Lighting the Way

The Sikh community has worked diligently in the West....

Lighting the Way” Exhibition in Derby

I came to Derby dressed in my traditional, blue salwa chemise. I felt totally comfortable walking in the city centre in my salwa chemise, but this is not the norm for me. Usually, I walk in trousers or leggings, very much Western-style clothes, trying to fit in, possibly fearing racist stares. I was going to the Quad, which was showcasing the “Lighting the Way” exhibition. It was a long and tiring journey with two young kids, and as I was freshening up, an elderly English lady commented on my dress: “You look lovely in blue. It really suits you.” My fears of cold stares were unfounded. I remembered when I decided to make a commitment to Sikhi and not cut my hair. I was very much worried about my facial hair and confided in a non-Sikh friend. She very sternly said, “Gurmit, there are far more important things in life than your appearance.’” Yes, I thought, like war, disease and famine. My friend then went on to talk about her sister-in-law having money but no style in her kitchen décor!

After freshening up, I began my talk at the “Lighting the Way” exhibition.


Guru Nanak Dev Ji scolded yogis at this time. There was a lot outward show and pretence. There were many yogis who used to put ashes on their bodies as a way to say they renounced the world and were not interested in the material world.  There was also competition between yogis; those that put on more ashes or were more recluse were considered higher spiritual beings.


Guru Nanak Dev JI taught that you do not need to show everyone how holy you are by your outward appearance. Instead, remember death, because it is in death that we come back to our real self.  That is when we go back to the light of the creator, our Lord. Guru Nanak Dev Ji said:  “Why don’t you just consider seeing all people as one, everyone is the same and has the same light within them, and when you consider everyone the same that is the highest order of the Yogis:


Let the remembrance of death be the patched coat you wear, let the purity of virginity be your way in the world, and let faith in the Lord be your walking stick.

Make contentment your earrings, humility your begging bowl, and meditation the ashes you apply to your body.

See the brotherhood of all mankind as the highest order of Yogis; conquer your own mind, and conquer the world. 

I bow to Him, I humbly bow.

God’s name is the pure light. He is the beginning and without end, and throughout all ages, he is the one and same”.

Guru Nanak Dev Ji

Guru Nanak Dev Ji also loved nature. He found the light of the creator within everything. He taught people not to follow empty rituals but to love nature. Guru Nanak Dev Ji loved nature, and he saw the light of God within nature and celebrated all of his creation by loving and caring for everyone, which is also equal to worshiping lamps:

“Amongst all is the Light-You are that Light.

By this Illumination, that Light is radiant within all.

Through the Guru's Teachings, the Light shines forth.


That which is pleasing to Him is the lamp-lit worship service”.


Guru Nanak Dev Ji


This was the theme of the exhibition. A call was sent out in December to exhibit paintings on the theme of ‘Light’ within Sikhi. I was delighted to have the opportunity to be involved in the exhibition. My inspiration for the paintings came from the teachings of Sikhsim, which is written in poetry in the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. The Guru Granth Sahib is all written in poetry, and there are a lot of references to nature in Sikhism. All of the poets were strongly influenced by nature.  


The first painting I did was taken from my favourite shabad (sikh hymn), which is “Mothers Blessings”. In the shabad, one of the mother’s blessings is that, just like bumble bee finds nectar in the lotus flower, the Sikh should find bliss in meditation on the Nam of the creator.  


Let this mind of thine become the humming black-bee and God’s feet be the lotus flower”. Guru Arjan Dev Ji


My second painting was inspired by the Guru Amar Das Dev Ji’s words: “Gurmukhs continually peck at the Nam like swans pecking at pearls in the ocean.” In this painting, the swan is the Gurumukh. Gurumukh means: Gu = darkness, ru = light, and mukh is one who follows the light. The Nam means Name of God, so that when one meditates upon it, he gains jewels and beautiful bliss within his mind.


My final painting is inspired by Guru Nanak’s love of nature and the words in the night-time prayer, “Kirtan Sohila’”. In this painting, I have tried to depict the beauty of nature and capture what Guru Nanak Dev Ji saw when he wrote the words ‘”What a beautiful Artee, lamp-lit worship service this is! O destroyer of fear, this is Your Ceremony of Light”. 


Throughout Sikhi, meditation on God’s name is described as equivalent to jewels and wealth.  The true wealth in Sikhi is having the name of God within you, and once it is within you, then the desire to act for the greater good materialises:


In the realm of action, spiritual force is the prime medium”. Guru Nanak Dev Ji


That is the light that the exhibition aimed to share—the pure light of the creator that exists within everyone. The exhibition was organised by Guru Nanak Dev Ji Gurdwara, which also feeds the homeless every Saturday and Sunday. They reach out to the wider community and carry with them Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s mission of helping those in need.


Voluntary work (seva) is very much an integral part of being a Sikh. There are millions of women and men who work in the kitchens every day in Gurdwaras to feed the sangat (congregation) and many Sikhs working co-operately together to make positive changes within society. Reaching out to others regardless of differences, I run a Scout group that is open to all faiths. There are many more groups in the community who help others.


The Sikh community has worked diligently in the West. The majority came after the second World War to help rebuild the country, many working in the industrial sectors. The second generation is working in professional job sectors, such as education, medicine, and banking.   The third generation of Sikhs are now stepping into the arts without losing their identity. The “Lighting the Way” Exhibition is a perfect example of the Sikh community exhibiting their talent whilst showing the indigenous population the ethics and morals that drive the community.


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