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Splinter Group from Medford Opens Gurdwara at Somerville


India New England, Somerville, MA, May 1, 2006

Photo: Darshan Singh (center, black turban, glasses), former secretary of the Medford gurdwara, participating in the preparation of the Nishan Sahib (flag)

Photo: Balwinder Singh Gill (left, white head-covering) and Randhir Singh Chhatwal (center, red turban, glasses, formerly of the Medford gurdwara), participating in the preparation of the Nishan Sahib (flag)

Balwinder Singh [Gill], of Everett, Mass. was wearing a brand new turban for the special occasion. Like his forefathers 307 years ago, Singh was trying to re-establish his identity, albeit in a smaller way.

'Socially, today, it's very difficult to wear a turban to work everyday,' said Singh. 'But today is a special day, and I decided to wear it today, no matter what.'

Singh and several others at the Boston Sikh Sangat [561 Windsor St., Somerville, MA] were honoring the call by the New York-based organization United Sikhs to celebrate International Turban Day on April 16 along with traditional Baisakhi celebrations.

Baisakhi, the traditional harvest festival in Punjab, holds a deeper meaning for Sikhs as it also marks the birth of the Khalsa (community of the pure) and the formal initiation of the first Sikhs into the Khalsa order.

'The idea is to teach people more about our religion,' said Randhir Chhatwal, a sevadar (volunteer) at the Sangat. 'After 9/11, many people think that because [Osama] Bin Laden wears a turban, we are Muslims. We want to tell them that we are not Muslim.'

The Boston Sikh Sangat is a breakaway faction of the Gurudwara Guru Nanak Darbar of Medford, Mass. After escalating tension between members of the congregation and the management, some members of the congregation rented a place on Windsor Street in Somerville to continue their religious services.

The gurdwara was inaugurated on Dec. 4 last year and Baisakhi is the first important festival to be celebrated at the new location.

Param Dhillon from Bristol, Vt. was visiting Boston when he heard about the celebrations. 'We thought it'll be a good thing to do,' said Dhillon, speaking between bites of the welcome snacks offered at the Sangat.

The prayer hall itself was packed to its capacity of around 400 people. The celebrations were held over three days - starting with the children's programs and competitions on April 14.

On April 15 and 16, Nabhe Walian Bibian, a traditional Sikh singing group from California, was invited to perform Dhadhi Jatha, or traditional recitation of Sikh history. The performance gained momentum and vigor as the hymns traditionally used to rekindle Sikh spirit and pride were recited.

Earlier in the day, bhajans and hymns were sung by [the house ragi] Jasbir Singh and the congregation.

The program ended with langar, or free community food.

A sense of pride was evident in many members of the congregation. Raginder Singh of Somerville, Mass. [a former vice-president of the Medford gurdwara] said organizing the event was piece of cake as the congregation met and decided on the details just three weeks before the event.

'Everybody suggested things to do,' he said. 'And everyone said, 'Whatever you want me to do, I'll do.' '

Chhatwal stressed that the new congregation wants to reunite with the old gurdwara. The matter is now sub judice as a few members of the congregation have filed a case against the management of the gurdwara in Medford, Mass. accusing them of restricting entry into the gurdwara, violating one of the basic principles of the religion.