The Keertan is an important aspect of spiritual life in Sikhism. Keertan is a devotional tradition of the Sikh religion which consists of call and response chanting, and the reciting of passages from the Guru Granth Sahib, which is the main religious text in Sikhism. The UFV Sikh Student Alliance (SSA) held their third annual Keertan and langar at the university on Friday, January 8. However, since the Keertan was taking place at UFV, Sukhminder Kar of the SSA noted that the hymns were just posted from the internet and sung off of a projector screen rather than bringing the text, as “It would be disrespectful to bring it here.”
Fellow SSA member Hemant Singh elaborated on this, saying that the Granth Sahib is treated as a living scripture and the holder of knowledge for the Sikh religion. Therefore, the book is treated with a high amount of reverence, which is why it wouldn’t be appropriate to bring it to the university.
Kar also noted that the primary purpose for holding a Keertan at UFV was to allow students, both Sikh and non-Sikh, an opportunity to slow down, reflect, and meditate. As he put it, “[Keertan] is meant to slow you down so you can focus your thoughts on the positive things around you … it’s nice to sit down, listen, and de-stress.”
Accompanying the hymns were traditional instruments such as the harmonium; a piano keyboard with a hand pump that is similar to an accordion or a reed organ. The harmoniums were also supported by tablas, which are Indian-style drums. Though these are the traditional musical elements that are integrated into the Keertan, Kar noted that western instruments such as the guitar have also been used at times.
Following the completion of the Keertan, the langar began. The tradition of langar, which involves the sharing of food, began with the first Sikh Guru in 1491, and seeks to uphold the principle of equality of all peoples.
“If you go to a temple … if a poor man and a king come, they both sit down and eat together,” Kar said. “The idea is we may have different castes … but we’re all the same, so let’s sit on the ground together and eat.”
In light of this, all attendees sat on the ground and ate while seated, remaining so until they were finished. Langar also features vegetarian food and food without eggs, to follow the customs of Sikhism as well as to further show that everyone is equal, as they are eating the same offerings.
Aside from students from UFV, the Keertan was attended by a large number of students from other local universities, such as Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia. Kar noted that this was very common among Sikh students, mentioning that there was a very close relationship between the Sikh Student Alliances at SFU, UBC, and UFV. Furthermore, she elaborated on the closeness of SSAs around the world.
“The Sikh Student Alliance has huge organizations in Toronto, England, Alberta, California, and New York as well,” Kar said. “We’re all connected and we all keep in touch.”