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Khalsa Day

This past Sunday, May 8th, was, for me, a quintessentially Canadian experience.

Sunday was Khalsa Day for the Sikh community in Brantford, and the day was marked by a festival at the Sikh Temple on Park Road North, and ending with a parade that celebrated the culture of Sikhism in Canada.

I have been to the Sikh temple many times over the years, and I have always enjoyed the welcome and open atmosphere, learning the basic tenants of a religion that was, until those moments, foreign to me.   There is much misunderstanding about Sikhs and Sikhism, but over the years as the Sikh communities within Canadian communities worked to educate their neighbours and invited them to come together and learn, understanding has been created.  For the most part I think they have been very successful.

When I entered the Temple on Sunday with Dalip Multani, a local builder and President of the Sikh Association of Brantford, Phil McColeman, our re-elected MP for Brant and Dave Levac MPP, a young man was speaking about his passion for Sikhism and the importance for the young people to stay true to their culture.   What was really interesting was that this young man was also confessing his love of hockey and of Brantford’s most honoured son, Wayne Gretzky.

It turns out that this young man is Harnarayan Singh, and he is one of the voices for Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi.  It was how eloquently Harnarayan sang the praises of our wonderful country that made me seek him out and talk to him as we were preparing for the parade. 

Harnarayan Singh is from Brooks, Alberta and lived a typical life of a young person in rural Western Canada; hanging out with friends, playing ball hockey and rooting for the Edmonton Oilers. (I recognize that all my Calgary Flames fan friends will take exception to this, but part of Albertan culture is the great divide between two great franchises.) 

Harnarayan and I walked together throughout the parade talking about his upcoming nuptials and the Edmonton Oilers theme, and the fact the reception was in a hockey arena.  (I hope I am not giving too much away so as not to incur the wrath of bride to be.) 

I enjoyed the experience of walking in the Khalsa Day parade with the colour, the music, the drums and the prayers, while our conversation meandered between religion, hockey, the day to day practise of Sikhism, hockey, politics, hockey, and how wonderful Canada is as a multicultural country – and hockey.

I learned about Gatka, the Sikh martial arts, that were on display in front of us as experts marched and performed mock sword battles.  I learned more about the music and the playing of the Tabla and Harmonium, which Harnarayan also enjoyed and has had the opportunity to perform in front of large audiences.  We discussed that I noticed while he was playing in the temple that there was a “funkier” beat to the Tabla playing, and he commented that it is a sound that is more prevalent in younger players. 

I learned simple things; like the turban that is worn by many Sikh adult males has different forms and that the gentlemen performing the Gatka had a “sportier” version.  And I learned a simple but obvious lesson, that boys learned to wrap their turbans from their fathers and grandfathers, but over time you take on your own style, yet still influenced by what they learned.

This was significant to me because I instantly understood more about Sikhism by the simple act of a father showing his son how he learned to wrap his turban – there is such a depth to humanity in this understanding that I was able to connect as a father and as a son and grandson.  Simple, but a simplicity I had not considered.

When our conversation turned to hockey we were two Canadians walking in a religious parade talking about the great Canadian religion.  “What is wrong with Vancouver?” “How do you feel about the Kessel trade?” “What’s wrong with the Sedin’s?”  (On this one a little Canadian arrogance came into play.)

I love to learn, and I love to share what I learn.    This Khalsa day was a revolutionary learning day for me as I felt a greater understanding of the Canadian lives of one of the world’s great civilizations. 

It was also revolutionary, because of how wonderfully Canadian I felt being part of the Sikh parade.  There were no Maple Leafs fluttering in the sky; there was no need.  There were no Mounties on horseback; there was no need.  There was no maple syrup on the food table; there was no need.  It was wonderfully Canadian because it was wonderfully Sikh. 

Khalsa and hockey, and the meaning of what it is to be who you are, and be accepted for who you are because we, as Canadians, are an advanced society.  I can’t remember a day when I felt more Canadian – or more proud to be a Canadian.

Waheguru Ji ka Khalsa, Wahegru Ji ki Fateh.