Sikh Youth Camp 2010: The Fragrance of Gurmat in Australia
by Dr.Mohinder Paul Singh
New Year brings in gifts for everybody; the gifts of hopes and new dreams. This year, like a few previous ones, brought the special gift of 'Summer Gurmat Camp' for the coming up generation and youth of Australian Sikh community. It was held in Wakehurst Park way, Narrabeen from Jan 12 to Jan17, 2010. In the final count, it proved the largest one with almost 350 campers held so far under the auspices of [Sikh Youth Australia]. The prestigious organization was initially organized by some very dedicated Sikh families from Singapore and Malaysia that came to be supported by comparatively new settlers.
The Sikh Youth Association of Australia, perhaps, is the only Sikh organization that keeps aloof from local Sikh-Gurdwara politics but is wholeheartedly committed to brighten the Sikh image in broader perspective. On Jan 12, 2010, organizers as well as campers, one and all, set out for camp-site, a scenic valley by the banks of gently flowing river. It was a hectic scene though. Shri Guru Granth Sahib, the Holy Scripture, was brought in grand, solemn fanfare & installed on Holy Throne in congregation hall. Evening Prayers, Rehraas Sahib followed by Kirtan and salutation to the saffron flag as well as the Australian flag amidst the soulful singing of Sikh National Anthem, "Dehu Shiva Bar Mohe Ihe...", as also that of Australian anthem summed up the whole ceremony that set the tone for following days' routine.
After formal briefing and food, campers dispersed for their cabins and resting-places. At exact 11:00 PM lights went out and whole camp-site was engulfed in velvet darkness of the night. Regular camp began on Jan 13, 2010 in the ambrosial hours of early morning. Nitnem, Asa Di Vaar, salute to the flags and singing of national anthems concluded the morning ceremony. First presentation was delivered in the congregation hall in musical-narrative way i.e. Katha-Kirtan pattern. It expressed the major theme of the camp that is 'Kirat Karna', 'Wand Chhakna', and ‘Naam Japna'. The major subject virtually forms one of the basic tenets of Sikhism: the Trinity of honest labour, sharing the fruits and remembrance of God.
Soon afterwards, campers left for workshop sessions in which both local and international speakers discussed major theme as well as other relevant topics in class-cum-table talk manner with various age groups. Evening session was held in congregation hall. In between, breakfast, lunch, supper, dinner and all kinds of refreshments were frequently served. Lights went out at 11:00 PM giving way to pleasant quietude all around.
Throughout the duration of the camp similar routine was repeated with suitable modifications from early morning till light off-hours. The most attractive feature of every session-cum-diwan was regular 'Kirtan Darbar' in which youngsters- both boys and girls participated in Shabad singing competition. The quality, rhythm and divine vibrations cata pulted the audience into spiritual trance. Radiant faces and melodious singing created an aura of bliss and viberations. Harmonium, tabla, guitar, violin, dilruba, flute etc. were played by the campers themselves. There was also room for games, water games and sports. One evening saw the participants enjoy Punjabi culture show with songs, bhangra and gidha beats.
Another evening, a special open forum was organized in which facilitators answered questions from the participants in open, friendly and constructive atmosphere. A short play touching upon family values was presented by young children under the direction of Bhai Chamkaur Singh of Malaysia. Yoga class was another attraction. Mr. Laurie Ferguson, Australia Government's representative and Madam Laurie Markus, Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Migrant Affairs came to address the campers. Prof. Mohinder Paul Singh (Canada) and Bibi Jassi Kaur (U.S.A.) presented their books 'The Sikhs in Canada' and 'Dear Takuya' respectively to the distinguish guests.
In addition to the local facilitators: Bibi Gurmeet Kaur, Paramjit Kaur, Soninder Dimwal, Kalwant Kaur and others; foreign scholars, Giani Sukhdev Singh from Malaysia, Veer Manpreet Singh (UK), Bibi Jassi Kaur (USA) and Dr. MohinderPaul Singh (Canada) were specially invited to the camp. Giani Sukhdev Singh, an old time Gursikh runs an orphanage 'Gurpuri Ashram' in Malaysia. Veer Manpreet Singh, a product of Akal Academy Baru Sahib (H.P.) is an excellent Kirtania-singer. His composition “Santahu Ram Naam Nistariya II....” remained theme Shabad throughout. Bibi Jassi Kaur is a forceful speaker and Prof. Mohinderpaul Singh's lectures, kirtan and katha was highly applauded.
During the camp, SYA Website was officialy launched by Mr. Laurie Ferguson. All campers were divided in Jathas named after Holy Takhats: Akal Takhat Sahib, Kes Garh Sahib, Patna Sahib, Damdama Sahib and Hazoor Sahib. By and by the last day sort of grand finale, came by. In final session, departing presentations were followed by award giving ceremony in which Jathas and Kirtan Groups were adjudged on their merit and were honoured accordingly. Final Salutation to the Saffron as well as Australian flag accompanied by singing of respective National Anthems were performed at 12:30 PM. Prayer of thanks were offered and Guru Granth Sahib was given a solemn send off in the midst of traditional Shabad singing with Dholak and Chimtas (Drum and Cymbals). It was a touching and memorable scene. At 2:00 PM sharp, camp came to a splendid close.
Foreign guest speakers were also invited by families as well as Gurdwaras. Giani Sukhdev Singh, Veer Manpreet Singh, Bibi Jassi Kaur delighted the audience with speeches and Kirtan. Professor Mohinder Paul Singh's (writer's) bilingual (Punjabi & English) sermons enhanced with sweet Kirtan were appreciated by Gurdwara congregations of Austral, Parklea and Brisbane. On a very personal note, during my stay in Australia, I happened to meet some very interesting and dedicated persons. M. Singh Baweja (an old timer 'All India Sikh Students Federationist' and also a representative of the 'Sikh Review' Calcutta), Harjinder Singh Minhas (A friend of Harbhajan Halwarwis'), Bh. Harpal Singh and his family (Brisbane), S. Bawa Singh (Austral), Harbhajan Singh Dhillon, Robin Singh, Bhai Sarjeet Singh (Melbourn),Giani Jasbir Singh (Parklea) , Giani Kuldip Singh (Brisbane), and Gurdwara Societies of Austral, Parklea and Brisbane and many more are among those whose company I really enjoyed.
Hospitality offered by Bhai Mohinder Pal Singh, Veer Sukhwinder Singh, Bhai Harpal Singh and their families is, indeed, unforgettable. Last but not the least, I have no adequate words to express my heart felt thanks for the entire team of Sikh Youth Association of Australia. Bhai Sukhwinder Singh, Satwant Singh Calais, Ajmer Singh Gill, Amrik Singh Singh Minhas, Vikram Grewal, Gurpreet Singh, Bibi Inderjeet Kaur, Jaswinder Singh Sidhu, Surinder Jeet Singh and others are, indeed, a blessed group of people, dedicated to the noble cause of Guru's Panth and its upcoming generation, the flowery youth of Sikh community. Australia is counted among the seven continents of the earth and is situated in south-eastern fringe of the globe. About half a million Indians live there.
Sikh Punjabi population is approximately one hundred thousand in figures. Even though comparatively new yet, they form a very significant segment of Australian society. There is a stretch of land Woolgoolga known as Banana State as well as Mini Punjab which is amazingly populated by very early Sikh Punjabi settlers. Australia is a developed, rich country and an index of 'Parliamentary Democracy' as well as that of 'Western & European Culture'. Throughout the camp mercury ran around 40 C whereas at the same time it was -40 C in Canada and freezing cold in India. Although scorching heat but love, devotion and charm of the campers turned the hot weather into pleasant spring time.
On its own, the Sikh Youth Camp became part of history leaving behind a reverberating massage:-“Qaayam Hai Aur Rahega Baqi Nishan Hamara”--”The emblem of our existence shall always be intact out there and remain so forever!” From amongst the cluster of memories related with my stay in Australia, a few remain blazoned out. Before camp got underway, we were treated to a delightful Kirtan cruise gently sailing under the monumental bridge.
On first day, when I was coming for Evening Diwan, an innocent and soothing voice startled me! “Uncle!I like the way you talk, come again.” I turned my face and saw a sweet about ten years old boy clad in blue with Khanda (Quoite) on Turban. The words gave me a boost of delight. Further on the way I felt a whiff of fragrance, the sweet smell of newly blossomed white lily-jasmine flowers. It not only turned the whole surrounding fragrant; it also filled me with superjoy. And when on final day, I set out for Sydney Airport on my return journey, the fragrance of the sweet memories of the camp travelled with me all along.