Baisakhi Celebration – A First in Montgomery County

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April 23, 2012

Special By Geeta Goindi

Rockville, April 21 – On a balmy Saturday afternoon, Montgomery County honored the rich legacy and contributions of its Sikh community by celebrating ‘Baisakhi’, a Spring harvest and religious festival in India, for the very first time. 

April 23, 2012

Special By Geeta Goindi

Rockville, April 21 – On a balmy Saturday afternoon, Montgomery County honored the rich legacy and contributions of its Sikh community by celebrating ‘Baisakhi’, a Spring harvest and religious festival in India, for the very first time. 

The event, organized by the County’s Cultural and Ethnic Affairs Committee with the Office of Community Partnerships, in close collaboration with the Kaur Foundation, was so successful that it will now be held on an annual basis.

Montgomery County Chief Executive Ike Leggett is flanked by Mirin Phool, co-founder and President of the Kaur Foundation (left) and Mrs. Kumud Mathur, a member of Montgomery County’s Committee for Ethnic Affairs at the Baisakhi celebration, in Rockville

Chief Executive Ike Leggett greeted the impressive gathering with ‘Sat-Sri-Akal’ (God is truth) and ‘Happy Baisakhi’.  Looking around a jam-packed room in the Executive Office Building, he marveled at the diversity in Montgomery County.  Recognizing “this great diversity”, Leggett affirmed, “We want to make this County the most welcoming place, literally, in the world where people of all faiths, all cultures, all backgrounds and all segments, are welcome here”.  He underscored, “We can’t do that unless we accept the culture and religious values of the people who are here”.

Certificates of Appreciation were presented to participants of the panel discussion on ‘Unity thru Diversity’ at the Baisakhi celebration in Montgomery County. Seen in the photo from left to right are: Agnetha Hansgardh of the Conflict Resolution Center; Ellen Flynn-Giles, Board of Education in Howard County; Maryland Delegate Aruna Miller (Democrat-15th District); Jeffrey Lynch, Montgomery County Committee for Ethnic Affairs; Jackie Simon, the moderator; and Avneet Kohli Lamba, Operations Manager, The Kaur Foundation

Among the participants at the Baisakhi celebration were: Maryland Delegates Aruna Miller (Democrat-District 15), Sam Arora (Democrat-District 19) and Craig Zucker (Democrat-District 14); Bruce Adams, Director of the Office of Community Partnerships; Mirin Phool, co-founder and President of the Kaur Foundation who did a commendable job in organizing the event; Ann Humphrey, a representative from the office of Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Jr. (Democrat-Maryland); Jeffrey Lynch and Mrs. Kumud Mathur, both members of Montgomery County’s Committee for Ethnic Affairs; Mr. Manmohan Singh who spoke about the significance of Baisakhi; and Indian-American community stalwarts like Dr. Sambhu Banik, Dr. Suresh K. Gupta, Mr. Ashok Batra, Gisela Ghani and Sheila Ribeiro.

Maryland Delegate Aruna Miller (Democrat-District 15) with Mirin Phool, co-founder and President of the Kaur Foundation (left), and Kiran Kaur (front)

The program included a panel discussion on ‘Unity thru Diversity’ featuring: Delegate Aruna Miller; Dr. Kenneth Robbins, Board Member, Library of Congress; Ellen Flynn-Giles, Member, Board of Education, Howard County; Agnetha Hansgardh, Director of Youth Services at the Conflict Resolution Center; and moderator Jackie Simon.   The panelists spoke about various challenges and concerns of ethnic groups and how to foster and promote inclusiveness.

We would like to emphasize that Leggett is doing an outstanding job of reaching out to people of all backgrounds.  On one weekend alone, he traversed to various events organized by members of the Indian, Pakistani, Seventh Day Adventist, African, Latino, Cambodian and Thai communities, prompting Adams to remark, “Here is the most hard-working man in Montgomery County”.

At the Baisakhi celebration, Leggett cautioned members of the audience to never lose their identity and become homogenized.  He urged them to uphold their values and traditions, driving home his point with the allegory of a Gumbo (stew) which has a roux (thickener) that maintains its flavor while preserving all the different ingredients.

Montgomery County Chief Executive Ike Leggett (right) mingled with members of the Sikh community at the Baisakhi celebration in Montgomery County spearheaded by his office, in collaboration with the Kaur Foundation. He is seen here with, from left to right: Maryland Delegate Sam Arora (Democrat-District 19), Lara, Devin and Tina Singh

The Chief Executive pledged, “we are going to find as many occasions as possible to celebrate all the different cultures and religions in Montgomery County”.  He proudly presented a certificate to leaders of the Kaur Foundation officially recognizing Baisakhi in the county.

Ann Humphrey read a citation from Congress “in celebration of the 313th commemoration of Baisakhi and in recognition of the outstanding contributions of the Sikh community to the vibrant and diverse heritage of the United States”.

Regarding the significance of Baisakhi, Mr. Manmohan Singh explained that it is an ancient harvest festival celebrated across northern India with special religious import to all Sikhs as this day commemorates the establishment of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh ji, the tenth guru.  He pointed out the tenets of Sikhism including an abiding faith in God, equality, the importance of character and truthful living.

Ishar Kaur Chhabra was presented a certificate of recognition for her energetic Bhangra performance by the Kaur Foundation

Ishar Kaur Chhabra, all of nine years old, enlivened the event with her energetic bhangra performance which drew loud cheers from the audience.  This was followed by Gurpreet Sarin showing his skills on the tabla.  Both were presented certificates of recognition for their commendable performances by the Kaur Foundation.

A highlight of the Baisakhi program was a special screening of the ground-breaking film, ‘Cultural Safari’ (English; 17 min.; 2008), directed by Sandeep Singh and produced by the Kaur Foundation.  A must-watch movie, with a very refreshing insight, it explores and enunciates Sikh culture and traditions: the articles of faith – kara (steel bracelet), kesh (uncut hair), turban, patka; Guru Granth Sahib – the Holy book of Sikhs; Gurudwara – the place of worship; shabad-kirtan – devotional music; and langar – the community kitchen serving everyone on an equal basis.  The film also features the joyous festival of Baisakhi and the high-energy bhangra dance.

Montgomery County Chief Executive Ike Leggett (left) with Mirin Phool, co-founder and President of the Kaur Foundation, at the Baisakhi celebration in Rockville

Jeffrey Lynch explained that Cultural Safari “was an educational movie that came out after 9/11 to fight against hate crimes.  Many Sikhs were retaliated against after 9/11 and the Sikh community sought to overcome the ignorance that was out there and educate people.  This movie has been incorporated in many districts, educational systems like Howard County, as a way to overcome hate by planting the seeds of acceptance and understanding different ethnic groups”, he said.