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Poet, Singer, and Activist

My Visit to the Historical City of Sultanpur Lodhi, a Hidden Jewel in Punjab

Posted by on Jan 22, 2014 in Discussion | 7 comments

Historical Sultanpur Lodhi

Mosque inside the compounds of the Historical Sultanpur Lodhi Fort

I have just returned from a wonderful visit to India, and as usual I spent most of my time in Punjab visiting family and friends, with a day or two in Delhi. The main reason for my visit this time was to attend my nephew’s wedding in Gurdaspur, and then there was a very interesting Parvassi Samelan in Punjab during this month.

Since my time is very limited, I don’t usually venture outside what is familiar. Aside from visiting various historical Gurduaras in Punjab and of course Jallianwallah Bagh in Amritsar, I wasn’t even aware of historical places in Punjab, and even less of a movement to preserve it. I was delighted to have been invited to visit the Sultanpur Lodhi Fort, apparently built in 1 A.D.  I am not a scholar or academic with any in-depth knowledge about the history, but it is a place that I am glad some people are taking the initiative to preserve before it is bulldozed to the ground and a mall comes in its place in the name of “progress.”

Bhai Baldeep Singh invited me to visit this historic place for a deeply moving experience. He is the chairman and Founder at the Anad Foundation, which aims to preserve the history and also the artistic culture of that history, especially Punjab’s musical traditions, like the dying art of the Rabab, and artistic traditions like calligraphy. He is also a very talented musician. To find more details of the history of the fort, check out this link and definitely check out the Anad Foundation.

IMG_4817_resizedAt first, I thought my ignorance that this historic fort even exists was because  I live thousands of miles from Punjab, but many of my relatives or friends in Punjab, who lived in the vicinity of it,didn’t know of its existence or significance either. So there is certainly something else going on and the major reason is that Sultanpur Lodhi is not being treated with respect as it deserves as a place of historical significance for Indians, Punjabis, and especially an important part of Sikh history. A similar effort one hears is underway to preserve historic sites in other places in India, so I fully encourage this to take place in the Punjab.

The audience in attendance of the seminar Bhai Baldeep Singh invited me to were calligraphers, painters of Gurbani Ragas, poets, and those with an interest in preserving this important part of our history as Punjabis and Indians, but especially for those who are Sikh. I felt greatly honored to be amongst them and found the entire event utterly engaging and thought provoking.

My son-in-law’s family live in Kapurthala next door to Sultanpur Lodhi, and they insisted I should come visit them first, and then they will take me to Sultanpur Lodhi. I quickly accepted the twin invitation. I never say no to kind hospitality, good food, and great conversation! The road from Chandigarh was in a thick fog and I almost felt like I was back in the Central Valley of California! The fog blanketed the roads and wouldn’t lift for the entire day, which really raised expectations of what this historic site would be like. Even back in California, I try not to drive anywhere when weather conditions aren’t good, but this was completely worth the hazardous road conditions, although I would strongly recommend waiting for the fog to lift before driving!

Just a few miles from Sultanpur Lodhi, I attended Khalsa College in Amritsar. My wife grew up just a few miles in the other direction in Tarn Taran, yet neither of us had ever stopped to see a treasure in the form of a historical place at Sultanpur Lodhi for all Indians, Punjabis, and especially Sikhs. Growing up in Bhakna a few miles away in the west, I heard stories from the Janam Sakhis of Guru Nanak Dev Ji returning from his meditative trance and declaring what would become the foundation of the Sikh religion and resonated with the ideology of the Ghadrites who really tried to put in practice: “There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim,” a call to the end of discrimination and a fight for human rights, a fight that continues today.

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One often worries and complains about the destroyed history due to ignorance as the marble has replaced our humble yet proud heritage up and down the country over the years. But what about the landmarks still standing by the mere stroke of luck or their sheer resilience and are in the state of complete neglect and encroachment only waiting to be replaced or come down on their own? One such monument of the greatest importance for the Sikhs is the Nawab’s fort at Sultanpur Lodhi! Many people believe that the mosque still standing within the compounds of this fort (Quila) is the same mosque where the Nawab Daulat Khan had invited Guru Nanak to participate in that much talked about namaz or Muslim prayer. Next to the mosque, there remains that ancient narrow brick lined well which is now covered by an iron grill.

All of the photographs you see in this blog post were taken by an incredibly gifted young Punjabi photographer, Anhad Khinda, my son-in-law’s nephew, and I am very happy he takes such care with this art form. Follow him on instagram @anhad_khinda. Below are some more images he took of Sultanpur Lodhi Fort and the last one is just outside it: 

Sultanpur Lodhi ©Anhad Khinda 2013

Part picture of Sultanpur Lodhi Fort taken from within compound walls

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Sultanpur Lodhi Fort Main Entrance

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Outside the Sultanpur Lodhi Fort is a ruin called HADERA which is believed to be once the place of rest for the queens on their way to royal gardens.

Have you visited Sultanpur Lodhi? Leave a comment and tell me about your experience. 

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Pag Di Saanjh: A Tribute to the Sikh Turban and the Bond with Humanity (Dedicated to Late Professor Atamjit Singh)

Posted by on Apr 12, 2012 in Discussion | 0 comments

Guru Nanak Dev Ji: First Guru of the Sikhs, Bhai Mardana and Bhai Bala

Guru Nanak Dev Ji with Bhai Mardana and Bhai Bala

Happy Vaisakhi and Pagdi Divs to you all!

I dedicate this blog post on ‘ Vaisakhi and Pagdi Divs’ to a gentleman and a scholar: Professor Atamjit Singh, who did a commendable job understanding unity in diversity by spreading not just Sikh awareness, but a new zeal for studying Gurmukhi, as a means of understanding the message better amongst university students all over California (U.S.A.). He sadly passed away in 2010, and although he is missed, he will never be forgotten, especially in the Bay area and the Central Valley of California.

Professor Atamjit Singh taught Punjabi language at the San Jose State University’s Department of World Languages for many years and was instrumental in designing their program to systematically teach it, making it accessible not just to those who already knew some Punjabi, but to complete beginners, as well as intermediate and advanced students. At the request of the Sikh Council of Central California, Professor Atamjit Singh also had the courage, capacity, dedication, and above all the humility to teach the beginners level class 200 miles away in Fresno in the central valley, California several years ago.

One of the beneficiaries of that beginner’s course in Fresno was my son Navdeep Singh Dhillon, who never had any formal classes before or since this one semester. Navdeep currently teaches English literature and Creative writing at the School of Visual Arts in New york, and is now not only able to read and write Punjabi (Gurmukhi) but also is able to help his two year old daughter Kavya to learn the basics in Punjabi as she goes to an English only speaking nursery school. Check out his blog post on raising bilingual and multilingual babies: http://thelangarhall.com/general/strategies-for-raising-multilingual-and-bilingual-babies/

A few years back when Professor Atamjit Singh was teaching at the San Jose State University’s Department of World Languages for the benefit of his majority non-Sikh American students, he requested me to make a live presentation at the University of my video ‘Pagg di Saanjh’: A Tribute to the Sikh Turban, which he had found on youtube. I, of course, gladly accepted, and I sang my Punjabi poem, with images from Sikh history, and translated into English in subtitles. The poem attempted to contextualize the significance of the Sikh turban, and it was  greatly appreciated by the Dean, the Head of the Department, and the students and the staff alike.

Here is the moving image slideshow of my poem with English subtitles for you to watch and share with whoever you think will benefit from the message. As always, I will greatly appreciate your thoughts on this by leaving a comment here or at my facebook:

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Punjabi Poem: Dheeaan

Posted by on Sep 20, 2010 in Gurmukhi Poems, Punjabi Poetry | 0 comments

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A Call to All Sikh Organizations: November is Sikh Awareness & Appreciation Month

Posted by on Sep 5, 2010 in Discussion, Sikh Council of Central California | 3 comments

The Ghadar Party

The Ghadar Party

Although the Sikhs have lived in the United States for over a century, many people are still unaware of who the Sikhs really are and where they originally come from. Following the 9/11 attacks, many Sikhs were targeted in cases of mistakenly identity; Sikh children continue to be harassed and bullied both during and outside of school hours. And the reason is not because of any ill will, but ignorance. People simply don’t know who the Sikhs are. And the reasons appear to be a lack of public education and media awareness in our multiethnic and multicultural society. And even within the Sikh Community, our own self created illusions and pre-occupations with non-issues made to be major issues have all coalesced and resulted in being detrimental to the Sikhs as a community. Because of our internal bickering, there has not even been a mention of Sikhi or Sikhism in the California school books although it is now the 5th largest religion in the world and almost 200,000 Sikhs made California their home by making valuable contributions right from serving in the American Armed forces, farming fields, and everything else in between for over a century now. Having said that, there have been many Sikh organizations who have made strides to educate people about Sikhs, but the point I am making is that we all need to join forces and do what is best for the Sikh Community as a whole.

 

Along with many other individuals and Sikh organizations, I have been working with the Sikh Council of Central California (SCCC) to set the records straight in the school curriculums and content standards which ensures inclusion in the classrooms. The Yuba city Sikh Community, for example, has been paving the way in getting Punjabi classes started in their school districts and also getting the legislation to pass the resolution to make November 2010 Sikh American Awareness and Appreciation Month starting in California. Under the leadership of some selfless individuals and with the support of the Sikh community, I am delighted to report that this endeavor is bearing fruit on both of these fronts.

While the November 2010 Sikh American Awareness and Appreciation Month is great news for the Sikh Community, November is just around the corner and there is a special message for the American Sikh community: Unite and create awareness of who the Sikhs are in your respective communities. Also, please listen to KBIF 900 AM this Sunday to listen to Dr. Jasbir Singh Kang, M.D. of Yuba city’s interview with Punjab News and Views.

A friend of mine, former professor and alumni of U.C. Berkeley- Dr. Onkar Singh Bindra – just sent me the details of resolution No. 181 (California Sikh American Awareness and Appreciation Month), introduced on August 2, 2010 by Assembly Member Daniel R. Logue, at the request of Marysville-Yuba City Sikhs. Remember to pass along the message of who the Sikhs are through your words and most importantly, through your actions:

November 2010 Has Been Designated Sikh Awareness & Appreciation Month in California.
Written by Dr. Onkar Singh Bindra

California legislature has unanimously approved the Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 181 (California Sikh American Awareness and Appreciation Month). Introduced on August 2, 2010 by Assembly Member Daniel R. Logue, at the request of Marysville-Yuba City Sikhs, it designates November 2010 as California Sikh American Awareness and Appreciation Month. His press release in appealdemocrat.com states,This is the first time in state history that Sikhs are receiving recognition for their outstanding contributions to California. He added, “month’s designation should serve to honor one of the state’s notable and accomplished communities.”

Resolved by the Assembly of the State of California, the Senate thereof concurring, the resolution reads “ That the Legislature hereby designates the month of November 2010 to be California Sikh American Awareness and Appreciation Month; and be it further Resolved, That the Legislature recognizes and acknowledges the significant contributions made by Californians of Sikh heritage to our state, and by adoption of this resolution, seeks to afford all Californians the opportunity to better understand, recognize, and appreciate the rich history and shared principles of Sikh Americans, their monotheistic religion and the tenets of their faith, and the important role that Sikh Americans play in furthering mutual understanding and respect among all peoples; and be it further Resolved, That the Chief Clerk of the Assembly transmit copies of this resolution to the author for appropriate distribution to the Members of the Legislature, members of the California Sikh American community, and other interested persons.”

The resolution, it is hoped, “would recognize and acknowledge the significant contributions made by Californians of Sikh heritage to California and afford all Californians the opportunity to understand, recognize, and appreciate the rich history, shared principles, religion, faith, and role Sikh Americans play in furthering mutual understanding and respect among all peoples.”

The following provided a justification for the resolution.

  1. California and our nation are at once blessed and enriched by the unparalleled diversity of our residents;
  2. Among this unprecedented diversity in California, there reside an estimated 200,000 Americans of Sikh origin, comprising nearly 40 percent of the nation’s estimated Sikh population;
  3. Sikh immigrants have resided in California for more than a century, with the first Sikh immigrants believed to have labored on railroad construction projects, in lumber mills, and in the agricultural heartlands of the Sacramento, San Joaquin, and Imperial Valleys;
  4. The first Sikh temple (Gurdwara) in California was established in Stockton in 1912, and Sikh temples have since been established in communities throughout California;
  5. While Sikh Americans have distinguished themselves in numerous areas of endeavor, they have demonstrated particular success in the areas of agriculture, trucking, medicine, and in the creation of small, family-owned businesses;
  6. Yuba City, California, boasts the largest population one of the largest confirmed populations of Sikh and Punjabi Americans in the nation;
  7. Dalip Singh Saund was the first Sikh American and Asian American member of the United States Congress;
  8. Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind struggled and fought for Asian Indians to be allowed to become American citizens;
  9. Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany of Palo Alto is acknowledged by many to be the father of fiber optics;
  10. Sikh Americans have served as mayors of California cities, including David Dhillon in El Centro, Gurpal Samra in Livingston, Amarpreet “Ruby” Dhaliwal in San Joaquin, and Kashmir Singh Gill in Yuba City, and numerous Sikh Americans have served as council members of California cities;
  11. The Sikh and Punjabi American communities of California continue to make important contributions to our state and nation;
  12. Sikh Americans City throughout California celebrates the coronation day of Sikh Scripture as Guru Gaddi Divas, along with parades in cities across California, the largest being held in Yuba City on the first Sunday of every November.

There is not much time left before November 2010. I urge all Sikh organizations in California (Gurdwara Managements, Cultural Associations, Sikh Students Associations in California, Jakara, Sikh Foundation, SALDEF, Sikh Coalition, United Sikhs, World Sikh Council – America Region (WSC-AR), Punjabi American Heritage Society (PAHS), Sikh Council of Central California (SCCC), KBIF900AM PunjabNewsandViews other Sikh organizations, and Sikh intellectuals to consider it their duty to arrange functions for awareness and appreciation of Sikhs in November 2010 throughout California. Museums, Libraries, School Districts and Media (TV, radio, print media, internet media – Blogs, twitter, Facebook) can all help. I recommend the use of PBS Sikh videos like “Meet the Sikhs”, “Sikhs in America”, and “A Dream in Doubt” etc., and Kaur Foundation’s “Cultural Safari”. Further, we need to hold open houses, exhibitions, seminars etc. and invite neighbors and teachers, and to hold teacher appreciation functions.  Furthermore, we must participate in Veterans Day Parade on Nov. 11 (Displaying a life-size picture of Bhagat Singh Thind, when he was in the United States army during WWI) and in other neighborhood parades, and distribute a brief leaflet about Sikh identity, religion, culture and history in California.

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Discussion:Cradle of Civilization Hit Hard By Ravaging Floods

Posted by on Aug 23, 2010 in Discussion | 1 comment

Flooding in the Indus Valley

Flooding in the Indus Valley

The devastating floods ravaging Pakistan have been written about in various publications, covering aspects such as the displacement of people, loss of homes, lives, illness, and the slow movement of aid. But the particular plight of the farmer is seldom mentioned. I was reading an article by Ashraf Khan in the Associated Press that discusses this matter, “Farmers bear brunt of Pakistans’ deadly floods.” In the article, he points out that in addition to all of the above mentioned problems victims of the floods are facing, farmers have the added pressure of losing their livelihood once they do return to their homes and if they are unable to plant wheat for the winter by September, food shortages in Punjab and Sindh as well as throughout Pakistan will be inevitable.

Floods in the Indus Valley

Floods in the Indus Valley

Indus River to this side of the Himalayas constitutes an integral part of the Indus Valley, “the Cradle of Civilization” and is what The Yellow River is to China and its ancient civilisation on the other side of the Himalayas. The Indus Valley was perhaps the richest in ancient Indian history where man first brought the land under plough.  Like The Yellow River, Indus is both the mother and misery to millions of people who, for their survival, have depended on it for thousands of years since they first inhabited its banks.

Map of Indus Valley

Map of Indus Valley

Under relentless rain, the Indus breached its banks almost along the entire route within Pakistan this time. Homes and people, farms and animals alongwith orchards and crops have been wiped out  as they are washed away without a trace in many instances right from Khyber Pakhtunwa province and southern Punjab down to Sindh and Balochistan.

People displaced fight for bags of wheat

People fight for bags of wheat

Also mentioned in “Farmers bear brunt of Pakistans’ deadly floods, one of the victims of this unprecedented disaster, Razaq, while raising a finger skyward, tells Ashraf Khan that “only a prophet could pass a test as stern as the one we are going through now. It is beyond our capacity. It is coming from Allah.”  When everyone and everything else turns its back, the human heart pins its hope on Almighty God. Since human beings are created in God’s image as all religions teach us, I guess it can be interpreted that the opposite is also  true in such situations. Human beings could become the last refuge for each other in times of dire need. That is what  has happened elsewhere in the recent past when the world governments / communities joined hands during disasters of this magnitude and that should happen here in Pakistan now.

Devinder Singh Saroya sent me a link for an Editorial in The Hindu – Mitigating Pakistan’s Miseries on FaceBook. The editorial goes like this:
“. . . the fury of the floods having subsided, Pakistan still needs help to deal with the aftermath.  A U.N. appeal for $459 million has evoked a disappointing response from the international community. The pledges made so far total only 47 per cent of the target, with the United States and United Kingdom making the most substantial commitments.”

Map of Gujarat Earthquake

Map of Gujarat Earthquake

As the region’s biggest economy, India should have been first off the blocks in offering help to its beleaguered neighbor. Its belated offer of $5 million in relief assistance is a pittance compared to what it has done for other neighbors. At the time of the 2004 tsunami, India went out of its way to provide Sri Lanka with an assistance package of nearly $200 million. Prime Minister Mamohan Singh took the right step by calling his Pakistan counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani on Thursday to express India’s readiness to do more for the relief effort. This rectifies New Delhi’s earlier position that it would give more only if Pakistan responded positively to the “initial offer,” which was as narrow-minded as Islamabad’s response that it was yet to decide whether or not to accept Indian assistance.

Despite strained political relations, there have been instances in the past of spontaneous solidarity such as when Pakistan sent relief materials after the Gujarat earthquake and India did the same after the Kashmir earthquake. It is unfortunate that the two countries are letting present animosities come in the way of addressing a humanitarian situation. If Pakistan can accept assistance from other countries, there should be no problem taking it from India. For its part, New Delhi must unreservedly raise the assistance amount, and provide it to Pakistan, if required, as part of the United Nations fund.”

Pakistani Flood Survivor

Pakistani Flood Survivor

Floods caused by an unusually heavy monsoon since July have jolted Pakistan to the hilt . The initial death and destruction as reported may follow with even bigger disasters by the spread of diseases and famine, usually associated in the aftermath if help is delayed from the outside or does not reach all the needy inside the affected areas on time due to mismanagement, politics or whatever reason. Time is running out fast for those millions marooned in Pakistan. My heart goes out to the honorable, hard working farmers and their families who have lost all they had and are reduced to destitutes, begging for food and shelter overnight through no fault of their own.

When all is said and done, there has to be a silver linning to this dreadful dark cloud of awful human tragedy brought about by these out of control rain waters as opposed to the havoc caused by the salty seas during the tsunami. Fresh water is the most precious commodity; even more precious than the oil as the time goes by. The fresh water is disappearing fast beneath the surface in this part of the world; as fast as oil is in the Middle East . By overcoming this mamoth human tragedy and moving  past this nightmare caused by the excessive rainwater, if managed properly through imaginative river management policy / plan as a national priority, it almost guarantees the replenishing of its tired soils and recharging its exhausted aquifer for the future. That way, the Indus valley civilization can go on being supported as it has been for the past thousands of years.

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