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Every year, the Yuba City of California draws large crowds for the annual Sikh festival, Nagar Kirtan, around the first weekend of November. More than one hundred thousand members of the Sikh community travel to the city every year to take part in the event, which is claimed as the largest gathering of Sikhs in the United States.

What is Nagar Kirtan?

 Nagar Kirtan or ‘Neighbourhood’ Kirtan is the celebration of the creation of Khalsa. It is a celebratory event, which traditionally, starts with a procession led by saffron-robed Panj Piare. Guru Gobind Singh Ji held the Panj Piaras in such high regard that he bowed to them and received Amrit (Baptism) from them.

The Nagar Kirtan procession is traditionally led by the Panj Piare. After this, the holy Guru Granth Sahib is carried on at least one large float. Several Sewadars are present in the float to sing Kirtan and provide service to the Guru. While following Guru Ji and the Panj Piare, the Sangat chants shabads or hymns, and revels in the beautiful day. It is not uncommon for floaters to receive refreshments from fixed locations or following floats.

Many sewadars, or volunteers, clean the roads before the Panj Pyaras and the Guru Granth Sahib are conveyed out of reverence. Many people in the procession may not be wearing shoes despite the rain or snow, and this is out of reverence for their holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib. A lot of people also wear scarves and saffron or orange to signify their religious beliefs. People attending the Sikh parade show respect by lowering their heads in a bow, and receiving parshad from the Sewadars. 

At the end of the Nagar Kirtan, the holy Guru Granth Sahib is brought back into the Gurdwara for the Ardas. It is at this point that the entire Sadh Sangat or the congregation comes to a halt. 

In Yuba City, the Nagar Kirtan is the annual celebration during the first weekend of November. It is the representation of what it means to be a Sikh in the American land. 
All about Yuba City’s Nagar Kirtan 

Nagar Kirtan festival in Yuba City is a weekend-long celebration of the installation of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib as the Living Guru. The weekend's festivities begin with a continuous reading of the full scripture. It ends in a long parade on Sunday morning, with a float in support of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib leading a procession of floats through Yuba City on a 4.5-mile route.

Every year, Sikh families prepare and distribute an enormous amount of free food and beverages to everyone who attends the celebration. At the Yuba City event alone, members of the Sikh community give away between 200,000 and 250,000 free meals to the attendees every year. After seeing a Sikh march in Canada, Didar Singh Bains was motivated to organize a Sikh parade in his hometown of Yuba City, and he diligently promoted the event.

The whole Sikh American community in Yuba City contributed to the success of this event by securing the necessary city government approvals, managing the complex logistics, and cooking and giving large amounts of food to everyone who attends the festival. The Sikh Parade began in 1980 and has grown to attract approximately 100,000 people each year from all over the United States and as far away as Canada, England, and India.

The Yuba City Sikh Parade of 2019 

The 2019  celebration at Yuba City marked the 550th birthday of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. 

Inderpreet Kaur, the spokesperson of the Sikh Coalition said, “Because of the number of Sikhs and because of the high attendance of Sikhs who will be there, it's actually pretty beautiful to see how one community can really come together to celebrate."

She added, “What's so special about this is I know that Nagar Kirtans take place in Sikh communities in pockets all over the country, but this specific one is pretty spectacular because it's a rare opportunity to capture the essence of what it means to be a Sikh in America.”  

It offered at least three main attractions for visitors: the fireworks show, the bazaar, and the parade. Every day, whether one was looking for blankets, textiles, diamonds, shoes, or anything else, the bazaar was a mainstay of the celebration.

Kaur said, “Anything you think you may need you will find there, and in addition, there's food literally everywhere.”

Those who wished to see the fireworks display arrived before November 1st, 2019. The sparks flew at 9 p.m. for the half-hour program. The major event took place on November 3 with the Sikh Parade, which continued till the afternoon.

The Yuba City Sikh Festival has grown to be one of the most festive and celebratory Nagar Kirtan bringing so many people from the Sikh community together. 

The Nagar Kirtan and the Sikh Diaspora

The Nagar Kirtan goes back to replicate the familiarity of a world left behind by the Sikh diaspora. It creates the separate place and time that Sikhs desire in the host country while also serving as a public reminder to non-Sikhs of their presence amidst them. Nagar Kirtans are especially common during the month of Vaisakhi and take place all over the globe now. 

Even when thousands of people are walking beside you, partaking in the Nagar Kirtan can provide relief and peace. When one sings Kirtan while following the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, one can achieve pure solace. This is the essence of Nagar Kirtan. Young and old, Sikh and non-Sikh, follow the Nagar Kirtan route, stand on the sidelines, and generously provide refreshments to everybody.

For years now, the Sikh community organizes Nagar Kirtan as a form of religious and cultural celebration. Sikhs come together to celebrate, rejoice and praise the message of the ten gurus by revering Guru Granth Sahib Ji as the living guru.

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