Wellington, November 29,2023
The 554th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh faith, was commemorated at the Parliament precincts in Wellington on November 27.
Organised by not-for-profit Ekta NZ, attendees at the event included members of the Indian diaspora, Indian High Commission officials, the diplomatic corps, government representatives, as well as National MPs Nicola Willis and Chris Bishop, who joined in after the oath taking at Government House where Prime Minister Christopher Luxon’s new coalition government was sworn in.
The programme kicked off with a welcome and karakia by Bhupinder and Alsantana Mauriri, which was followed by interfaith blessings bestowed by Maria Boyer-Blaikie of the Bahai faith, Buddhist Priyadarshini Pawar, Christians Rev Stephen King and Rev Jean Michael, Jewish community representative Harvey Livschitz, Hindus Vijeshni Rattan and Kiren Thakrar, and Muslims Mohamed Abdul Aziz and Mohand Madiwale.
Speakers included Ministry of Ethnic Communities Chief Executive Mervin Singham, High Commissioner of Australia to New Zealand Harinder Sidhu, Indian High Commission Charge d’affaires Mukesh Ghiya and Pakistan Deputy High Commissioner Imran Ulah Khan.
Ministry of Ethnic Communities CEO Mervin Singham recalled the exemplary role of the Sikh community in supporting other communities through the Covid 19 pandemic. “We watched with wonder and gratitude the way the Sikh community across the country do what they do so well – reach out and care for everyone, irrespective of their faith, culture or creed.”
He said the values of generosity, charity, and equality that Guru Nanak preached “are still held dear by Sikhs in New Zealand and across the world.”
“The beautiful tradition of langar, a concept influenced by Guru Nanak, has made all the difference in the world for families across the country who struggled to put food on the table during these difficult times,” Singham noted.
High Commissioner of Australia Harinder Sidhu traced the birth of Guru Nanak “in the year 1469 in a small village now known as Nankana Sahib in modern-day Pakistan, [where] a baby boy was born to Kalyan Chand Bedi and his wife Tripti. They named him Nanak.”
Describing Guru Nanak’s teaching as “progressive,” Sidhu invoked the Guru’s famous dictum: “There is no Hindu, no Mussalman.” She said it was a call to embrace all faiths under one umbrella. Sidhu noted that the Guru’s “closest companion and disciple, Bhai Mardana, was a Muslim by birth.”
“Nanak pared back the practice of faith to its essentials, rejecting what we saw as empty ritual. Instead, he put forward three pillars – naam japo, kirat karo, vand chhako – making the seeking of enlightenment, honest work and service to the community the essential pillars of the faith,” she observed.
In particular, High Commissioner Sidhu noted Guru Nanak championed equality for women “in all aspects of religious and community practice.”
“I often speak of the alignment in values between Australia and New Zealand. Who knew that those values are in many ways the same as those taught by Guru Nanak?”
Indian High Commission Charge d’Affaires and Second Secretary (Consular) Mukesh Ghiya noted that “Guru Nanak ji taught us that anyone can have a relationship with God, through meditation and a pious lifestyle. It doesn’t require monk-hood. Instead, he taught men and women how to attain salvation through a normal lifestyle in society.”
Second Secretary Ghiya emphasised Guru Nanak’s “compassion and respect for all human beings, irrespective of caste, creed, ethnicity and religion.” He applauded the Sikh community’s tradition of service symbolised by the distribution of food through the langar.
Deputy High Commissioner of Pakistan to New Zealand Imran Ulah Khan recalled his recent and “truly inspiring, day-long visit to Kartarpur Sahib…..in Pakistan, where Guru Nanak Dev ji spent [the] last 18 years of his life and [which marks] his final resting place.”
Describing Guru Nanak’s teachings as “epitomising wisdom, pragmatism, unity, hope, and peaceful coexistence,” Khan noted that the holy sites of the Sikh religion in Pakistan drew “not only the disciples and followers of the Sikh religion, but also people belonging to different castes, creeds and ethnicities who [go there to] pay homage to Guru Nanak,” who symbolised the values of “universal brotherhood, inclusivity, moral uprightness, justice and equality.”
The langar that followed was open to the public, and served an array of multi-ethnic cuisine.
Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington