Nagar Kirtan at Yuba City, CA

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80,000 attend Yuba City's Nagar Kirtan Sunday November 5, 2006

Sikh Temple Gurdwara, Yuba City USA

JS Bedi

India Post News Service

YUBA CITY: This year's 27th Annual Nagar Kirtan was a double celebration- Gur Gaddi Diwas and Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji's Gurpurab. It brought together an estimated eighty thousand people including devotees from all over the country, Canada and even as far as UK and Australia.

The three-day religious extravaganza commenced Friday November 3. The first day began with Nishan Sahib Sewa and then Paath of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Friday evening ended with a spectacular display of fireworks.

Sat Nov 4 was devoted to a seminar that brought together leading luminaries. Sutter County Supervisor Jim Whittaker spoke on contemporary issues whilst Yuba High School Principal Dr. Mario Johnson spoke on the high academic achievements and discipline of Sikh students. Hari Jiwan Singh Khalsa spoke on spirituality and on "if you don't see God in all you don't see God at all."

Jassi Kaur of I.I.G.S in her address emphasized on the relevance of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji's teachings on modern life.

Dr Onkar Singh urged the Sikh community to stand up against an objectionable picture of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji in a book published by Oxford Publications.

There was an open house and the day ended with kirtan by eminent Raagi Jathas from all over the USA, Canada, UK and India. There were also speeches on religious and political issues.

Sunday Nov 5 was the grand finale of the celebrations- the Nagar Kirtan. This annual event has put Yuba City on the world map. Also known as the Annual Sikh Parade, the Nagar Kirtan is a religious parade (jaloose) comprising over forty floats.

The city woke to a chilly and a foggy morning. There was hectic activity at the Terra Buena gurudwara with the final touches to the floats in preparation for the mid morning Nagar Kirtan.

The fog lifted, ushering in a bright sunny day. By about ten in the morning the gurudwara was packed with more people coming in as the morning progressed.

The parade began at about 11 a.m. Leading the Nagar Kirtan were the Panj Pyaras. The faithful flocked to set a darshan of the main leading float. Chants of "Waheguru" and "Bole So Nihal" rent the air. Following the main float were about fifty floats, each representing a Singh Sabha or Gurudwara, Sikh Student Association of individual University Campus, etc. All the floats were ornately decorated in themes that reflected the vibrant nature of Sikh Culture, Sikhism and of the Sikh way of life. Some floats also carried depictions of the Sikh struggle against tyranny- both historical and contemporary.

Langar is an essential part of the Sikh Culture. An estimated 250,000 meals were served at the gurudwara during the weekend. There was an abundance of food, snacks, hot and cold beverages, milk, fruit- it was endless. There was sugar cane juice being served to the Sangat- juice extracted from a machine imported from Punjab.

In addition to the gurudwara langar, people had set up their own langars along the parade route serving food, fruit, snacks and hot & cold beverages to the people. Pick up trucks loaded with cans & bottles of cold drinks were parked alongside and volunteers went about serving the sangat.

Inside the Gurudwara compound, there was a bazaar where vendors had set up stalls to sell items ranging from religious artifacts, books, jewelry, audio-video, paintings, clothes- just about everything. There was also a photo exhibition on the era of State terrorism in Punjab, Operation Bluestar and the 1984 carnage. These were gruesome pictures that brought alive vivid memories of the eighties in Punjab.

The media was there in strength. Local television stations ran a live telecast of the parade. Comcast and the other TV stations covered the parade extensively. The print media was there too- reporters of local dailies and of course the Punjabi media.

Yuba City is essentially a rural town with a population of about forty thousand.

Ten to fifteen percent of the population is Indian, primarily Sikh. Had it not been for them, Yuba City would have been just another unoteable town in the boonies of Northern California. Two mammoth events, the Annual Nagar Kirtan (held first Sunday of November) and the Annual Punjabi American Festival (held last Sunday of May) have put this little town in international spotlight.

The annual Nagar Kirtan adds an estimated 20 million dollars to the local economy.

Eighty thousand people visit the town on a single day and they spend big bucks; buying gas, paying hotel bills, eating out etc.

Kar Sewa leaves none of the typical litered aftermath of other 'Indian' melas

There was strong emphasis on sanitation and cleanliness. Whilst there were trash cans all over, volunteers went around with trash bags collecting trash. These would then end up on pick up trucks to be dumped at a pre-determined site. There was none of that littering that is so typical of Indian events - especially the melas in Southern California where the parks are left so filthy that the city has had second thoughts in renting out the place the next time.

There was a tight security cordon but it did not interfere with the celebrations. An alleged Al Qaida threat had the Police and security agencies on full alert but happily nothing happened. It is also imperative to add that the rumors of an Al Qaida threat did not deter the faithful.

"They should send the Sikhs to Afghanistan…. they'll find him in no time and drag him out of whatever cave he is hiding in," said one devotee in reference to Osama Bin Laden.

This year also saw people from all over the country and Canada. People drove down in their cars whilst others came in busloads. There were also visitors from UK who had flown in just for this day. This is considered to be the biggest gathering of not just Sikhs, but of Indians outside India.