Sikhs in Wolverhampton celebrate 550 years of Guru Nanak

By Satnam Rana & Riyah Collins
BBC News

Image caption,
Celebrations have been taking place at Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Wolverhampton

Sikhs around the world are joining together to celebrate 550 years since the birth of Guru Nanak - the religion's first guru and founder.

In Wolverhampton, home to one of the UK's largest Sikh populations, the BBC joined worshippers at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara just outside the city centre, for celebrations.

It started early - while most were still in bed, when food for worshippers and visitors was prepared en masse.

The celebration marks Guru Nanak's birthday, chosen on the day of the full moon in Kartika - the month in the Hindu calendar that typically corresponds with October and November.

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Gurdeep Singh Aulakh said the 550th birthday was a key milestone

Gurdwara committee member Gurdeep Singh Aulakh said: "550 years is a key milestone - I don't think I'll see 600 years.

"Part of our faith is when parents teach their children to go to the Gurdwara. It is somewhere they can learn Punjabi so they can understand the holy book.

"They also learn to work together, to be a team member. It is a message of love."

Vand Chhakana - sharing with others - is one of Sikhism's guiding principles; and the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara was preparing Langar, the giving of free food, for the thousands of expected guests.

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Nirmal Singh Bains was among the Langar volunteers

Nirmal Singh Bains had been making food since 03:30.

He said working in the kitchen made him feel "fresh and happy".

Mr Bains arrived in Wolverhampton on Boxing Day 1964 and joined the Gurdwara the following year, coming to volunteer every day - sometimes allowing himself a lie-in until 04:00 at weekends.

The former British Steel and Goodyear Tyre employee said Wolverhampton had undergone "lots of change" since he first arrived.

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Women making chapattis, with 15 25kg bags of flour, each enough to make 6,000 of the flatbreads

He said he was clean-shaven for 10 years after arriving, because of people's reactions. The Sikh principle of Kesh prevents the removal of body hair, because it is considered sacred.

Mr Bains added it was much better to be a Sikh in the city today and he would "never leave".

Younger members of the congregation also came to help.

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Harman and Karim Sandhu said it was a big occasion

Karim Sandhu and his brother, Harman, had come in for prayer and Langar before heading to university and school.

Karim, who is studying biomedical science at Birmingham City University, said: "It is a big occasion and should be celebrated.

"Being a British Sikh gives us a unique identity."

He said he tried to bring Sikh principles into daily life by working hard towards his dream of being a doctor, and always being generous if he saw friends in need of help.

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Brothers Dylan, 11, and Aryan, six, helped with the washing up and prayed before school

Sikhism is one of the world's youngest religions. Its founder, Guru Nanak, born in 1469, was a wandering teacher from Talwandi, near Lahore, in what is now northern Pakistan.

The religion spread around the world, with an estimated 30 million Sikhs worldwide.

Many settled in Wolverhampton where latest figures estimate they make up nearly 10% of the city's population - almost 23,000 people.

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Sonam Aujla was born and raised in Wolverhampton

Sonam Aujla has been coming to Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara since she was a child.

"It is really nice to see everyone getting together," she said.

Ms Aujla said she had stopped coming to the Gurdwara for some time due to other things in her life, such as work.

But she made it her New Year's Resolution to come at least once a week.

"Recently I've been trying to make [the Sikh principles] part of my life and I've seen a change - I'm much more relaxed," she said.

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Manpreet Bhara said her children loved learning about Sikhism

Manpreet Bhara added: "It feels so pure and so relaxing; it is the first thing I have done today. I've started with a blessing.

"It means a lot to me, it is a special day and it means a lot to my children, too. They love being Sikh and learning about Sikhism."

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Almost 23,000 Sikhs live in Wolverhampton

Celebrations are taking place across the world. However, it is particularly special for pilgrims to The Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, an important Sikh shrine in Pakistan, where Guru Nanak spent his final years.

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The Kartarpur corridor was opened up by the Pakistani government, enabling Indian pilgrims to walk to the shrine through its territory, hailed as a significant development for relationships between the two countries.

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Gurdwaras all over the country are taking part in the celebrations, including in Leamington Spa

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