Sarjit Kaur | Malacca, Malaysia | Asia Samachar | 23 May 2015
Columnist Sarjit Kaur shares the sights and moments at the 43rd Sant Baba Sohan Singh Ji’s Yadgahr Salaana programme in Malacca, Malaysia. This is easily the largest annual Sikh gathering in Southeast Asia. The photographs were also taken by her.
I felt the vibration, rush through my fingers. My pulse was beating in my pressed palms. The LED projector flashed meanings of the kirtan verses as the Jatha took us through a rhythmic and soulful journey. People carrying ghee tins, ladoos and apples in boxes, make a beeline as they come to matatekh.
We are in Malacca Gurdwara in conjunction with the 43rd Sant Baba Sohan Singh Ji’s Yadgahr Salaana Jordmela or commonly known as ‘Sant Sohan Malacca Barsi’. Born in the Fatehwalli village in India, Sant Baba Sohan was a highly respected Sikh missionary whose selfless service and exemplary life inspired and created spiritual awakening amongst Sikhs. He reached out to many people and traveled all over Malaysia and Singapore. He built a people-connection, that remains a legacy today.
Many folks in Malacca including Dad were close to Babaji. My sister shared that we had the privilege of having him join us for dinner sometimes, where he would come to our house in a beca rickshaw. Mum would prepare saag and keraylay or stuffed bitter gourd with chapattis. He used to sit on the menja or Punjabi woven bed in the Malacca Gurdwara and people would come and relate their pains and challenges. Everyone had a story to tell. He would be their shoulder to cry on. Babaji would listen and pray for them. He touched so many lives.
People from all walks of life and various states in Malaysia would come for the prayers in Malacca Gurdwara. Guru Ka Langgar or the Kitchen hall is open to all races. Non Sikhs and foreigners cover their heads with bandana or head gear while they diligently queue for a taste of soulful food. People take the opportunity to catch up with family and friends over cha or meals. As for us Malacca folks, we come back to our roots and reconnect.
Structurally, we have seen the Gurdwara evolved from its humble beginnings with two narrow lanes as pathway, to its massively expanded area today to cater for the increasing Sangat during the Malacca programme. Plots of land were strategically purchased from neighbouring old shoplot owners over the years, thanks to the foresight and vision of the Malacca Gurdwara Committee. Turning the area into a community hall for example, with a thought through layout with some open concepts, may allow the area to be put to use all year around. Something to think about.
I recall my early days of Barsi back in the 80s, which saw us queueing to have our bath in the wee hours of the morning, in wooden plank flooring bathrooms. Sometimes our famous Lux soap would conveniently slip between the gaps of the plank and disappear, and so you settle for just cold water! We peacefully fought for spaces to sleep within the premise of the Gurdwara and like a nomad, our places change each night.
Today, we have the luxury of checking into a comfortable hotel within 100 meters from the Gurdwara. We diligently make our hotel payment for the following year’s Barsi dates, to avoid disappointment. The Salaana Yaadgri weekend sees Malacca hotels especially those within the vicinity, taken up like hot cakes! Because of the high demand, the week is declared a peak period and hotel rates are equally aligned.
Food offering and sewa opportunities are always in abundance. I enjoy the sight of kids serving drinks and food on raised phetis or platforms, washing plates with their favourite water companion and attempting at cutting fruits and vegetables. Early conditioning on sewa takes place here and it becomes their perfect training ground.
To a ‘Serve others before thy’ upbringing that may change their lives forever. Cutting styles improve over time, plates are less oily after certain quality control checks and food is served with a firm hand.
On the back scenes, we have Master Chefs overlooking of our cutting of vegetables and stirring exercise. These are top notch talent who are dedicated to the cooking sewa! Year after year, we see them labouring over various dishes without fail. Strangers become our friends through little conversations we strike during sewa. They cut through generations and background.
This year, we had the Indonesian Sikhs on the duty roster for Friday’s lunch. They prepared dhall, gado-gado with peanut sauce, fried shredded potato strips and french beans with mushroom with much delight. They were very much at home with our Malaysian hospitality. Food was awesome! The camaraderie at a regional level is commendable.
Changes were introduced by the new Gurdwara Committee to enhance approach and processes. For example, canopies were fixed from the entrance of the Gurdwara right up to the washing area, to shelter people from the rain. Non Sikhs and newbies to the program, were amazed at the way the whole place and activities were organised.
Those who bring sweets and food, share with the Sangat with much affection. To them, its a mark of their gratefulness to Waheguru for answering their prayer. Couples wanting a baby; students aspiring to do well in their final exams; those with medical issues come here and pray. Conversations with God take place intensely. And it always feels good, seeing them come back the following year, with their vows fulfilled.
Roti for the Soul is a column on life and its quirks. Sarjit Kaur is a wife, mother and an official at the Malaysian stock exchange.
Lighted rickshaws at Malacca semagam (Asia Samachar, 22 May 2015)
A friend of Baba Sohan Singh (Asia Samachar, 20 May 2015)