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Rites Of Passage

Discussion in 'Sikh Youth' started by Aman Singh, Aug 4, 2009.

  1. Aman Singh

    Aman Singh
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    Jun 1, 2004
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    Satwant Singh is now thirteen. He is no longer a little boy; it’s time to join the fraternity of young men. So I was sitting through the rite of Dastar Bandi to mark his rite of passage.

    As I sat I couldn’t help wondering why we have not yet evolved a comparable rite for our young women at the threshold of womanhood. Some other religions have. For example, Jews who have, for centuries, celebrated only Bar Mitzvah for young boys have now added a celebration of Bat Mitzvah for young girls. We, too, need to think about this. It doesn’t have to be Dastar Bandi for girls, but somehow some note must be taken of the fact that gender equality lies at the core of Sikh teaching.

    His uncle and aunt sang shabads. His father, too, sang one, and my thoughts went to what might be going through the father’s head as he thus escorted his son into the world of Sikh men.

    I remember that Satwant’s father was a tad younger than his son when he landed in this country 30 years ago. About nine or ten years old, I remember, he could not sit quietly for more than a ‘New York minute’ – that is an immeasurably, infinitesimally small moment euphemistically dubbed a minute. Much of the energy is still with him and he has matured into an energetic young man full of plans for his family and his community.

    I remember meeting the family when they first arrived here in 1970. There were no more than a handful of recognizable Sikhs in New York and we had not yet built the first permanent Gurdwara. Our community was too small to afford the luxury of catfights, legal battles and splits which distinguished us in the subsequent years.

    This family was two little boys, a sister and the parents, obviously attached to their Sikh roots. In the New York of those times, even if he came from a Sikh family, it was a rare Sikh boy who could be seen with his unshorn keshas at school or play. But cutting the hair of the two boys was not an option entertained by the parents. The boys were rambunctious; Satwant, too, is assertive and aggressive, much like his father and uncle.

    As I witnessed the ceremony, I wondered if the father was thinking about his own rough times as the often-lone Sikh boy at school as he looked at his son. But, then, my thoughts went to the time when Satwant was born and his father probably thought then of the rough times that lay ahead for his son.

    I have seen the whole family mature in their sense of Sikhism and carry the torch that is now - symbolically - in the hands of the thirteen year old Satwant. He is the third generation in this country. Years ago the father was placed on the road less traveled by his father and now young Satwant has embarked on it. Why this path and what lies ahead?

    We know the history. Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa 300 years ago, but the foundation stone was laid by Guru Nanak two centuries earlier. Khalsa was destined to be an army of winners, fearless in pursuit of righteousness. In this discipline, each disciple was to hone, cultivate and heed his own conscience and plumb the depths of his own faith. Guru Gobind Singh saw that each of us has a constant battle to fight and the enemies are not necessarily ‘out there’. In all the battles of life that must be fought there is no battlefield of greater importance than the one of our own mind. Three hundred years ago Guru Gobind Singh staged the lesson of life: Live each moment of your life so that you can put your head on the line; in whatever you do, do it so that you can live and die with dignity.
    Three hundred years have passed since these lessons were engraved on Sikh psyche. Guru Gobind Singh now does not appear before his Sikhs flashing a naked sword and demanding your head. Or does he? Why stay on the road less traveled? Times have changed and now the question is framed differently. The flashing sword is replaced by the prospect of social isolation, economic disaster, or harassment at the job or neighborhood. The instrument of challenge is now the affable man behind the desk asking all those awkward questions over a cup of coffee. The question is asked a hundred times a day and in a myriad ways. Your head is still on the line and, in life, as it always will. Those are the lessons of our history. It is still the Guru who challenges you to live fearlessly with your head in the palm of your hand.

    If dignity and integrity lie at the core of a Sikh existence, Satwant must become a man who can see "us in them and them in us" in other men and in women no matter what they look like, what religion they profess and which passport they carry. It is a lesson not easily learnt and never comfortably accepted but one that our history, heritage, tradition, community and family will have to help him discover and integrate into his life.

    The path of Sikhism is unique and original. Its precepts are not only for the space and geography where they were first articulated and practiced; they are universal. The teachings are not just for the time when they were enunciated, but for all time and they are most powerfully expressed through the five articles of faith. The challenge is to integrate the outer external garb of a Sikh with the internal life and character of one; it is not in being a Sikh but in becoming one.

    History is alive only to those who remember it. Satwant, the turban asks you to stand tall and proud, but always remember that you stand on the shoulders of giants. History is not just what happened yesterday; it is also what you make today. Welcome, Satwant, to living history
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