- British Indian Community welcomes Punjab Chief Minister, Capt. Amarinder Singh to Birmingham
- Renowned Indian Sufi Singer Hans Raj Hans
- Mesmerises audience
Birmingham witnessed a star-studded high profile, glittering ceremony at the prestigious Town Hall at the City Centre on November 24, 2019. In a coruscating programme curated by the Birmingham based South Asian Arts and Heritage Organization – SAMPAD, amidst soulful melodies rendered by renowned Punjabi Sufi singer, Padma Shri Hans Raj Hans, eminent citizens enthusiastically extended a warm welcome to the visiting Chief Guest, Hon’ble Chief Minister of Punjab, Capt. Amarinder Singh, who had flown all the way from India to articipate in this event.
The birth anniversary of the revered first Sikh Guru and founder of Sikh religion Sri Guru Nanak Dev ji is celebrated every year on the full moon day of the month of Kartik, which this year fell on November 12th. This year’s birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, who was at once a poet, a wandering religious teacher, a great social reformer and first of the ten Sikh gurus is especially meaningful as it happens to be his 550th birth anniversary.
The event at Town Hall on Sunday evening was all the more significant since it was in these very premises a similar programme was held 50 years ago, in 1969, to commemorate the 500th Birth Anniversary of Sri Guru Nanak Dev ji. The programme organisers this time had managed to trace quite a few members from the diaspora who were part of the previous event fifty years ago. One of the highlights of the event was a rare video clip comprising of
archival footages showing recordings of the 50 years old function, held in the same premises of Town Hall of Birmingham in 1969 during the celebrations of the 500th Birth Anniversary of Sri Guru Nanak Dev JI .
In his keynote address lasting nearly 20 minutes, the Chief Guest, Hon’ble Chief Minister of Punjab, Capt. Amarinder Singh covered a wide range of subjects. Drawing attention of the audience to the various aspects of teachings of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji- the Hon’ble Chief Guest dwelt upon the contributions of the revered founder of Sikhism in promoting inter faith harmony as the revered first Guru had, during his life time itself, sought to eradicate the division along religious lines.
Drawing from the Holy Scripture- Guru Granth Sahib, Capt. Amarinder Singh enumerated the profound relevance of the teachings of the first Guru even after 550 years- towards the need for environmental protection. Quoting from Japji Sahib he said “’Pavan guru paani pita mata dharat mahat, divas raat dui daee daya kheylai sakal jagat’ which means ‘Air is our Guru, water is our father, the earth is our mother. They give us life, we sleep in their laps night and day, so we should not spoil them.”
Touching upon the need to promote academic research on various aspects of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s life the Chief Minister informed the audience that 11 of the Universities of Punjab have announced that academic Chairs to research into various facets of the first Sikh Guru’s life including his extensive travels all over the world. It is worth noting that the University of Birmingham has recently launched ‘Guru Nanak Chair’ (supported by the
Government of India).
Expressing his thanks to the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan for the successful operationalization of the Kartarpur Corridor, he opined that peace is the need of the hour. “…without peace no one will come to Punjab.”
Recalling the hardships faced by the Punjabi people after the partition of India in 1947, the Chief Minister admired the grit and determination of the Punjabi people and their resolve to work for peace against all odds. The success story of Punjab is an example to the world.
Expressing satisfaction at the production of agricultural crops in the state the Chief Minister said “…all our godowns are full and we have so much of surplus of crops.” Looking forward in the future he felt that Punjab cannot remain an agriculture state any more and the time has now come for the state to look forward to massive industrialization and investment. He mentioned- in an effort to showcase the investment climate in Punjab and opportunities for prospective collaborations the State Government of Punjab is hosting Progressive Punjab Investment Summit from Dec 5-6, 2019 at Chandigarh (Mohali) and urged investors to participate in the same.
He concluded by lauding the success of the Connect with Your Roots (CYR) scheme of the Punjab Government, under which 70 young adults of Punjabi origin from abroad, who have never visited to Punjab, were able to visit the land of their ancestors to connect with their Roots, all sponsored by the Punjab Government.
The Hon’ble Chief Minister was handed over a token of appreciation by the British-Indian community- a specially commissioned oil painting, an artistic impression of the recently operationalized Kartarpur Corridor.
Shri Hans Raj Hans, a world renowned Sufi singer from India took to the stage amidst thunderous applause. Shri Hans Raj, who is no stranger to Birmingham is also a member of the Indian Parliament and a recipient of the coveted highest civilian honour of Padma Shri for his significant contributions to the field of music. With his unusual ability to present the Sufi genre of music in its truest and most pure form, he promoted the message of love, peace and brotherhood through his music. His soulful and melodious rendering of lyrics written long ago by the Sufi masters enthralled the audience who kept asking for more. His scintillating performance along with an ensemble of talented accompanying musicians held the audience captive with his masterly presentation of the mystical hymns.
It may be recalled, in November 22, 2018, the Union Cabinet of India, Chaired by the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi passed a resolution to celebrate the 550th Birth Anniversary of Sri Guru Nanak Dev ji throughout the country and across the globe in a grand and befitting manner. Since then the year- long celebrations of the first Sikh Guru’s birth anniversary are being organised by the Indian Diaspora, particularly the Sikh diaspora with
enthusiasm and zeal. The various activities for these commemorations are also actively supported by Indian Diplomatic Missions all over the world.
High Commissioner of India to the United Kingdom, Mrs. Ruchi Ghanashyam extended her warm welcome to the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Punjab, Capt. Amarinder Singh and Hon’ble Member of Parliament, Shri Hans Raj Hans, and congratulated SAMPAD for putting together this wonderful celebration. Extending her greetings to everyone on this momentous occasion, she remarked that ‘Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s teachings are eternal and timeless. In today’s world, when we are facing the challenges of violence, terrorism, divisions, inequality and, Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s message can show us the way forward. It is, therefore, befitting that the Prime Minister of India has taken the initiative to make this occasion a fitting tribute to the revered first Sikh Guru.
High Commissioner congratulated Capt. Amarinder Singh for his great leadership and for all the progressive work that has taken place in Punjab, as part of the 550th Anniversary celebrations, with such efficiency. Commenting on the timely completion of the recently operationalized Kartarpur Corridor she said that “…it was developed in no time at all”. She added that Sultanpur Lodhi, the historic town, was developed into a heritage town under the
guidance and leadership of the Hon’ble Chief Minister.
She informed the audience about some of the important initiatives taken by the Government of India on this occasion including recent launch of the direct flight from Amritsar to London (Stansted). This additional connectivity makes it easier for pilgrims from the UK, to fly directly to Amritsar to pay their obeisance and visit the historic Golden Temple. The High Commissioner concluded by commending the touring photo-exhibitions on the life and philosophy of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji that were successfully showcased in various parts of the UK and abroad, and various activities & multi-faith events that took place in Birmingham to convey the message of Sri Guru Nanak DevJi.
Speaking on the occasion on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, Mr. Gareth Bayley, Director for South Asia and Afghanistan in Foreign and Commonwealth Office, conveyed a message of friendship, peace and partnership. He spoke about Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s life as an example of profound spiritual devotion by building the bridges of love, tolerance and harmony, which embodies the virtues of love and compassion. He lauded the vital contributions of Sikh Community in the UK.
Ten prominent members of the British Indian community, some of whom were part of the 500th anniversary programme of 1969, offered a ceremonial welcome to the visiting Chief Minister of Punjab. Speaking on behalf of the British-Indian community, Lord Rami Ranger, CBE thanked the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Punjab, for leading remarkable celebrations specially in Kartarpur and Sultanpur Lodhi and also acknowledged H.E. Ruchi Ghanashyam and Dr. Aman Puri for celebrating this historical year on a number of occasions which culminated in the putting together of the amazing concluding event at the historic Town Hall. He shared personal experiences of his journey from a refugee camp in India to the House of Lords in Britain. The Hon’ble Chief Minister handed over gifts and souvenirs comprising of special commemorative stamps issued by the Government of India and silver coins issued by the Government of Punjab, to mark the occasion of the 550th Anniversary, to the distinguished guests on stage.
Earlier on, the programme featured a renowned Birmingham based singer, Ms. Keertan Kaur, who chanted Shabad in her soft and melodious voice – which are essentially religious hymns from the sacred texts of Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs containing teachings of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. This was followed by a welcome address from the Chairman of SAMPAD, Mr. Ranjit Sondhi, who remarked that ‘Sikhs have much to offer
to the society in modern times and that there is no doubt, there exists as much force, and as much conviction in the moral and philosophical aspects of Sikh philosophy as they were in Guru Nanak’s time 550 years ago. He concluded by expressing his immense pride for the contribution of the British Sikhs to the 21st Century Britain.
Another highlight of the programme was the recounting of actual experiences of a recent visit to India by young adults of Punjabi origin from Britain. It may be recalled that the Punjab government has launched a programme called ‘Connect with Your Roots’ [CYR], under which young boys and girls of Punjabi origin settled abroad who have never visited India are
able to visit the places in Punjab, from where their families hailed or where their ancestors were born. Three of the young adults, who were introduced to the audience by Mr. V.S. Khera, the UK Coordinator of CYR, spoke of their successful visit to Punjab, and how it has influenced their lives.
The event concluded with a Vote of Thanks by the Consul General of India in Birmingham, Dr. Aman Puri, who congratulated the British Indian community for its partnership on various projects to celebrate the auspicious occasion of 550th Birth Anniversary of Sri Guru Nanak Dev ji, whose life and teachings continue to inspire people belonging to all faiths across the globe. He said that, ”Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s simple but universal teachings are an inseparable part of the Indian spiritual and cultural milieu. They hold us together. These eternal truths are akin to that invisible binding force that holds
a million vibrating molecules together. Today, we celebrate these values, we celebrate these teachings, we honour the great seer”.
Dr. Puri thanked the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi for his visionary and remarkable leadership, and remarked that the government of India had hosted unprecedented celebrations to mark the 550th birth anniversary, both in India and abroad, with a view to share the universal and eternal message with the world-wide community. He admired the efforts of the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Punjab, Capt. Amarinder Singh, who has been a source of inspiration to the entire British-Indian community and the worldwide Punjabi
Diaspora. He recalled his recent experience of visiting Sri Kartarpur Sahib on 9th November, 2019 as a part of the first group of Pilgrims. He concluded by expressing the hope that 50 years from now the 600th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak would again be celebrated in the same iconic venue of Birmingham Town Hall.
On behalf of the Church of England, Canon Dr. Andrew Smith, Director of Interfaith Relations for the Bishop of Birmingham, presented a specially prepared plaque on the 550th birth anniversary of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. The event was attended with great enthusiasm by more than 700 guests braving the late November chill. The presence of eminent personalities from the Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities in United Kingdom, inter-faith leaders, dignitaries from Indian and British communities from Midlands, North England, London and adjacent counties was a testament to the spirit of peace and interfaith harmony evoked by the event.