Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ) invites all communities to unite in prayers for peace during the festive season. The organisation has facilitated and organised eleven day prayer services for the benefit of all humanity twice every year since 1976. This year is even more poigniant in light of recent events carried out by misguided people in the name of faith
Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, literally means ‘A body of people, dedicated to selfless service, in the name of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of the Sikh Dharam’ (faith). The humble endeavour is to practice and promote Dharam and optimism through selfless service for the welfare of all. The word Nishkam means being committed to the practice of selflessness – going beyond oneself to unlock infinite potential to do more for the common good. Nishkam sewa can be described as the practice of voluntary service, without expectation of either monetary or even spiritual gain, as well as selflessly helping and providing benevolence to the needy.
It was in this spirit that an enlightened soul Sant Baba Puran Singh Ji, known affectionately as Baba Ji, founded GNNSJ in East Africa during the 1940s. Baba Ji’s left for their heavenly abode in 1983 and their successor, another blessed soul, Bhai Sahib Bhai Norang Singh embraced and continued the Nishkam legacy in the early 1980’s. From these beginnings, GNNSJ has become a recognised faith based organisation with Gurudwaras in the UK, India and Kenya. It has an estimated one million members worldwide, and since 1995 has been guided by its present Spiritual Leader and Chairman, Bhai Sahib, Bhai (Dr) Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia.
With almost 40 years of spiritual development and enrichment, the Gurudwara on Soho Road, Handsworth (Sikh place of worship) is at the heart and soul of GNNSJ’s activities. The Gurudwara started from humble beginnings as two houses previously Polish club on Soho Road in 1976. Following a concerted community effort redevelopment and refurbishment by devotees, the Gurudwara opened in 1977. The area has lovingly been regenerated and many refer to it as ‘the gateway to Soho Road’. GNNSJ has made a commitment and pledge to the inner-city area of Handsworth in an effort to uplift and regenerate the locality and also the people that reside within it. This cannot simply be done through bricks and mortar, albeit this is financially a big investment and requirement, GNNSJ has invested and lead in social capital, volunteers, civic renewal, education, capacity building, relationship building and holding civil partners to account for their actions. As a recognised trusted ambassador for the locality GNNSJ is able represent, liaise and negotiate on behalf of the local population through its facets in the Nishkam group of organisations.
Since 1976, prayers have continuously been read each day within the Gurudwara, and specifically, prayers for world peace have been held bi-annually. The Sampat Akhand Path is 11 days in length, consisting of the continuous reading of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, the Sikh eternal revered living timeless Guru and scriptures. Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji takes approximately 48 hours to complete when read continuously. The Sampat shabad, a specific verse taken from the scriptures, is read in between each line or sentence. This shabad metaphorically acts as a priceless box, encasing each verse of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, allowing us to absorb its meaning and essence.
The Sampat shabad being recited in this December program is Bhairao, Fifth Mehla and whilst translation is a poor substitute, the essence of the shabad is:
You are my Father, and You are my Mother.
You are my Soul, my Breath of Life, the Giver of Peace.
You are my Lord and Master; I am Your slave.
Without You, I have no one at all. ||1||
Please bless me with Your Mercy, God, and give me this gift,
that I may sing Your Praises, day and night. ||1||Pause||
I am Your musical instrument, and You are the Musician.
I am Your beggar; please bless me with Your charity, O Great Giver.
By Your Grace, I enjoy love and pleasures.
You are deep within each and every heart. ||2||
By Your Grace, I chant the Name.
In the Saadh Sangat, the Company of the Holy, I sing Your Glorious Praises.
In Your Mercy, You take away our pains.
By Your Mercy, the heart-lotus blossoms forth. ||3||
I am a sacrifice to the Divine Guru.
The Blessed Vision of His Darshan is fruitful and rewarding; His service is immaculate and pure.
Be Merciful to me, O my Lord God and Master,
that Nanak may continually sing Your Glorious Praises. ||4||18||31||
The 11 day prayer is done on behalf of Sarbat Da Bhalla (the welfare and good will of all humanity) Sikhs believe that humanitarian work can be done in many ways, but specifically by invoking God’s blessings. The bi-annual prayers were initiated by GNNSJ’s founder and spiritual leader, Sant Baba Puran Singh Ji and are held at the end of July and in December, just before the New Year. These are times when most of the community can come together because of school holidays and the annual festive holidays. In Sikh history the month of December is notable for the many sacrifices and martyrdoms that occurred on behalf of righteousness and faith. So this is a period of reflection and remembrance for the 27 million Sikhs worldwide.
The reading and service of Guru Granth Sahib Ji in the Darbar Sahib (Guru’s Court/prayer hall) requires approximately 800 volunteer hours. This does not include all the regular volunteers that help to maintain, run and support the Gurudwara’s other activities. For example, the volunteers needed for langar (free kitchen where blessed food is freshly prepared and served) where approximately 25,000 meals are served every week.
The prayers undertaken for the benefit of the welfare and well-being of all humanity is a humble demonstration of the belief in the power of prayer. It is imperative that people of faith remain steadfast in their faith especially when faith is perceived as a problem not a solution. Faith should promote and lead to greater cohesion and not be seen as a defining or differentiating barrier. A very significant and relevant project that Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh is currently leading on is the Museum of World’s Religions which will bring together in one place all the major faiths of the world. Currently, there is one museum of this type in Taipei and an international group of trustees is now working on a similar project in Birmingham. The project will be an opportunity to celebrate differences whilst promoting cohesion, unity, sacred space, values, sacred text and learnings, cultures and heritage.
Bhai Sahib Ji, the third in line of Sikh religious leaders of GNNSJ and since 1995, Chairman of the Nishkam Group of Organisations, is active in religious practice and propagation; social regeneration; heritage conservation; education, health and infrastructure development. He is passionate about empowering individuals and organisations with common religious values, through selfless service, education and exposure.
Bhai Sahib Ji’s other notable undertakings include:
· Spearheading the upgrading of the Holy Takhat of Patna. This is the birthplace of the Tenth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh Ji (1666) and for the 350th anniversary several million pilgrims are expected from Oct 2016 – Jan 2017 for which preparations are being made.
• The Charter for Forgiveness and Reconciliation,
• The development and establishment of ground-breaking Sikh ethos multi-faith school trust operating four state-funded schools in the UK. faith inspired education trust,
• Restoration and beautification of sacred shrines in India,
• Working on international peace initiatives as one of fifty co-presidents and trustees of Religions for Peace (RfP) International.