Yuba City Sikh Festival, Part 1

I must confess this synopsis is months overdue, and that this particular post is weeks overdue (I’m not doing so well at my one-post-a-week average), but I’m about to take you on a tour of a festival that took place at the Sikh Temple of Yuba City, est. 1969, on the closing weekend of last October. There will be a map, pictures, and foreign words that I will define for you.

November 1, 2015, marked the 36th annual Yuba City Nagar Kirtan, or Sikh festival and parade that draws roughly 100,000 Sikhs from all around the world to this small Northern California city. The parade, of course, is the main event, but the festival, held on the temple grounds of the Sikh Temple of Yuba City, is a treasure trove of its own. Vendors, charitable organizations, political foundations, media companies, and other gurdwaras erect tents throughout the temple grounds to provide free meals to festivalgoers, catch up on and debate the political happenings of Indian Punjab and global Punjab (though, as diasporic communities tend to do, they focus mostly on the homeland), and buy and sell clothes, art, books, and so on.

Let us begin the photo tour.

To avoid getting completely lost, I’ll work from the top and move down.

 An annotated overhead view of the Yuba City Sikh Temple grounds, made possible by Google.

An annotated overhead view of the Yuba City Sikh Temple grounds, made possible by Google.

1. Sugarcane was provided courtesy of the Sikh Temple of Live Oak in the town just north of Yuba City. Sugarcane is a staple crop of Punjab, and sugarcane juice is a preferred summer beverage of North India, especially during the summer months (having been to Punjab and lived in New Delhi during the summer, I can attest this is true). The stalks are put through a grinder, squeezing the juice. See below:

The sugarcane grinder in full swing. The juice is mixed with lime and served in Styrofoam cups, the choice cup for all of global Punjab.

The sugarcane grinder in full swing. The juice is mixed with lime and served in Styrofoam cups, the choice cup for all of global Punjab.

2. The ice cream was soft serve.

3. Langar, or the Guru’s free kitchen, is one of the cornerstones of the Sikh faith. Langar has been a central element of the religion since Guru Nanak (1469-1539), and his wife, Mata Khivi ji, was one of the early distributors of food. The practice continues today, and most gurdwaras are equipped with large enough kitchens that food is prepared all day long. The meals are standard Punjabi vegetarian food (vegetarian so as not to exclude any other religious community for dietary restrictions), – lentils, flatbread, a yogurt dish, a vegetable dish, some sweet dish – though for special occasions like Nagar Kirtan, the full array of Punjabi snacks emerges: pakoras (fried vegetable fritters), samosas, sweet chili flavor Doritos, chili cheese flavor Fritos, and so on. All langar, of course, is free (I would have not made it through college otherwise).

Frontal view of some langar tents. Note the allusion to martyrs - this is a central idea in contemporary Sikhism, especially in relation to the Indian government.

Frontal view of some langar tents. Note the allusion to martyrs – this is a central idea in contemporary Sikhism, especially in relation to the Indian government.

Alternate angle of langar tents. The banner on the right reads "sarbat da bhala," - may good come to all - which is the closing line of the faith's main prayer, the Ardas. On right, the banner reads "Guru ka langar" - the Guru's free kitchen.

Alternate angle of langar tents. The banner on the right reads “sarbat da bhala,” – may good come to all – which is the closing line of the faith’s main prayer, the Ardas. On right, the banner reads “Guru ka langar” – the Guru’s free kitchen.

4. Dashmesh Hall is a separate hall that holds parallel service when the main hall is at capacity. It also hosted a lecture series during the festival weekend, which I’ll discuss in a future post.

5. The TV stations represented at the festival (aside from Mike Luery of KCRA 3 news on the day of the parade) were all offering Punjabi channel packages through Dish TV: Alpha Punjabi, Jus Broadcasting, TV 84, etc. The media companies offering these packages are based mostly out of the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area, where a considerable segment of the Punjabi contingent in America lives. Satellite television is one of the main sources of cohesion among just about any diasporic community, as Punjabi TV offers a major platform for reporting on the homeland, broadcasting prayer services from Amritsar, and promoting local events, stores, concerts, etc. Television (for the masses) and Punjabi newspapers (for those still literate in Punjabi) provide the community some of its strongest sources of cohesion and connectedness to home.

6. The Khalistan Tent and Khalistan Stand will be discussed in a future post.

7. Gatka, or a major form of sword-based martial arts in Sikhism, was held on a small square of the temple grounds during the day of the festival. Of course, PVC pipe painted silver was used instead of actual swords.

Gatka held on the final day of the festival. The previous day, a day-long gatka tournament was held elsewhere in Yuba City, but I was not able to attend.

Gatka held on the final day of the festival (Sunday, November 1). The previous day (Saturday, October 31), a day-long gatka tournament was held elsewhere in Yuba City, but I was not able to attend.

8. The charity stands represented charities in both California and Punjab, from local outreach groups to a home for orphans in Ludhiana, Punjab.

9. The shops are the main draw of the temple grounds during festival week, particularly the blankets (which my cousin says are great because they aren’t prone to pilling in a Sikh’s mane). Other products include graphic tees and sweatshirts that honor Sikh martial character, Punjab and its martyrs, the dream of Khalistan, and so on (the t-shirts might be subject matter for a future post, if I’m inclined).

The blankets were the main draw of the shops. They came in a wide array of designs and patterns, including floral prints, animal designs, and a 49ers print (though I told my cousin to not get a 49ers blanket because it would leave him cold).

The blankets were the main draw of the shops. They came in a wide array of designs and patterns, including floral prints, animal designs, and a 49ers print (though I told my cousin to not get a 49ers blanket because it would leave him cold).

Another angle of the shops. The Amritsar Jn. sign is a reference to Amritsar's main train station, and, in India, trains are the people's form of transit (unless you're traveling within Punjab, then it's the bus).

Another angle of the shops. The Amritsar Jn. sign is a reference to Amritsar’s main train station, and, in India, trains are the people’s form of transit (unless you’re traveling within Punjab, then it’s the bus).

10. I make special mention of turban tying because the tent was organized by my own family. My cousin Tejinder organized a team of turban tying experts who measured, cut, stretched, and washed fabric so it could be tied on each passerby as a fresh turban. Local newspaper Appeal-Democrat posted a video of the process as well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zcu71dixrcs.

Me, getting a turban tied. Directly behind me is Tejinder, sporting her remarkably fly orange-and-purple suit.

Me, getting a turban tied. Directly behind me is Tejinder, sporting her remarkably fly orange-and-purple suit.

That’s a wrap! There will be several more posts to come about the happenings on the temple grounds, along with a discussion of some happenings in Punjab that underpinned the political mood of the festival. Stay tuned.