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The Sikh Student Association (SSA) hosted around 100 University of Michigan students and community members Sunday evening in the William Monroe Trotter Multicultural Center to celebrate Vaisakhi, a Sikh holiday. The event was co-sponsored by the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs (MESA), and individuals of all religious identities were encouraged to attend.

The Sikh faith is a monotheistic religion, meaning that followers of Sikhism only worship one God. Equality among all of God’s creations regardless of race or social standing and the freedom to choose and practice religion freely are core beliefs in the Sikh faith.

Sikh music filled the room throughout Sunday’s event, and attendees were treated to a traditional Sikh dinner. The menu included cha, mango lassi, samosas, paneer and Gulab Jamun, a solid milk-based dessert.

LSA senior Ramneet Chauhan, SSA co-chair, said Vaisakhi is a multifaceted event for her student organization. She said Vaisakhi is both religiously and culturally significant for those who identify as Sikh.

“For Punjabis, this event is a Harvest festival, and for Sikhs, it is the birth of the Khalsa, which is a festival set by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699,” Ramneet Chauhan said. “Basically, we are celebrating both the religious side and the cultural sides for this event.”

The SSA members gave a presentation to the audience about the Sikh religion throughout history and into the present day. Sikhism is currently the fifth-largest religion in the world, with about 25 million followers worldwide. Sikhism centers around the idea of oneness within humanity, equality for all and Seva — the act of selfless service and helping others without personal gain.

LSA sophomore Gurleen Chauhan, who will be co-chair of the SSA board next year, shared an informational presentation about the holiday. Every year on April 13 or 14, Vaisakhi commemorates Sikhism becoming a recognized faith, Gurleen Chauhan said. During the first Vaisakhi festival, Guru Gobind Singh challenged any Sikh to give his life for their faith. Five men went with him, and when they returned, they were made immortal by the Guru’s baptism ceremony, Gurleen Chauhan said.

Besides its religious implications, Vaisakhi celebrates the harvest season in Punjab, India and the coming of a new year in the Nanakshahi calendar. It is often celebrated by participation in Bhangra, Giddha and Gatka, different styles of dance and martial arts. 

After the presentation, members of the U-M Sikh community proceeded to perform Gatka, a Sikh martial arts routine. Set to lively music, the performers took turns wielding different weapons including sticks, swords and kirpans.

Music professor Inderjit Kaur then gave a presentation on the significance of repeating lyrics in Sikh music. Kaur played a video of a song called “Gurbani Kirtan” and spoke about the relationship between music and the human body to demonstrate the power of repetition in Sikh music.

“The way to imbue a body with singing is to sing in such a way that the ethical values from the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh scripture) become a part of us,” Kaur said. “So the technique that is given to us to do this is repetition. If you keep repeating (a song), it’s not static. That repetition has motion, movement. It changes us.”

LSA junior Simran Randhawa, who will be co-chair of the SSA board next year, said she hopes events like Vaisakhi will help raise awareness about future SSA events and make it clear they are accessible to people of all religious backgrounds who want to learn more about the Sikh faith.

“Having more people at our events and having more frequent events is something that we’ve tried to work on this year, and we obviously want to continue our work next year,” Randhawa said.

Daily Staff Reporter Sejal Patil can be reached at