Bison Abroad | Gurpurab

Nov. 14 marked one of the most important celebrations for the Sikh religion — Gurpurab. On this day, the founder and first guru of the religion was born. The day is marked with large congregations and celebrations at gurdwaras around the country, including in Hyderabad.

PHOTO COURTESY Laura Ellen Brandjord | A blindfolded warrior prepares to break a coconut resting on a volunteer's head.
PHOTO COURTESY Laura Ellen Brandjord | A blindfolded warrior prepares to break a coconut resting on a volunteer’s head.

I was privileged enough to be invited to help and experience this important day of reverence with my assistant resident director and her family.

At the gurdwara, we first went and paid our respects and made a wish by placing money before the Sikh’s holy book, before starting our service of collecting shoes. As with all temples, mosques, etc., you do not wear shoes or socks inside.

Therefore, we were tasked with taking people’s shoes, tagging them with a numbered card, giving the owners an identical card and returning their shoes to them when they presented it. To complete this service is considered very humbling as you are symbolically taking the dust from the person’s feet when you take their shoes.

Around the gurdwara people donated religious texts, bangles inscribed with the names of one of the gurus and fresh vegetables. The food was communally made and free of cost for those completing a service; however, each family brought ingredients or made some rotis (a whole meal flatbread). In addition, before the food was prepared, all the ingredients were blessed. Since we were busy receiving and returning shoes, the food was brought to us and we all sat on the floor together and ate.

After the main hymn service was completed, the real rush began as many of the people left for home. The few who remained watched the martial arts and battle reenactments on stage. These trained fighters completed such feats as breaking a coconut resting on top of a volunteer’s head while blindfolded, and kept the audience rapt in suspense to the last display of weapon mastery.

I may have been weary by the end, but a day of service and community was just the sort of thing I needed. I am extremely humbled I was invited to serve at this important celebration and exceedingly thankful to be warmly and readily accepted by all I met there.

This Thanksgiving it appears I have quite a few things to be thankful for, and my family — both fictive and hereditary — is one of them.

Laura Ellen Brandjord is an NDSU student currently studying in Hyderabad, India.

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