the strongest deities. So by wearing his idol, he is notifying others that he is a devotee of Lord Shiva and follows his principles. To me this signified immense cultural presence as Hindu’s continue to worship idols.

At Maha Shivaratri, the devotees will fast all day and night and then attend the temple the following morning to pay respects. They perform a puja (prayer) in which they ring the temple bells and chant “Mahadevji ki Jai”, which means long live Shiva (P. Dhir, personal communication, May 19, 2019). This puja involves six steps, which each devotee will perform as a way of following the traditions. The first step is to bathe the Shiva Linga (Shiva model) with milk and honey as a way of purifying the mind, body and soul (Guzman, n.d., para.7). Then they will offer flowers as a way of attaining a long life, light clay lamps to achieve more spiritual knowledge and apply three horizontal lines of ash [to Linga] to represent cleanliness (Guzman, n.d., para.8). Next they will offer Rudraksha (betel) leaves and lastly, burn incense (Guzman, n.d., para.8). These steps are crucial upon performing a puja as you want to honor Shiva and his sacrifices. As he pacified a fight between Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu, who were fighting for power (P. Dhir, personal communication, May 19, 2019). He did so by creating a light in which they had to find the topmost portion of, but as proven by science, light has no limit so neither was successful. Although, Brahma did take a ketaki flower while he was on mission and later lied about it. That is why my partner says no one prays to that God or offers those flowers. This goes to show the importance of Lord Shiva and how he expels the bad qualities from the universe. He may be known as a destroyer, but can also be seen as a giver as he wants to give his devotees the spiritual knowledge to avoid darkness.

In this festival, the Hindu’s are advised to wear new or clean attire as it is a holy festival. The men are seen wearing jeans and a collared shirt, which is more western as compared to the women who wear saree’s (P. Dhir, personal communication, May 19, 2019). A saree is a printed cloth that is draped around the body. It is advised for women to wear a wedding saree as it is also the day Lord Shiva and Devi Parvati got married (P. Dhir, personal communication, May 19, 2019). So it becomes a male-female union as well as a day to honor Lord Shiva. My partner mentioned that you are able to tell which women are looking for a suitor as they will be well-dressed in a red saree. Red is significant as it represents the main color of Hindu weddings.

Aside from this festival, there is Diwali, which is the triumph of light over darkness. For Hindu’s, this celebration is due to the return of their deities Rama and Sita after their 14-year exile in which they defeated the demon king, Ravana (Rush, 2018, para.2). This is similar to our celebration as we are honoring the return of our guru. Except, this defeat was done by the lighting of clay lamps, which allowed the darkness to be overcome by the light. This celebration is traditionally a five-day celebration which falls between mid-October and November. The first day is meant for cleaning; the second is for decorating the house with clay lamps and rangoli (design pattern using colored powder); the third for a puja; the fourth is for gifts and sweets exchange between families and the last day is for brothers who visit their married sisters and get welcomed with their favourite food (Allen, Nath & Feng, 2014, para.2). So this festival allows individuals to gather and celebrate the new light in one’s life.

In regards to the attire, it is similar to that of any special hindu festival in which the men wear shirts and pants and women wear saree’s. In this case, the color of the saree does not have to be defined as any specific color. This is because the festival is bringing forth light that can be defined by multiple colors. Thus, with this my partner ended their portion of discussing their two festivals and I noted quite a few similarities and differences between our cultures.

Impact

My Culture: Sikh

Through this outing, one aspect that caught my attention was that I was unaware of why I celebrated the Diwali festival. I had always presumed it was to bring light in the midst of spiritual darkness, but I was unware that one of my Gurus had been held captive and we were celebrating his homecoming. My mother may have mentioned it before, but clearly I was not paying attention. This brought forth a spark of joy as I had not thought of my guru returning with 52 princes. So he did not only want to save himself but also wanted to provide the other prisoners with freedom. This signifies a true leader and I am glad that I am able to honor this act of kindness by celebrating Diwali. Along with this, I feel proud to be a Sikh because my culture allows us to preserve our unique identity and value the important things in life. I enjoy being able to give back to the community and connect with God as a way of liberating myself. Reaching a state of Nirvana can be difficult, however with the right mindset we can achieve such a state. This is why I truly enjoy participating in the Nagar Kirtan because I am able to reach this state with many others whom are seeking for peace.

These feelings can be reflected by my cultures beliefs, values and assumptions. This is because my culture believes that a good life is lived by doing good deeds and meditating on God. This is what the Diwali festival signified when the Guru allowed others to see freedom. Also we value honesty and that is a given for any culture because honesty can liberate one from their darkness. Hence, why we believe in the five vices that one should overcome to achieve liberation. These vices are lust, anger, pride, attachment and greed. It is easier said than done, but we have to work hard to attain growth and virtue. Upon looking at just two festivals, I am able to recognize such beliefs and values that may otherwise just be words. Knowing that we are equal before God as indicated by our surnames, it is evident that we were meant to overcome the evil and find the good within ourselves.

My Partner’s Culture: Hindu

One major aspect that caught my attention in my partner’s festivals was that not all their deities had pure intentions. Lord Shiva represented a path from destruction and ignorance, which would allow people to see the importance of being honest and kind. But Brahma was introducing dishonesty and so he was punished for bringing back the darkness. Upon learning this, I was a little confused because this Maha Shivaratri festival allows people to focus on forgiveness but Brahma was not forgiven by Lord Shiva. However, upon learning more about the festival, I was enlightened by the way people respect and value this event of Shiva whom is bringing forth an idea of optimism. He is expelling the bad qualities from the universe to allow growth in individuals, which will lead them to happiness. So he alleviated the dishonestly by preventing people from respecting someone who did not respect honesty. This is why I have respect for my partner as he wears a symbol of Lord Shiva. This allows him to not only be recognized as a Hindu but also implies that he follows the teachings of Shiva. Thus, allowing me to assume that he has good intentions as Shiva would have taught him to be kind and honest.

These feelings can be reflected by his cultural beliefs, values and assumptions. This is because his culture believes that truth is the only reality and that is represented by Shiva’s teachings. As well as, his culture values liberation that can be achieved through knowledge. I noted this upon learning about his festival because he kept mentioning that Lord Shiva wanted to give his devotees spiritual knowledge. I feel like this is because he wanted them to know the difference between good and evil along with being able to recognize which Gods are to be idolized. My partner’s culture does assume that there are many Gods but as noted with this outing, they only value those who have good intentions. This prevents them from falling into the path of darkness and instead being able to have good judgement of character.

Similarities and/or Differences

One of the main similarities that I found our cultures shared was the Diwali festival. It was similar in the sense that it occurred during the same time and was a celebration of light over darkness. Both cultures cleanse their home, light clay lamps, offer gifts/sweets and pray to their respective Gods. This allowed me to interpret that the reason behind this similarity was due to the cultures originating from the same subcontinent. We are celebrating a victory of good over evil in which those whom we respect are honored. The only difference in this festival was that the Hindu’s tend to celebrate the festival longer than the Sikhs do.

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Another similarity I found between the two cultures was the value they place upon praying and connecting with God. Both cultures had two different festivals that were linked together by devotees praying and giving back to those who made sacrifices for us. Whether it be the Gurus of the Sikhs or the Gods of the Hindus; both made awareness of what is important in life and how humanity can prosper and survive. We found this to be very appealing as our cultures have had differences in the past as the Hindus and Sikhs fought against one another in the Sikh Genocide. It was a result of Indira Gandhi [politician] bombing the Golden Temple, which resulted in her death as two of her Sikh bodyguards shot her. Hence, this erupted in a battle between the two cultures as hatred and ignorance blinded individuals from their duties of being honest, forgiving and loving people.

Although, there are differences in the paths to achieving this knowledge as both cultures have distinct duties to follow in each festival. The Sikhs tend to bow to a holy scripture and lead a path towards becoming a baptised Sikh one day. Whereas the Hindus, pay respects to an idol and honor the male-female union. As well as, the clothing and colors for both cultures differ as we belong to different parts of India. These types of differences are inevitable as they are two distinct cultures and should have some variations. This also allows us to teach and learn about one another’s culture and embrace the uniqueness that each one of us represents.

Ambassador Behaviours

My partner and I communicated frequently for this first outing as a way of gathering all the information we needed to present this cultural topic to one another. Through texts and emails we decided on dates of the outings and answered each other’s questions. We thought it would be beneficial to involve our elders in this topic as they have more experience and knowledge of these festivals. Also we wanted to be open and honest about the fact that we did not have all the answers and this allowed us to be more comfortable to ask each other questions. My partner did not hesitate to answer or ask questions about my festivals and presented additional information that he thought would be interesting. I respect the fact that we were able to communicate openly knowing that our cultures have had differences in the past. It is comforting to know that no judgments were passed about either culture and instead we listened and communicated with respect. We demonstrated these ambassador behaviours by the following examples:

Examples of positive, engaged attitude:

Celebrating Diwali is a common interest we share. So we were both eager to discuss and learn about the variations of celebrating it and knowing that both our versions are special in their own ways.

Examples of open-ended questions to expand the discussion:

Me [to my partner]: “Why is it important to understand the significance of Diwali?”

“Upon understanding the influence of Lord Shiva, did you begin to honor his legacy?”

My Partner [to me]: “After learning about the history of Vaisakhi, did the festival hold greater or lesser value to you?”

“How would you feel if your partner did not want to celebrate these festivals with you?”

Examples of closed-ended questions to prompt for specifics:

Me [to my partner]: “Will you continue to celebrate Diwali with the same passion you have now?”

“Will you teach your children the significance of your Shiva necklace?”

My Partner [to me]: “Will you be teaching your children about the importance of Vaisakhi?”

“Will you ever celebrate Bandi Chhor Divas where it originated?”

Examples of use of eye contact and expression:

We used proper eye contact, body language and tone as a way of being professional and confident in the information we were presenting about our culture. This allowed us to be comfortable and avoid any inappropriate comments about either culture.

Examples of stating our understanding of what was heard:

Me [to my partner]: “Since we both value the victory of good over evil, I shall share some sweets and diya’s with you.”

My Partner [to me]: “Yes! Happy Diwali to you too!

References

  1. Allen, C., Nath, M., Feng, N.T. (2014, October 23). Diwali- Festival of Lights. Retrieved from https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/diwali/#diwali_candles.jpg
  2. Brar, Surjit (grandmother) (personal communication, May 18, 2019)
  3. Dhir, Poonam (partner’s mother) (personal communication, May 19, 2019)
  4. Gill, Charanjit (mother) (personal communication, May 18, 2019)
  5. Guzman, A. (n.d.). What is Maha Shivaratri? Retrieved from https://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/hinduism/what-is-maha-shivaratri.aspx
  6. Religions-Sikhism: Diwali. (2011, October 20). Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/sikhism/holydays/diwali.shtml
  7. Religions-Sikhism: Vaisakhi. (2009, October 26). Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/sikhism/holydays/vaisakhi.shtml
  8. Rush, J. (2018, November 5). Diwali: What Is the Festival of Lights - and How Is It Celebrated around the World? Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/diwali-2014-what-is-the-festival-of-lights-and-how-is-it-celebrated-9810212.html
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Experiencing Sikh and Hindu Cultures Through Festivals (Vaisakhi, Diwali, Maha Shivaratri). (2020, December 24). WritingBros. Retrieved July 14, 2024, from https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/experiencing-sikh-and-hindu-cultures-through-festivals-vaisakhi-diwali-maha-shivaratri/
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Experiencing Sikh and Hindu Cultures Through Festivals (Vaisakhi, Diwali, Maha Shivaratri). [online]. Available at: <https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/experiencing-sikh-and-hindu-cultures-through-festivals-vaisakhi-diwali-maha-shivaratri/> [Accessed 14 Jul. 2024].
Experiencing Sikh and Hindu Cultures Through Festivals (Vaisakhi, Diwali, Maha Shivaratri) [Internet]. WritingBros. 2020 Dec 24 [cited 2024 Jul 14]. Available from: https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/experiencing-sikh-and-hindu-cultures-through-festivals-vaisakhi-diwali-maha-shivaratri/
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