The Sardar and Sardarni (yup, Sardarnis too) Rockers and Metalheads Group on Facebook sent a sweet message earlier this afternoon giving the heads up on Fatbook, a great band out of Appleton, Wisconsin with guitarist/vocalist Harjinder Singh Bedi. Listened to a few of their samples on their myspace page and already dig ’em. Wonder when they’ll be touring the east coast…

If you’re the lucky winner of the iPod through the Idea Contest, you can try upgrading to an iTouch so that you can load it up with iSikhi, a Gurbani search application!

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iSikhi allows you to search the Guru Granth Sahib and view shabads line by line with English translations, much like sikhitothemax. It would be nice if one could quickly look up the Panj Banis though. I’ve also had some trouble with the search function, but maybe that’s because my Gurmukhi needs some tuning up. I’m incredibly happy with the availability of the product and look forward to updates and new features! You can find the download on their home page here.

The Sikh Spirit Foundation is hosting an Idea Contest for brainstormers and reformers! A well thought out two paragraphs on how to improve Sikh education or our gurdwaras may win you an iPod, start the breakdown of unhealthy groupthink, and propel our community towards exciting directions.

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Maybe I should submit my The Most Fabulous Gurudwara Ever Would list!

More about Sikh Spirit Foundation: it serves to promote Sikh values through education and support innovative projects and organizations in various areas of Sikh community development. Current grantees include Ensaaf, Sikhnet, Sikh Coalition, and Sikh Research Institute. Interested in submitting a proposal? The first cycle opens on April 20, 2009. Check out their website for more details.

Before a beaded string of musical melodies lies a riddle. This riddle, composed by Guru Arjan Dev Ji, provides much clarity and purpose when revealed.

Mundavani, one of the final hymns of the Guru Granth Sahib, is sometimes translated as “riddle.” It precedes Raagmala, “the beaded string of musical melodies.” Mundavani is also described as Guru Ji’s “closing seal” of the Guru Granth Sahib as this composition served to authenticate and preclude any apocryphal additions to the bani (sikhiwiki.org). Like most of you, I have been in touch with these six lines since I was a wee little Sikh. And yet for years I only listened. It was only recently that the riddle of light shined within my mind, heart and spirit.

ਮੁੰਦਾਵਣੀ ਮਹਲਾ ੫ ॥
Mundavani, Fifth Mehl:

ਥਾਲ ਵਿਚਿ ਤਿੰਨਿ ਵਸਤੂ ਪਈਓ ਸਤੁ ਸੰਤੋਖੁ ਵੀਚਾਰੋ
Upon this Plate, three things have been placed: Truth, Contentment and Contemplation.

ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਨਾਮੁ ਠਾਕੁਰ ਕਾ ਪਇਓ ਜਿਸ ਕਾ ਸਭਸੁ ਅਧਾਰੋ ॥
The Ambrosial Nectar of the Naam, the Name of our Lord and Master, has been placed upon it as well; it is the Support of all.

ਜੇ ਕੋ ਖਾਵੈ ਜੇ ਕੋ ਭੁੰਚੈ ਤਿਸ ਕਾ ਹੋਇ ਉਧਾਰੋ ॥
One who eats it and enjoys it shall be saved.

ਏਹ ਵਸਤੁ ਤਜੀ ਨਹ ਜਾਈ ਨਿਤ ਨਿਤ ਰਖੁ ਉਰਿ ਧਾਰੋ ॥
This thing can never be forsaken; keep this always and forever in your mind.

ਤਮ ਸੰਸਾਰੁ ਚਰਨ ਲਗਿ ਤਰੀਐ ਸਭੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਪਸਾਰੋ ॥੧॥
The dark world-ocean is crossed over, by grasping the Feet of the Lord; O Nanak, it is all the extension of God. ||1||

The ਥਾਲ or plate that nourishes us consists of three items: ਸਤੁ or truth or Naam, ਸੰਤੋਖੁ or contentment, ਵੀਚਾਰੋ or contemplation. The three items can be found in the plate of Gurbani. Mindful thinking and critical analysis of His creation and wonder sustains our being. This food for our soul must not just be eaten; let us savor them and allow our palates to absorb each of its distinct flavors.

Naam is an essential ingredient of this plate because it is through Naam that the items are uncovered. The riddle is only unraveled through understanding of the bani and with Waheguru’s kirpa. Once the riddle is grasped it should never be ignored. Rather, it should be enshrined in our heart at all times. Through our devotion and love for Waheguru we are given the strength and fortitude to to swim across the dark world ocean, the sea of fear and ignorance, and the sea of endless cycles of birth and death.

May we always remember the origin and key to this riddle. May I always remain humble when I reflect on this revealed knowledge. May I always be grateful to those who have taught me these lessons. May we swim through our personal obstacles and hurdles with Waheguru’s guidance. May we swim together through the dark sea of hate and intolerance as an enlightened sangat and panth in tune with the melody of the shabad.

You can hear more of Manpreet Singh here. Even better: listen to his entire album “Take It All.”

Open the Boston Globe today and you’ll see an article highlighting the attempts of various immigrant communities to maintain and preserve ties to their traditions and cultures. The Sikh and Indian generational experience is exemplified through little Sufi Kaur’s growing connection with the shabad and her interest in playing the harmonium under her mother’s instruction.

In Acton, a 7-year-old Sikh girl, accompanying herself on a harmonium under the direction of her mother, sings a hymn to the lord of light in the Punjabi language… With gentle encouragement from her mother, Sufi plays the harmonium, pumping with one hand and pressing the keyboard with the other, as she sings a Sikh devotional song.

Most of us are familiar with the harmonium and tabla, and teachers of the two instruments can be found nearly everywhere. The rubab, saranda, taus, saranda, sitar, and dilruba are also beautiful musical instruments through which the shabad comes alive. However, they are exceedingly rare to hear and appreciate as its musicians (and subsequently its teachers) are sadly few and far between.

Some are being taught arts common in their homes; others are learning skills that their parents never had a chance to study. Some youngsters are pushed by their parents; others have pushed their parents into finding teachers and classes for them.

Can we ensure that our language, music, and culture will survive the pressures of globalization and assimilation? Is it possible for “the ancient and the modern [to] blend seamlessly into a uniquely American lifestyle?” As long as we continue as individuals and a community to view this as our obligation to future generations, share our historical and spiritual knowledge with each other, and dedicate resources to doing so, I believe it is.

December has historically been a month comprised of revolutionary events. On December 9, 1948, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was opened for signature. On December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In December 1995, the FDA approved the first protease inhibitor, one of the now many classes of therapies available for the treatment of HIV infection. December 1 is now designated as World AIDS Day.

On Monday, December 8, 2008, Physicians for Human Rights and Harvard Medical School will be hosting a town hall meeting titled HIV/AIDS and the Right to Health: Leadership in the US and Globally commemorating World AIDS Day and the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. RSVP by midnight and be prepared to arrive super early if you want a seat.

From December 13-15, 2008 United Sikhs will be hosting Global Sikh Civil Rights Conference during which a Global Civil Rights Report will be released, cases will be presented to the United Nations and sangat, and a panel discussion will be held at the United Nations Church Center. E-mail law@unitedsikhs.org to RSVP or visit unitedsikhs.org for more information.

Because of revolutionary thinkers and activists, HIV is no longer a lethal disease but a chronic manageable condition that is now screened for in the same way we screen for high cholesterol and reported (in most states) in the same manner we notify patients about other blood work and studies. Because of raised voices and collective seva, Sikhs are making headway in defending their right to dignity, life and safety, and practice Sikhi. December 2008 marks only the beginning of change to come. Do your part in educating yourself about the issues and diseases afflicting our panth, erasing intolerance and helping to enact interventions through more than just surveillance research. Let us open our eyes and acknowledge past and present human rights violations in Punjab and throughout the world*. Let us reevaluate our own stigmas and acknowledge that HIV/AIDS affects Sikhs of all sexual orientations, backgrounds and ages. Let us raise our fists together and stay committed to change for months and years to come.

*including Zimbabwe, Turkey, Congo, Russia, Lebanon, Nigeria, Thailand, Burundi, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Kazakhstan, and the United States (Human Rights Watch Weekly Digest, Nov 28-Dec 3)

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His face is plastered on a Bank of America ad along a wall in Manhattan’s Port Authority Bus Terminal.

Can you help identify the Sikh with swagger?

When Sikhtalk first appeared on my radar screen I wasn’t overly enthralled. What were my thoughts on anonymous virtual volunteers dedicated to answering “questions that you’ve been waiting to ask someone, questions that nobody seems to have an answer for, not even your parents?” I would say they were similar to how Fareed Zakaria described a certain vice-presidential candidate: feisty and charismatic yet (quite possibly) utterly unqualified and ill-prepared.

Tina Fey-like smiles and winks can sometimes help prevent outright feelings of negativity. Although questions bubbled in my head, the site’s simplicity in design left a strong impression. With streamlined graphics, a bright and colorful background reminiscent of Autumn, and a Facebook logo in the corner, I couldn’t help but dig through the site a little more and read the given rationale behind its anonymity and disclaimers. It appears the site has no correlation to the percentage of Palin supporters among conservatives and liberals combined as it has now become a leading resource for thoughtful and probing web-friendly Sikhs of all ages.

I decided I’d plug a question into the box and see what sort of response I would receive (or not receive) in return. The Sikhtalk Crew promptly responded within 4 days of my entry.

Sikhpulse: If you had the opportunity to promote Sikhtalk on a blog, how would you describe it?

Sikhtalk Crew: Sikhtalk serves as a resource for young Sikhs to learn about Sikhism as well as its applications in the real world.

SP: Why are there no sample Q and A’s provided on the site?

ST: We’ve worked on a sample Q and A before, but decided that each person has a unique story behind his/her question. We feel that they should voice their ideas and thoughts in their own way. This allows our crew members to respond to questions in a personalized and appropriate manner.

SP: Can you assure that the questions are answered by those who are open-minded and varied in their opinions? What sort of variety comprises those who answer questions? What resources do you use to answer questions in addition to the Guru Granth Sahib– are any professors or educators approached?

ST: Our crew consists of a varied group of individuals pursuing Sikh academics who strive to provide an open-minded response. In all of our work, the Guru Granth Sahib represents the foundation of our thought processes. Our unique interpretations of the Guru’s teachings create rich discussions regarding question topics. In certain instances, when we significantly differ on issues, we even send multiple responses within one email. Our goal is not to send a “correct” response, but a response that encourages individuals to make an educated decision for themselves.

SP: What is the most common sort of question asked?

ST: We do not share typical questions, but we do get a range of them from all of our users. They include everything from personal life issues to interpretations of a Sikh’s rehit. In all of our responses, we make it clear that we are not trained professionals and do not take the responsibility of one.

SP: Has the Facebook app helped your site gain traffic and notability?

ST: The Facebook group has certainly widened our user base across North America. We are extremely satisfied with this and are not looking to pursue a global audience at this point in time.

What did I learn? That Sarah Palin and Sikhtalk have nothing in common. That we shouldn’t fall for talking points crafted by campaign advisers, simple ideological mantras, and all-hail-the-Maverick appeal. That to make responsible choices and avoid jumping to conclusions means to read through the fine print and delve into the background. I nearly discredited Sikhtalk when I first learned of it based on little to no information. Sarah Palin has the support of many conservatives and women across political lines… for reasons still unknown to me. Dangerous decisions in both instances. Boo Palin. Hooray for Sikhtalk and the Sikhtalk Crew!

Each day, more than 6,000 men, women and children search the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) Registry for a life-saving donor like you. These patients have leukemia, lymphoma and other blood cancers that can be treated by a bone marrow or cord blood transplant. For many of these patients, a transplant may be the best and only hope of a cure.

Because tissue types are inherited, patients are more likely to match someone from their own race or ethnicity. South Asians, unfortunately, make up less than 2% of donors on the National Marrow Donor Registry. Nearly 75% of South Asians that require a bone marrow transplant to live do NOT receive one because of the shortage of potential donors.

We can use the spirit of chardi kala and the urgency of vand chakna to help save lives. If you’re in the Boston area, between the ages of 18-60, in general good health, and committed to donating, you can put your ideals into practice this Sunday.

Where? Gurudwara Sikh Sangat Society Boston at 561 Windsor Place, Somerville, MA

When? Sunday, October 5th from 10 AM – 2PM

No blood tests are required to be on the registry; rather you’ll use a long cotton swab to swab the insides of your cheeks for 10 seconds. The cells that are collected on the swab are sent to be tested for human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genetic markers. Your HLA type is entered into the national registry; if a patient’s HLA type matches yours, you will be contacted by the NMDP and asked if you can donate.

Learn more at http://www.marrow.org/ABOUT/Need_for_Donors/index.html.

How do we personalize the message of Gurbani? The following short film argues it can be accomplished by learning our script, Gurmukhi, and engaging it with our history:

The message of the Gurus was conveyed in a language and vocabulary that the listener could understand and also develop an emotional bond with. The focus was on communicating the revealed message to spiritually and socially uplift the listener. The adoption of a local language as a symbol of group identity is well illustrated by the contributors of the Guru Granth Sahib. The use of a different language by the same contributor is a sign of a distinct religious and political group. It is a signal of unity in everyday circumstances.

The Guru Granth Sahib is a treasury of old dialects and languages spanning over 500 years. The oldest specimen of the language is from 12th century by Bhagat Jaidev whereas the latest is from the 17th century by Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib. At minimum, the Guru Granth Sahib is one of the world’s greatest collections of languages and anthology of divine poetry and repository of classical music.

Gurmukhi holds great historical significance. It is the vehicle of a scripture that belongs to a distinct faith which speaks against inequality; the script emphasizes the accessibility of religious teachings to all. By understanding the context, meaning, and grammar of our written and spoken language and learning our history we may begin to personally and directly interact with the divine… which means I have a lot of work to do.

A few weeks ago I happened to hear a bunch of residents going back and forth about Hopkins, a new TV show with underlying themes similar to most medical TV shows: trauma and drama. Although I groaned after I realized it was also a glorifying advertisement for the institution, the characters in this series prevented me from outright disliking it. They include Herman Singh Bagga, a fourth-year medical student at the time of shooting. ABC proudly displays his synopsis on its site: “He says being a Sikh puts a special responsibility on him because he may be the only member of his group an outsider meets. He views wearing a turban as an advantage because it makes him easy to remember.”

Born and reared in Erie, Pennsylvania, Herman is now at UCSF for his internship and residency. Awesome to see the Sikh identity intact and its representation held strong and celebrated in full force from schools, hospitals, resident banter, and TV screens coast to coast.