New York, NY: “Turban Day-Vaisakhi” was celebrated on New York’s iconic Times Square as bhangra and dhol, colorful dancers in bright turbans turned the city into a festive mood on a sunny April 16 afternoon. Thousands of New Yorkers and tourists from around the country and the world flocked to enjoy the sights, sounds and symbols of Sikhism and learn something about the followers of that religion.
Legendary Indian sportsman Milkha Singh addressed one of the largest such celebrations in the US, calling on the Sikh community to educate the new generation about the significance of the Sikh culture. Hundreds of excited tourists and children queued up at the popular city destination to get turbans tied on their heads in bright colours by members of the Sikh community and took pictures and selfies wearing them as ‘Turban Day’ was also celebrated at the event.
Organizers hoped to counter hate crimes against Sikhs stereotyped because of their religious symbols, particularly the turban and beard. They chose Times Square as an ideal location to spread awareness about the community because they saw it as the heart of the city and the country. Most of those who came left knowing a little more about Sikhs and Sikhism than they did before.
The participants jostled to get a picture clicked with the elderly ‘Flying Sikh’, who had travelled from Canada for the event. “Today if the Sikhs have a name, are known around the world, it is because of the turban. Milkha Singh is called a ‘Flying Sikh’ because I have the turban on my head and the beard on my face. My beard and turban are the reasons for the respect and recognition that I have across the world,” Mr Singh told PTI.
More than 5,000 visitors joined the festivities enjoying bhangra performances, kirtan, instrumental religious music, and Naam Simran (yoga meditation). Organizers helped some 2,500 visitors who lined up to get the turban wrapped around their heads – men, women and children of several ethnicities were soon sporting the headdress and posing for selfies and group pictures.
Non-profit organisation, Sikhs of New York and New Jersey and the event’s organizers Bobby Sidana, Kawaldeep Sahni, Chanpreet Singh and Gurmeet Sodhi said the event aimed at not only celebrating the festival marking the spring harvest but also educating Americans and thousands of tourists about the Sikh culture. They said it would also make them aware of the significance of the Sikh articles of faith like turban and beard and to address the misinformation about Sikhism that leads to profiling and backlash against members of the community, particularly after the 9/11 attack.
“People here should know that Sikhs are warriors, they have fought for other people and will do everything to help others. The event will inspire people here and educate them about the Sikh culture, they will get to know who Sikhs are,” Mikha Singh said lauding the organisers for putting together the event. In his message to the gathering, Mr Singh said he would like to see “one more Milkha Singh” from the Sikh community spread across the US and the world.
Lamenting that Sikh articles of faith such as the turban and beard are often still misconstrued and associated with terrorism, the organizers invited passers-by and those at the event to get a turban tied on their heads and to ask about the Sikh culture.