Sikhs to welcome new year

MARYSVILLE — A saffron-colored flag rising outside an otherwise inconspicuous building signifies that this is a Gurudwara.

A Sikh temple, where the doors are open day and night for those seeking food, refuge or spiritual guidance.

The Guru Nanak Sikh temple has been a place of worship and community for Sikh families in the north Puget Sound area for more than 10 years, said Satwant Pandher, temple president.

On Sunday, more than 500 people are expected to gather here to celebrate Vaisakhi, the Sikh New Year.

Vaisakhi, also spelled Baisakhi, marks the founding of Sikhism as a collective faith in 1699. It usually falls on April 13 or April 14.

Even before the association with Sikhism, Vaisakhi was a harvest festival in the Punjab region of what is now India. That’s where most of the world’s Sikhs live.

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion based on the teachings of 10 gurus. Sikhs believe in peace and equality, doing good and being generous to others.

As part of the celebration, the holy flag, called Nishan Sahib, will be lowered. The faithful will sing hymns, wash the flagpole and drape it in a new orange cloth.

“As we dress ourselves, we dress the flagpole, too,” Pandher said,

Close to 200 people visit the Gurudwara for services on a typical Sunday, some coming from as far as Mount Vernon. About 50 Sikh families live in Marysville alone, Pandher said.

Inside the temple, volunteers cook traditional food for the worshippers in the large kitchen. People remove their shoes and cover their heads according to tradition.

The Sikh holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, lies under a canopy in the prayer hall. Anyone can come up and read scriptures from the book. For Vaisakhi and other special occasions, priests and worshippers take turns reading from the holy book, continuously, for 48 hours.

The holy book is handled with care and respect.

“We treat it as a living human being,” Pandher said.

“When a holy book is worn out, we can’t burn it or throw it away. We have to put it under water so it disintegrates.”

In the evening, priests take the holy book to small room and lay it on a special bed closed off by white lace curtains. They take out the book again around 4 a.m.

Sikhs don’t worship idols. They are simply showing respect to the book and the writings it contains. The book is considered a living guru.

Rumele Singh is senior of the three priests living at the temple. He became a priest in the early 1980s, when he was living in Punjab, India. He gets up at 4 each morning, brings out the holy book and recites hymns. He practices harmonium and singing daily and performs religious ceremonies for people who visit the temple.

The priests have tea and food ready for anyone who might ask for it.

Neighbors are nice, though several times a year someone throws garbage in the temple parking lot, Pandher said. He thinks some people may be put off by the Sikhs’ turbans, associating them with terrorism.

“Just because we wear turbans doesn’t mean we are against America,” he said.

“This is our country. We are its citizens.”

Katya Yefimova: 425-339-3452; kyefimova@heraldnet.com.

Celebrate

Visit the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple during the Sikh new year celebration planned from 10 a.m. to about 2 p.m. Sunday at 4919 NE 61 St., Marysville.

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