Washington, DC – The Indian Embassy here on Saturday, May 18 hosted the inaugural exhibit of Sondeep Shankar’s photo exhibition, “The Sikhs: A heritage of Valour and Devotion,” which provides a glimpse of Sikh heritage and traditions, at the Gandhi Memorial Center in Washington, DC.
In an exclusive interview, after inaugurating the exhibition, Nirupama Rao, Indian Ambassador to the United States, told India America Today, “We felt it was necessary to illustrate the very unique heritage of the Sikh religion and the Sikh community.”
Ambassador Rao noted that in India there are 25 million Sikhs, 65 percent of the population in the state of Punjab, stressing, “They are part of us. They are part of India. They are part of our heritage.”
Citing the example of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Ambassador Rao said, “There are many more examples of Sikhs who have risen to the top of the echelons of India. They have contributed greatly to our freedom, to our independence and to our integrity as a nation. That is what we wanted to showcase.”
On the global journey of the exhibition, Ambassador Rao said, “It was in England and the Nehru Center in London had organized it. It has traveled in different parts of Europe also and now has come to America. It was in Atlanta last month in April and our Consul General Ajit Kumar had hosted the exhibition and it was very well received. Now it has come here and then it will travel to the other parts of the world also.”
“The Sikh Heritage exhibition that is being organized by the Indian Embassy in the Gandhi Memorial Center in Washington is part of an ongoing effort which is being directed by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations to enable this exhibition of photographs by Sondeep Shankar, one of our most eminent photojournalists to travel to different parts of the world and it has been in this traveling circuit for almost a year now,” added Rao.
Sikhism, established in the 16th century, is just over 500 years old. Its teachings are founded on the philosophy of humanism, pluralism and universal brotherhood. It was deeply influenced by the Bhakti movement and synthesized liberal traditions of all religions prevalent in India at that time.
Prabhjot Singh Kohli, Chairperson of the Guru Nanak Foundation of America, gave India America Today a glimpse into the exhibit of Sikhism and its principles.
While showing the legacy of 500 years of Sikhs, “Starting from the original places, the original language, original seal and original Hukamnamas which were orders of the day given by different Gurus,” the exhibition gives the visitor a broad vantage of all the history, philosophy, religious and spiritual aspects of the Sikh religion, said Kohli.
The photographs can’t adequately display everything about Sikhism, but Kohli said the exhibition, however, “makes you aware of what is so basic about this culture.”
Sikhism is a universal brotherhood which does not believe in evangelizing, but instead prompts everyone to be good in their religion. “They do not say that everybody should become a Sikh. They say if you are a Muslim, be a good Muslim; if you are a Hindu, be a good Hindu and if you are a Christian, be a good Christian. For that you need tolerance. We think we are all sons of God and if we are sons of God then there should be no discrimination based on caste, creed or religion,” said Kohli.
Kohli summed up three basics of Sikhism:
1. Naam Japo, meaning recite the name of the god irrespective of who is your god. That means to stay in touch with the god all the time.
2. Kirat Karo means you work hard. I am proud to say this fact – that you will not find a Sikh beggar in India. Second part of this is to be a house holder, to fulfill one’s duties to the society and not vanish in the jungles and mountains to hide from the society.
3. Wand Chako, which is one should share one’s wealth with others. It doesn’t mean to give it to a Gurdwara (a Sikh temple) or a Mandir (a Hindu temple). If one starts feeding people on the streets, the homeless, that means I am sharing. If I share with my neighbor who might be in trouble, that is sharing.
Sondeep Shankar’s photo exhibition, The Sikhs: A heritage of Valour and Devotion, provides a glimpse of rich Sikh heritage and traditions. For more than two decades, Shankar has roamed the length and breadth of India in an effort to photographically document the heritage of Sikhism. The exhibit is sponsored by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.
Following the inauguration on May 18, the exhibition will be on display through Friday, May 31, 2013. It may be viewed on Fridays and Saturdays from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM or by appointment.