In Reverence of Guru Nanak’s Teachings on His 550th Birth Anniversary

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: The emotions in the packed hall of over 200 people were charged with love and adulation for a saint who lived among us five centuries ago and preached a message of universality, inclusiveness and brotherhood that has transcended the generations and been the founding stone for one of the world’s great religions; Sikhism.

Looking over the faces of the invited guests who sat at the round tables laid out in the main banquet hall of India House, Dr. Raj Bhalla spoke about the life of Nanak from his birth in 1469 in the village of Talwandi (now in Pakistan) to his death in 1539 and the evolution of his beliefs and teachings that attracted his followers.

Raj and Kanwal Bhalla, the co-hosts of the celebration at India House on Saturday, December 1

Bhalla related the famous incident when Nanak, born to a Hindu family, received 20 rupees from his father Mehta Kalu to buy goods to start a trading business. Instead Nanak took the money to buy clothes, food and medicine and distributed them among the destitute in the village, saying it was a true bargain to help the needy.

Bhalla went on to describe Nanak’s life, his wanderings across the world and how his reputation grew and spread as a wise spiritual teacher and philosopher. He described the hermitage in Kartarpur where Guru Nanak spent 18 years of his life and introduced the practice of three daily prayers and a langar or community kitchen.

Raj Bhalla with Surendra Adhana, Deputy Consul General with the Consulate of India

A retired colonel from the Indian Army and a devout Sikh, Bhalla and his wife Kanwal, have endeared themselves to the Indian community through their many acts of generosity towards many causes as well as the general well-being of community-wide projects.

Bhalla, 87, has been active in the India Culture Center as a former director, president and trustee and within the governing committee of India House. He is also a proud freemason who has worked with his lodge in Richmond (a suburb of Houston) to help the mainstream community and was honored in October 2017 with a special ceremony naming the lodge hall in his honor.

Directors of the India Culture Center who co-hosted the event, from left Rajiv Bhavsar, Charlie Patel, President Nisha Mirani and Swapan Dhairyawan with Raj Bhalla

With the help of his fellow directors from the ICC Swapan Dhairyawan, Charlie Patel and Rajiv Bhavsar, and especially current President Nisha Mirani, Bhalla arranged for the commemoration of Guru Nanak’s 550th birthyear by arranging a fittingly celebratory program that lasted 90 minutes and was followed by dinner catered by Bombay Brasserie.

The Indian government has proclaimed this year and the next as a commemorative period to mark Guru Nanak’s life and teachings and has asked all its missions across the globe to hold special events in his honor.

Riyaaz Qawali group, led by Sonny mehta, peformed three devotional songs in praise of Guru Nanak’s teachings

Although this was a private event hosted by Bhalla and the ICC, the Deputy Consul General Surendra Adhana attended the function and spoke briefly. He explained how the Indian Government has been able to negotiate with the Pakistani Government to open a land corridor for pilgrims without requiring a visa from Dera Baba Nanak to Kartarpur, only two miles from the border, on the bank of the Ravi River where Guru Nanak set up his first ashram. The corridor project has commenced with founding stones laid on November 26 in India and November 28 in Pakistan. He also said that the Lodhi-Sultanpur township would be developed and the Sikh Gurbani translated into all major Indian and world languages.

Sukhdev Singh on the harmonium and Agampal Singh on the tabla performed a closing kirtan

The event started with a video clip of a shabad gurbani sung at the Golden Temple in Amritsar and later a video clip of Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj proclaiming the start of Guru Nanak’s 550th Anniversary celebration. On the small stage, under a picture of Guru Nanak, the hometown group of Riyaaz Qawali with a growing following, led by Sonny Mehta sang three rousing devotional songs spun in their unique style. And Sukhdev Singh on the harmonium, accompanied by his son Agampal Singh on the tabla, sang a closing kirtan.