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Japjeet Kaur is a Yoga Teacher who became a Sikh after a series of spiritual experiences that saw her travel from Belgium to the Golden Temple in India, to find home.

Below is a write up of the interview. 


I never saw any Sikhs when I was growing up. My first exposure to anything related to Sikhi was through my first Kundalini Yoga class. In that class we did Mool Mantar as part of our practice.

 

Next day after that class I kept vibrating Mool Mantar inside. I would wake up in the middle of the night and Mool Mantar would be in my mind.

 

It was different from a song being stuck; it was vibrating, it was doing something inside. Second class, a week later, Gurumantar, some Waheguru Simran, same thing would happen.

A couple of weeks later she introduced us to Jap Ji Sahib, as practiced in Kundalini Yoga. So I started doing that as well, but I was leading a completely different life. I wasn't religious, but I was really being touched by Gurbani without even knowing what tradition it came from. I had no idea it was from a Sikh tradition.

I flew to Delhi, took a train to Amritsar because for some reason I wanted to be there and I arrived in Amritsar on the eve of Guru Nanak Dev Ji's GurPurb. I walked down the steps onto the Pakarma and I put my head down and everything changed.

 

I don't know how long I was with my head down but I was heavily crying when I lifted my head. I felt that my skin stopped existing, sort of merged into something. I don't know how to describe it.

 

I felt very lost with it, because I didn’t know where I was. I was there with a friend and as I lifted my head up and they saw what was happening, my friend said "you've come home, this is where you belong".

We spent about a week in Amritsar and I spent most of my time In Harimandir Sahib. I spent a lot of time sitting on the rooftop, trying to figure out what was happening.

 

I knew that somehow this was home but I never believed in reincarnation. I never believed in past lives - so I couldn’t really make sense of what was going on, even though I had memories of something coming up before that.

 

When everybody was doing Rehras Sahib, I felt very much that was something I knew. As we walked out in the evening, in the shopping street, an old Sikh gentleman came up to me and started talking in Punjabi, I had no idea what he was saying. He calls his son and they gave me a Kara and said it was written on my forehead “you’re a Sikh of the Guru”.

 

He called me into his shop, gave me every single English book on Sikhi he had, made me pay for it - he didn't give them. That was the rest of my trip through India, we were there for a month and I just read all I could. Flew back home, about two months later I started wearing a Dastar, looked for Sangat near me in Belgium and there was a Gurdwara Sahib. A friend of mine said come to England with me, go to a Sikh retreat - you’ll meet Sikhs and that's what you probably need. I think with that retreat things got really established for me. Coming back, after three/four days going back to Belgium it was “okay, I need to move to England, I need to be around Sangat, I need to start giving up my life in Belgium and just really put Sikhi first”.


Mahraj blessed me with Amrit on Vaisakhi 2012, so it's been an ongoing journey ever since. Interesting journey. Definitely not ended yet.

Horses of Hola

This short documentary offers a little snapshot of the Hola Mahalla festival. If you have the privilege of attending be careful of where you stand - you don't want to be in the path of galloping horses!!! 

This video and write up are part of an ongoing series exploring Hola Mahalla and the Sikh diaspora. Footage from the Hola Mahalla documentary has been used for this short documentary. 

There are more documentaries and short films coming soon so keep an eye out on the website and various social media channels. 

To help support this project and the original Sikhi related content we produce, please use the DONATE button below. We greatly appreciate your support!

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Hola Mahalla is a little known Sikh festival that takes place annually, in India with an estimated attendance of over a million people travelling to see the week long festival. Dubbed the Sikh Olympics, it involves sword fights, daring horse stunts and a dab of spiritualism that are with an ever decreasing number of nomadic Sikhs.

The festival was established in the 17th century in Anandpur Sahib, the 'City of Bliss'. It is celebrated during the Indian month of Chet, which falls in spring during either March or April. 

Initiated by Guru Gobind Singh (the tenth Sikh Guru), Hola Mohalla, which means ‘mock fight’, was used to ensure Sikhs were spiritually and physically ready for battle. The festival was an integral part of Sikh and Punjabi culture in India, encouraging Sikhs to come together to maintain their martial skills and participate in spiritualism. Traditionally the festival held such importance that all Sikhs were required to attend and those who did not were assumed to have merged with God.These days people attend the festival to witness two distinct activities the Sikh martial art of Gatka and the horse stunts that vary from a basic level to advanced. For example standing on a horse whilst it is stationary. It is said that this technique was used in the past during battles. Senior officials such as generals of the enemy would be on elephants and Sikhs would attempt to climb up the giant animal by standing on their own horse. 

The more skilled Nihangs have developed this technique further and utilised it whilst riding two horses. The riders are stood on each horse with their bare feet and either hold the reins in their hands or in between their teeth. Its all quite dangerous especially when spectators try to get a closer look and stand in the path of galloping horses!!!

Deaf & Beyond - Pingalwara

Ask any taxi driver in Amritsar where you can do seva/charity work and they'll either point you to Harimandir Sahib or Pingalwara. So with a group of friends I visited the Bhagat Puran Singh School for The Deaf where we were shown around by RP Singh, a retired Air Force officer who has been with the organisation for over 15 years.

It was an insightful experience and I was able to put together the following short documentary.

Over the years various organisations and people have stepped up and supported the school, from building work, clothes, food to equipment. If you'd like to support the school by volunteering or donating please do get in touch with them directly. I understand that they are always looking for books for their library, as well as shoes for the kids. 

Below is a write up of a longer interview with RP Singh. 


"In Punjab there are 15/16 schools for deaf children but their way of teaching is for the hearing children – not for the deaf. That is the oral method. All over the world they know sign language is the first language for deaf children. Where as in all the schools, there is hardly any communication between the teachers and the students because the teachers don't know sign language. The teacher will come, write on the board. The students will copy that. They will memorise it.  They've got brilliant minds, they've got very good brains. We had a student here, she cleared ten standard and she could write beautiful essays, a full page essays in Punjabi, but when you ask them “what's the meaning of this” they don't know. They can memorise and that is astonishing. To memorise the whole page and reproduce beautifully without many mistakes, but the only things is the way of teaching is so wrong. After they clear the tenth exams, they cant read a newspaper – so how do they connect with their environment? 

All around you - you can connect. When I'm talking to you, you are looking at me and I know I am getting you, so that is positive feedback for me. But these children, when they try to communicate the other chaps says “what are you doing, I don't understand – go away”. So that feedback they don't get. So a lot of children have behavioural problems. Behavioural problems means frustration, a lot of children who come to us lets say six or seven years of age they are in depression because again at home there is hardly any communication between the parents and the children. So naturally the child is depressed. They find that after a couple of days (at the school), they open up, they start communicating. 

We have started a system which is slightly different from everybody else. Our aim is not to get them a certificate that they've cleared the tenth exams. We tell the parents very, very clearly that if you want a tenth standard certificate this is not the place for you. We are going to ensure that the child can communicate, he can convey his feelings, his requirements and he can connect with the environment. He understands may be not everything but most of the things going on around him, he can understand. So that is our aim. So our curriculum also is different, we are concentrated on the child. 

We get children from as far away as 350km/400km, because first of all there is no school which gives good education, except one or two; second is the hostel; third is fees because everything is free. So a lot of people want to put their children here, there is a limit on the number of children we can put in the hostel. Hundred children are there now, we give preference to children from very poor families and live far away. 

people have started realising that the deaf
can also learn and do what the hearing people do”

Only now the people have started realising that the deaf can also learn and do what the hearing people do. That's why parents are coming. Three years back parents would say “my child with deaf needs cannot learn anything”, but fortunately the last three have changed. Now the same parent will ring up twice a month and ask how is my child doing. So this is a very positive sign. 

We get children 17, 18 years old, they want to put them in the school, its not possible, we start them from pre nursrey - but ok we can start a vocation for them. Vocation, we have got carpentry for the boys and tailoring for the girls. We are thinking of starting one or two fields more for vocations, like mushroom farming, this can be done sitting at home and earn some money so they can stand on their own feet. So the main emphasis is that the children are not going for a job because the maximum job they'll get is a cleaners job. 

 

In computers we started three things one is the data entry, second thing is the illustrations, so we've got a graphics tablet now, animation we can start.

So these are three fields we aim to progress these children. 

 

Animations taken off in a big way in India, so there is a lot of scope there. Of course here in Punjab its very limited but in Delhi or Bombay there's tremendous amount of scope there and then from Delhi deaf children have gone into animation."


The Bhagat Puran Singh School for the Deaf caters for children with special needs and continues the great work of Bhagat Puran Singh, the founder of Pingalwara. His life was recently turned into the film 'Eh Janam Tumhare Lekhe' starring Pavan Raj Malhotra and featured music from Diljit Dosanj

To read more about Bhagat Puran Singh and his selfless work click here.

Stepping back in Time

When I was at Anandpur filming the Hola Mahalla documentary, a horse came galloping past with a young woman on its back. I'd spent all day filming different people but not seen any women horse riders so I quickly tried to film as much of her as I could.

A week or two later I bumped into the young woman, Harsangat Kaur at Harimandir Sahib, Amritsar along with Angad Singh and few new friends. Harsangat now goes by the name Raj Kaur and I eventually got to interview her about the festival. She provides a brilliant first hand account of Hola Mahalla, I loved the energy that she was able to get across recounting her story.

This video and write up are part of an ongoing series exploring Hola Mahalla and the Sikh diaspora. There are more documentaries and short films coming soon so keep an eye out on the website and various social media channels. 

Below is a write up of the interview with Raj Kaur.


I only knew some of the history of it, but I've never been there so I didn't know the experience, but I remember driving there and seeing all these people. People on the backs of lorries, trucks and tractors coming to Anandpur Sahib, that was so cool. I just thought it was a family affair. You know, in the west “yeah we're going in our RV and going camping" but it was kind of like that.

 

When I got to Anandpur Sahib, I was like “Wow' the energy of it was just... Yeah when I saw your film it just reminded me of all the energy. 

I was with a group of people who had been there many times. So we're going through the procession and I saw horses and I was like “oh man”. Cos' I've been riding since I was five years old and you know... all I wanted to do was jump on somebodies horse the whole entire time I'm just staring at the horse like “when am I going to ride? Can someone get me a horse?”. “Yeah, yeah penji we'll let you ride later”, you know its like whatever. But I was really serious and I'm very stubborn sometimes. So I had to repeat myself a lot of the times but being in that energy though with the Singhs it felt like it was back in time, you know like in a story book of the history of the Sikhs. 

 

We got into the field, it was all these horses running past and it was you know - really dangerous not knowing where you're going, theres no orgnisation at all.

I knew a couple of Singhs, still there. They were like "oh here's a horse" but it was a huge horse. This horse... nobody was riding it... it was kind of showcased, like "oh look at this huge amazing horse".

It was probably one of the biggest horses I've ever gotten on. So he jumps onto his back legs. Twice!!!  

I'm like "alright, now I know what I'm working with".  So I remember the horse, he goes down the second time, decides to turn around and RUN!!! Just full on race horse running. Not galloping, not canter, just run!!!

I was like "okay full throttle". There's all these people all over the field and I was like "oh my god".

I knew a certain method of stopping a horse on that kind of issue by my own trial and error, working with horses like that and so I stopped the horse. 

 

I was kind of shaken up a little bit. It was a powerful horse. I felt really honored. It was a beautiful experience and next year I rode again, but this time I raced. No one got me a horse, I still had to go to try and get another horse and five minutes before I got a horse and ran down the field, you know, with all the other Singhs this time and by Gurus Grace I was alright.  


Check out more interviews on the website exploring the Sikh diaspora with visual artist Rupy Tut, free spirited painter Jag Lall and Australian Sikh rapper L-FRESH The LION.

 

 

The Truth - Art by Rupy

Sikh art has grown in popularity over the years, establishing artists and igniting passions in the diaspora. I always find it interesting talking to artists about their work and the thought process behind pieces they've produced. I had the good fortune of interviewing Rupy Tut, a San Francisco based visual artist during one of her visits to the UK.

I caught Rupy when she was part way through her training at the Prince's School of Traditional Arts in London. It was refreshing to see an established artist want to improve and seek out specialist courses to help their craft. 

Art and poetry form part of the festival Hola Mahalla and I was encouraged to share this interview with an artist that is both articulate and thought provoking.

As a community it's essential that the arts are championed especially as the Sikh diaspora travels. 

To find out more about Rupy visit her website at www.artbyrupy.com

Below is a write up of the interview with Rupy.


Hi, my name is Rupy Cheema Tut. I'm an Eastern traditional artist, I specifically do Mughal miniature paintings, calligraphy, as well as some arabesque here and there. 

 

What I like to do is to incorporate these elements into one piece, to tell a story so that the story is not only about the characters but also about their surroundings and its also about the objects that they wear. 

 

You can add decoration to any piece but you can tell any story, so adding decoration lets me make a visual representation of the story really pretty or beautiful but the actual story narrative and the characters can be as ugly as possible. 

 

One of my pieces which you can call the 'Sach/Truth' piece, I did that piece about one side versus the other and you know when you have each of the sides telling their stories then which one is the actual truth? 

For me the response was confusion, thats when I went to the 'Mool Mantar'. The word 'Sach/Truth' in it occurs four times. So for me to distort that, but for it to mean the same thing was very important.

It describes the distorting of truth that might have happened in any of these stories that you read from both sides, but for me the ultimate truth is always going to remain the truth whether you distort it or not. 

The 'Vaheguru' piece is my favorite and I developed the idea a lot more, because I had to see geometrically how it was gonna look better and how it was gonna fit, how its going to make sense. I feel like its a lot more balanced, may be thats why it makes sense to me - thats why I'm attracted towards it. 

My idea behind using Gurbani in my calligraphy or doing calligraphy around Gurbani is not only to just re-write it because its been done, thats very visible. If I was to re-write it, I would write perfectly to be able to have people read it perfectly, but the reason I use it as an art form is because thats what it is. It represents the art of living, For me the way I engage with Gurbani is as if it is a puzzle. Its a maze for me and its really confusing at times, and its really challenging at times, its really simple and loving at times. So to introduce all those qualities, while writing it is the reason I love to write it, its the reason I love to artistically represent it through calligraphy. 


Check out more interviews on the website with different artists such as free spirited painter Jag Lall and Australian Sikh rapper L-FRESH The LION.