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Simran S. playing tabla with father Sat Hari Singh

Simran Singh was born in Germany to parents who had converted to Sikhi through their connection with Kundalini Yoga. As a boy he attended a boarding school in India (known today as Miri Piri Academy) to be with fellow Sikh youths. I know this because I was one of them, being one year his junior. At the school he learned to read and proficiently pronounce Gurbani, perform gatka and gain skills with the tabla and became somewhat conversant in Punjabi. In other words what was meant to be gained from being immersed in this educational environment he learned more than most. He, like many of the boys at the time had his share of mischief, if not his own portion extra. Like everyone else he grew up with his own good and bad qualities but something that I noticed was his long-term commitment to Sikhi and the Panth. It seemed to me that the undercurrent through the ups and downs of life carried a certain special blessing from the Guru that assured me he has been a Sikh in a past life. 

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Simran Singh serves on several boards, for-profit and mostly not-for-profit, and is often involved with interfaith activity representing Sikh Dharma. 

Seeing that he was chosen to carry Guru Sahib from the Odessa Gurdwara wasn't something that I expected, but I also wasn't surprised. He does have a special blessing. Among many others who wouldn't think twice to do the same, I count him as one. How he handled interviews afterwards impressed, but still didn't surprise me, he can have a way with words. What did surprise me was hearing him tell the whole story and being brought to tears from the greater works of the Guru. 

Below is a transcription of an interview he recently did with the BBC. What you will notice as you read it is that it may be difficult to convey to a secularist, or person of another religion, the significance of Siri Guru Granth Sahib. What you realize is that Simran's actions convey that significance inherently. At some point the interviewer is astonished that 'your scriptures aren't just living but to you they have a personality that you are interacting with'. In this we see the fruit of thousands of written words and hours of educational videos being imparted in a way that conveys teachings best: through action. 

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Simran delivering supplies in Lviv one week prior. 

Please read, or listen to, this interview and take a moment to pause when that happens. Because this is the moment that we understand that the most advanced teaching given to humanity, that was echoed by Christ in his teaching of 'word made flesh', that the Guru is beyond human form, that these words are not just ink on paper, that Gurbani is not just teachings but is imbued with supreme mastery itself... this concept that as Sikhs we still don't fully grasp until one attains the highest state of enlightenment of 'shabd avastha'... THIS concept was conveyed to an interviewer through this story. This humbled and amazed me. 

On top of that what actually moved me to tears was what followed next in the story: 2 Ukrainian women who also risked themselves to help the Sikhs retrieve Guru Sahib. I am not surprised that many a Sikh would have faith that they will be protected in such a mission. But that these people who have no connection other than seeing the generosity of Sikh humanitarian aid workers would put their lives on the line... this is how bonds that last with a soul after this life are made. Let us all offer our own prayers to those woman, their husbands and all those who are suffering in this time. 

Below is the interview which can also be heard starting at 9 minutes and 22 seconds on this recording: Sikh scriptures; The church in wartime; Interfaith dialogue during Ramadan - Sunday | Podcast on Spotify

Last week as the people of Odessa, in Southern Ukraine, feared that Russian troops might to do them what they've done to Mariupal, a daring rescue plan was hatched by Sikh humanitarian workers. Because they'd learned, from the refugees they'd been helping from the city, that precious Sikh scriptures had been left behind in Odessa's Sikh temple, or gurdwara, but could they be rescued before they were lost forever? Simran Singh Stuelpnagel takes up the astonishing story of his journey through a war zone in search of the scriptures.  

Many hundreds of years ago we compiled scriptures, spiritual scriptures, from around India. They became our holy scriptures. They are a living representation of wisdom, and of our path. Because it has been such a difficult task to protect these scriptures with multiple genocides and many attempts to silence them, we’ve taken their well-being very, very seriously throughout our history.

You see these scriptures as refugees themselves?


It would almost seem that way, but we see them as quite powerful. It wouldn’t be as if I went to 'rescue them', it would be as 'they called me to pick them up' and they blessed me to be the one to give them a ride.

What do they look like?
There are a couple forms. One is a very large holy book, the one we bow to. What I took from Odessa was 2 sets of two volumes, and about 20 smaller prayer books.
What does it mean to you personally Simran, to hold these scriptures, to travel with them, to rescue them essentially?
The feeling is of blessing, of love. When I arrived at that temple in Odessa, I really felt very peaceful in the middle of a war zone. We heard at the time that Odessa was under immanent attack. I had a bit of a feeling of guilt because that much peace in the middle of a war zone didn’t seem reasonable. I was very nervous going in empty handed because I couldn’t come to the scriptures without something for the suffering people of Odessa. How do we get our written materials out when there are humans still there? In Moldova we got a shopping list, they asked for Insulin, they asked for air mattresses, and we added a stack of chocolate for good measure.
It's extraordinary hearing talk about these scriptures living. Not just organic but living, with a personality that you’re interacting with.
I think we all have times in our lives when Grace seems to descend into our environment and that’s what the journey felt like. It felt peaceful and graceful. Sometimes things were a bit heavy to carry, there were military check points, many of them with nervous soldiers but everything seemed to work out beautifully.

I know you don’t want to overstate this, but you were taking your own life into your hands doing this weren’t you?

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I have 2 children, 2 daughters. They’re 9 and 12 years old, so it’s not just about me, it’s about my whole family so I had to think about the journey very carefully. What happened was when we sent aid to Lviv the People’s Self Defence NGO of Lviv which received and distributed the food which I dropped off there, just a week before, I called them and asked if they knew the best way to get to Odessa because there is something important to my people left behind there. They asked what it was and I told them it was a set of scriptures, they could tell it was important to me. So they called their counterparts on Odessa and asked if they could arrange an escort. When you’re traveling with Ukrainians it’s much different if you are a foreigner. They know how to speak to each other, they know the issues, they know the routes.

What the men who were organizing aid in Odessa did is they asked their wives to escort me in. So I was actually being driven in by 2 Ukrainian women who took their lives in their hands to retrieve the scriptures. That was so humbling. The fact that in the middle of a war they saw these people with turbans bring them food and do their best to evacuate people who were stuck, it was so meaningful to them that they’d send their women to help us do what was important to us.

Simran, what is the future for these scriptures?
They are at the National Sikh Museum in Darby (UK). The community there received them with a lot of love and pride. We expect that when Odessa settles back down, and of course our prayer is that happens soon, that they be returned to Odessa

Additionally you can see another interview with Simran Singh on Politics Punjab where they touch on more of the story as well as talk about Panthic unity: 

Harijot Singh Khalsa

Harijot Singh Khalsa

Harijot Singh is a graduate of Miri Piri Academy. He serves as creator of SikhNet Stories. He has also authored several research pieces on Sikh history as well as offered encouraging messages through his articles.

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