Have you ever watched a commercial repeatedly and then come to realize that you never quite figured out what it was attempting to advertise? You’ll remember the jingle and the characters, but not much else. And then, out of nowhere, neurons fire, and whoa, you’ll finally realize that someone was trying to make you buy something and that both the someone and the something are very clear.

I remember going to the gurdwara as a young Kaur in the summer and asking myself when is that day going to arrive– that day when the sangat distributes wonderfully cold and sweet rose-flavored milk. Year after year I remember that day finally arriving: the contrast of the cold cement supporting my feet and the stagnant heat finding its way through my chuni while taking the first delicious sip of refreshing ruhafza before chugging it down and looking for more. But year after year, even after listening (and not passively either) to kathaa about the significance of this service, I would forget all the painful history that led to this tradition. Similar to the way I typically fail to recognize a product placement in an ad, I missed the boat completely when it came to Sikh history. Unlike the commercial, however, the boat wasn’t a campaign designed by a marketing agent to sway my purchasing power. Rather, the boat was exponentially more important: it was a part of Guru Ji’s message and a reflection of my spirit.

Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the firth Guru of the Sikhs, came to this world in 1563 C.E. as the youngest of three sons of the fourth Guru, Guru Ram Das. In 1581 C.E., Guru Ram Das designated Guru Arjan Sahib as his successor Guru. During his stewardship of the faith, Guru Arjan Sahib continued his predecessors’ work of spreading Guru Nanak’s message of faith, hope, prayer, and love and unity of all faiths… Guru Arjan was tortured to death on June 16, 1606 in Lahore and his body was thrown into the river Ravi. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ and Socrates’ death by poison are the only historical parallels to the unwarranted torture and resultant death of Guru Ji. Guru Arjan, a messenger of love of God and among all people, was executed because of his growing popularity. Sikhs often refer to Guru Arjan Sahib as “Shanti de Punj, Shaheedan de Sartaj,” or “the embodiment of peace, the supreme martyr.” The martyrdom took place during the hottest part of the year, and the torture included seating Guru Sahib on a hot griddle and pouring hot sand over his body. After four days of torture, one devoted follower forsaking personal safety managed to get cold fruit juice through to the Guru. Since then, it has become traditional for Sikhs to observe the anniversary of Guru Sahib’s martyrdom with congregational prayer, taking out processions singing prayers, and performing “Chhabeel” or serving cold refreshing drinks to all, irrespective of religion, race, or caste. The drink traditionally consists of diluted milk sweetened with sugar and often flavored. Juices or cold water may be offered as well.

The Boston Sikh Sangat is commemorating the anniversary of Guru Arjan Dev Ji’s martyrdom by holding a Chhabeel on Sunday, June 14. Hopefully with your help this year the headlines in the Boston Globe will differ from years past. And hopefully I’ll remember more than just the cold yummy drinks in the years ahead.

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