At a meeting of the Sikh Student Association, four students sat in a room in the Interfaith Center on Sunday afternoon. Accompanied by music played from a phone, the students meditated, chanting the name of the Sikh god, Waheguru, and focusing on the divine nature.
This group is designed to foster a sense of community among the University’s Sikh population and to spread awareness of Sikhism to the student body.
According to junior Sirtaj Singh, head of the group, the Sikh Student Association has gone through intermittent periods of inactivity in past years, but it is now seeking to be a consistent and vigorous student group.
“The organization has been around for a decent amount of time,” Singh said. “It became re-active last year when I started it up, but it was just me. Now it’s me and three freshman and a graduate student.”
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion founded in the 15th century in the Punjab region of South Asia, what is now known as India and Pakistan.
“The conception [of God] I would say is personal, because we believe that God resides within each one of us,” freshman Arshdeep Kaur said. “Not that God has a specific physical form, but that he is part of everything around us and everything that we are.”
“It’s almost like God is sometimes described as a cosmic energy that permeates everything,” Singh said.
The meeting on Sunday was a simran, a meditation session.
In a simran, Sikhs can choose from a range of hymns as laid out in the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book. The hymn is chanted repeatedly, and, with an inner focus on the meaning of the hymn, both body and mind are brought together in one purpose, Singh explained.
“The goal is to get to the point where God is always in the back of your mind,” Singh said.
The Sikh Student Association aims to hold simrans on a monthly basis; these should be on Sundays at 2 p.m. in the Interfaith Center.
The main Sikh religious service, in which hymns are chanted and group prayers are made, is known as kirtan. A granthi, whose job is to read from the Guru Granth Sahib, leads a discussion of the hymns and other relevant issues in the Sikh community.
“Anyone can read [the Guru Granth Sahib], but [granthis are] trained in giving meanings and giving guidance to the congregation,” Kaur said.
“Anybody can become [a granthi],” Singh said. “It’s not limited... If you learn yourself and figure it out and have good insight, you can do it... It’s not supposed to be considered that a granthi is more higher up on the pedestal of morality than somebody that’s not a granthi. But the idea is he’s understood more.”
When Sikhism first developed, the subcontinent was religiously diverse, containing Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist populations. The first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak, preached that all virtuous religions were an equally valid vehicle to the truth of God.
“Sikhism was built upon the premise that it was open to everybody,” Singh said. “Whether you’re part of the religion or not, we have things that you can apply to yourself to your daily life.”
“The first line of our holy book is, ‘God is one,’” Kaur said. “Which is saying that whoever we worship is really the same energy, the same deity. We just need to find that unity.”
Freshman Vignesh Sadras is not a Sikh but attended the simran.
“I’m actually a member of the Hindu Student Council, but I came to visit for Open Hands Open Hearts week,” Sadras said.
Hopkins holds Open Hands Open Hearts week for the purpose of promoting awareness of religious diversity.
“I’ve gone to a gudwara before, which is like church for Sikhism, as part of my religious school. I really liked the practice there. The teachings are so synonymous across all religions,” Sadras said. “And for me I just feel it was an opportunity to learn more about their religion.”
“There is a lot of truths in a lot of religions,” Singh said. “If you adhere to those, you should be good.”