The sixth annual Diwali Community Dinner hosted by the Sikh-American Community in Angels Camp brought hundreds of community leaders and citizens together for a feast to celebrate family and embrace some of the core beliefs of the Sikh religion: equality, sharing, work, service, tolerance and wellness.
“We wanted to share our meal with the community, not just our food, but our family,” said CJ Singh, 21, as he happily greeted guests and explained what each food item was.
The community of Sikh men, adorned with turbans and the woman with headscarves, cheerfully greeted the guests at the Country Lane Estates clubhouse and often showed them to seats, helped serve them and welcomed them to their “family dinner.”
Diwali, celebrated by Sikhs, Hindus and Jains, is also known as the Festival of Light, celebrating time immemorial on the last day of the dark half of the lunar month of Kartika (the end of October beginning of November). Diwali is derived from Sanskrit dipamla or diavall, meaning nocturnal illumination or row of lamps. Hence, the festival is observed throughout India with glowing lamps or lights in windows with its earliest forms being to ward off, expel or appease the malignant spirits of darkness and bad luck.
“When we moved to Calaveras County in 2005, it was important to be part of the community,” recalled CJ Singh, whose father, who goes only by the name Singh, started the annual community dinners.
It didn’t go without notice that people often mistook their identities and the family wanted to reach out to the community they loved so much and share their home. When the idea to host a Diwali dinner was pitched to the elder Singh and his close friend, Harjit Shergill, they knew they didn’t want to make it an exclusive event.
“They wanted to invite everyone in the community,” CJ Singh said. “That first year we had 175 people.”
Gurlovellen Kaur, 15, explained the suits the women wear follow the traditional Sikh uniform code, yet each person “can choose” to what extent they follow the code. For instance, her mother wears a turban, while she uses a simple head cover or scarf and her aunt chooses no cover.
Though the women were colorfully dressed, they each wore a kirpan, which is a ceremonial sword worn “to protect oneself and the weak, and to fight injustice,” according to a booklet handed out at the dinner to explain some of the Sikh customs.
Gurlovellen and the extended “family” are all from the Punjab, India. She and her siblings, as with most of the extended family, are bilingual, speaking both English and Punjabi.
U.S. Special Forces veteran Dave Landes makes it a priority to attend the event each year, meeting new people and telling his stories. He also admits, “I love the food.”
“I have been coming for three years,” said Supervisor-elect Dennis Mills. “I researched before I came the first time so that I could better understand the history and customs … We sat down with strangers and came away with friends.”
The food was served buffet style and the seating was open. At one table you could be sitting with the district attorney, another a Vietnam veteran and at another the county chief of probation.
“Sikhism is equality of everyone, before any religion you are human,” said CJ Singh.
The booklet handed out at the event further details the uniqueness of the faith, stating that Sikhism is a pious way for achieving peace by doing service to the society. Some of these principles are honest living, sharing with others, helping and defending the weak, praying for wellness of humanity and maintaining good and moral character.