National Sikh Conference at the US Library of Congress draws record crowds

DC council declares Sikh Heritage Week

WASHINGTON, DC.  June 18-19, 2009 – The Sikh National Conference: “Taking Heritage into the 21st Century,” a two-day series of lectures, panel discussions, film screenings and photo exhibits, all celebrating the addition of more than 80 Sikh volumes to the library's collection, drew huge crowds last week.  Peter Young, chief of the Asian division, said “the importance of the Sikh heritage and the amazing contributions that Sikhs have made to American culture, art and our collective history have become clear to me.”  The event came on the heels of the DC Council's resolution declaring the week of June 15th to the 19th as ‘Sikh Heritage Week.’

The two-day National Sikh Conference, sponsored by The Kaur Foundation of Washington, D.C. in collaboration with The U.S. Library of Congress Asian Division and The Asian Division Friends Society was a symbol of the Sikh American community coming of age. This historic event took place at the magnificent and ornate Jefferson Building and James Madison Memorial Building near the U.S. Capitol. “The Conference, has taken a life of its own,” said Inni Kaur Dhingra, a board member of the Kaur Foundation, “There has been an overwhelming response from the Sikh community and the wider audience. The speakers read like a Who’s Who in Sikh art and history, and people have traveled from across the United States, England and India to be here for this event.”

The Conference with its theme of “Taking Heritage into the 21st Century” accomplished much beyond the “Celebration of Sikh Traditions, Heritage and Arts.” It included the Sikh Collection Initiative -– a permanent installation of over 80 books on Sikh history, literature and the arts, scriptures and classics in English and Punjabi in the Library of Congress. Powerful presentations and panel discussions thrilled the conference attendees.

Over the two days, several members of the U.S. Congress addressed the National Sikh Conference: Honorable Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland); Honorable Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana); Honorable Congressman Mike Honda (D-California); Honorable Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland). They applauded the Sikh community’s contributions since the early 1900’s in enriching the fabric of America’s diverse society and culture.

The conference commenced on the afternoon of June 18 with the lecture, "Portraits of Courage," which was an enlightening look at the Sikh history of valor and courage since the times of Banda Bahadur, by Nishaan magazine's Executive Editor, Pushpindar Singh Chopra. Dr. Kenneth Robbins spoke on Sikh valor and challenges in present day. The session was moderated by Dr. Komal Kaur Sethi. The next session was the “Extraordinary Achievements of Sikh Women in Art,” featuring world-renowned artists The Singh Twins from the UK and Arpana Caur from India who shared some of their recent work as well as upcoming projects.

That evening, a formal dinner reception was held in the Grand Hall of the Library of Congress which attracted over 400 dignitaries and attendees, and featured the American book launch of Patwant Singh and Jyoti Rai's book, “Empire of the Sikhs, The Life and Times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh” a biography of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Sardar Patwant Singh was given a standing ovation as he charmed the audience with his stories.

A photo exhibit entitled “A Journey,” detailing the Sikh experience in America from the time of the first Sikh settlers on the West coast through the present day was another evening highlight. Photographs from the early days of Sikhs in America were displayed along with recent photographs taken from Fiona Aboud, Gurmustuk Singh Khalsa and Jagatjoti Singh’s Sikh collection.

The evening program started with an incredible rendition of the national anthem sung by Ms. Soni Kaur Sarin who was accompanied by Bishen Singh on the Tabla and Marija Temo on the Guitar. A mesmerizing bhangra and gidda dance performance by Arch Ensemble had the audience clapping and tapping to the lively beats.

Dr. Deanna Marcum, Associate Librarian for Library Services, emphasized the significance of the Sikh Collection Initiative and congratulated the attendees “on advancing the enrichment of America’s cultural and intellectual diversity.”

Mirin Kaur, President of Kaur Foundation thanked the guests and dignitaries and left them with a poignant thought, “What would the Sikhs who came in the 1800’s think, if they saw us sitting in this beautiful auditorium of the Library of Congress celebrating the launch of the Sikh Collection Initiative?”

The second day brought together leading writers, historians, artists and business leaders. Mr. F.S. Aijazuddin from Lahore, Pakistan, an authority of Sikh art and history, spoke on the rich culture and cast of characters of the Court of Lahore during the secular reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Susan Stronge, senior curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, enthralled the audience with the institution's extraordinary collection of artifacts from the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The morning session ended with a spirited discussion moderated by Dr. Manmohan Singh, between H.E. Navtej Sarna, India’s Ambassador to Israel and the author and journalist Mr. Christy Campbell as they discussed their recent books on the life and times of Maharaja Duleep Singh.

The afternoon session was a lively exchange between NPR's Kojo Nnamdi of the “Kojo Nnamdi Show” and Sikh business leaders: Jagdeep Singh, CEO of NASDAQ-traded Infinera, Daya Singh, CEO of Akal Security, Kanwarjit Singh of the Gates Foundation and Ranjit Singh of Deloitte. Kojo Nnamdi’s wit and charm kept the panelists on their toes. The Conference attendees got to enjoy some of Kojo’s personal stories as well.

Next, Dr. Mann, Ajeet Cour and Dr. Paul Taylor presented their views on “The Importance of Establishing Sikh Chairs in Universities.”

The conference ended with the young Sikh professionals discussing their work in advancing the Sikh image in their chosen fields and how their heritage has played a vital role in their development. Arpinder Kaur, the first turbaned pilot of a major airline in America, Valarie Kaur, a filmmaker who traveled across America in the days after 9/11 filming instances of hate crimes against Sikhs and Muslims, Sonny Singh Caberwal, the first Sikh model who was featured in a Kenneth Cole ad campaign, and Ranjit Singh Rangr, an architect. The session was moderated by Preetmohan Singh.

Throughout the two-day conference, a unifying message kept reverberating: that it is important to build, span, and reinforce bridges of friendships, our collective vision, peace and prosperity; dispel ignorance by discovering those areas that offer uncommon common grounds to our shared destiny as Americans and members of one human race and family.

The Kaur Foundation led by Ms. Mirin Kaur Phool is committed to fostering cross-cultural ties through outreach programs and building institutional partnerships that nurture ties that advance the cause and concerns of Sikh Americans. For further information visit www.kaurfoundation.org

 







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