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Saturday, September 19, 2009

If I Wasn't Mormon I'd Be A Sikh: Southall

*This post is for a class assignment! For those that do not want to read my full experiences in Southall please enjoy my pictures!*

On September 10, 2009 our group headed down to Southall to experience- and take a look at the Sikh and Hindu cultures. When I found out we were doing this I was excited to see and learn more about a different culture.
That afternoon we got on a train to head down to Southall. The first thing I noticed when I got off train was the people on the streets. The majority of the people were of Middle Eastern descent. Some women were wearing the head coverings, and traditional dress and some men were wearing turbans. The shop signs and billboards were also in both English and a different language than I could not recognize. The smells in the streets were different as well- to me is smelled like curry and Indian food.
The first place we went to was the Sikh Gurdwara. Immediately as we walked into the Gurdwara we took our shoes off. I believe this was a sign of respect to the Gurdwara and their scriptures. We then went into the prayer room. While I was in the prayer room I noticed that there were men and women in both traditional and modern dress. I believe this is because there are different generations going to the Gurdwara and because the Sikh religion seems accepting of all people regardless of how strong they are into their faith. To me I saw a pattern of the older generation wearing the more traditional dress and the younger generation wearing Western type clothing. There were a few families that walked in that had younger children. There was a young girl around the age of 3 or 4 that went right up to the altar- gave her tithing- and knelt down to pray. This reminded me of little children in our church that know how to pray or take the sacrament at such a young age. It is interesting to me that within most religions parents take on the responsibility to teach their young children the practices and traditions of their culture.
In class the before coming to Southall we learned that in some strict Sikh cultures the people never turn their backs on the scriptures- at this Gurdwara the people seemed less strict because some turned their backs while walking away- to me this shows the progression or different types of religion within a religion. Looking at my own religion I think this idea applies because within the LDS religion there are people that practice Mormonism differently. Some families are stricter than others.
After leaving the Main Hall there was an older woman handing out Prasade- a little bit of a sweet when we got out of the room. The food was made from water, flour, butter, and sugar. I later learned that this food was given out to give the people something in return for going into temple. There is a since of give and return in this religion. After that I walked downstairs and enjoyed langar. I really liked taking part of langar because again it is the church giving back to the people. While I was there it seems that langar also seemed to be a place of socializing. There were many people talking together while enjoying their food. I liked this place because everyone was very friendly here. There were both men and women serving food and they seemed happy to be helping out. That is other thing that really impressed me was the total equality in the Sikh religion. From our chat with Singh he thought us that women are equal to men if not a little higher because they give life to great kings and warriors. I noticed the equality all throughout the Gurdwara. One thing that stuck out to me in his talk was when he mentioned that being a Sikh is a way of life- not just a thing you do once a week- this reminded me of my religion. We then had an amazing speaker come and talk to us and teach us more about Sikhs. One thing that really stood out to me was that Singh did practice the 5 Ks (knife, hair, bangle, comb, and undergarment). He also told us that as Sikhs the people are also continually learning all the time and bettering themselves.
As we left the Gurdwara we broke into small groups of about 3. We were told this would help us fit in better, and not be so obvious about not being from here. Even though I was in a small group it seemed the people could still tell. Within the first five minutes the young men on the street corners where trying to strike up conversations and in a way hit on us. Some of the phrases I heard where: “You’re lucky I’m fasting.” “These American girls have beautiful eyes.” And “Look how beautiful these Americans are.” At first I was taken aback by the comment, but then I thought it was interesting that even though we were not talking they could tell we were American.
We then went to two Hindu Mandirs. The first thing I noticed was the people here were all dressed in a more modern way. Most of the women were not wearing head coverings. One similarity that I saw was that after the people went and prayer in front of the Gods they would go to the priest and take the Holy Water and get a piece of fruit. At both the Gurdwara and the Mandir the people get a little bit of something for coming and communing with God. While at the Shree Ram Mandir I noticed five people going up to the Shivling- which is the God of fertility. I also noticed that after the people were done with making their prayers they would ring a bell in the front middle of the room- I learned that this action was to wake the Gods. Another similarity that I saw was that the people in the Mandir also gave a sort of tithing by putting money in front of the statues- this is what the Sikhs did in front of their scriptures. At the Vishwa Hindu Kendra a woman came up and welcomed us and reminded us that the statutes where just symbols not God and that there was only one God. I thought this was interesting because we did not say anything about Hindus being polytheistic. She also encouraged us to take part in the Holy Water at the end. It was interesting to experience a Mandir and the people were real open and accepting to us coming into their temple
Going to Southall was an exciting experience because it allowed me to learn and delve more into the Sikh and Hindu culture. I was surprised how similar the LDS and Sikh religions were. I found myself saying, “If I wasn’t Mormon I’d be a Sikh.” I thought the values and practices of the Sikhs were so in line with those we learn as LDS people it was amazing.

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- Alex