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‘Gathering Around The Light’ – Sikhs Hold Community Prayer Vigil To Overcome Hatred, Stop Violence

The Guru Granth Sahib did not burn.

The Guru Granth Sahib did not burn.

PALERMO, NY – Several years ago, Ralph Singh, founding President of Gobind Sadan, USA, told Oswego County Today that “Darkness is merely a stage for the light to play on. As dark as it might seem; in fact the brighter the light becomes. And, a beacon of hope spreads further across the horizons for all men to see.”

That was evident at the recent ‘Gathering Around The Light’ ceremony at the Sikhs’ temple on Graves Road in Palermo.

The Guru Granth Sahib did not burn.
The Guru Granth Sahib did not burn.

In a world dominated by acts of hatred, some 50 people gathered to celebrate the power of forgiveness to overcome the flames hatred and remember the great miracle that rekindled the hope of the Central New York region.

On the 16th anniversary of the post 9-11 arson attack on Gobind Sadan, USA, the community was invited to join in a memorial vigil – “Gathering Around the Light” around the flag pole which marks the site, “where in the midst of the fires of hatred, our holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, did not burn,” Singh said.

In the next room, the Holy Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib, that had triumphed over the flames and water, sat ensconced on its traditional throne.

Gobind Sadan USA is an interfaith community based on Sikh teachings. In November 2001, an arson fire destroyed the main building of the religious center, a 100-year-old converted farmhouse. The blaze ravaged the temple; but amazingly, the scripture survived.

In January 2002, the dark clouds of smoke that rose into the sky from a fire at the Gobind Sadan house of worship on the Graves Road in Palermo were part of “a religious ceremony” instead of a crime.

“In our culture we cremate. To us, this is a funeral. So, you’ll forgive us if we get a little emotional at times,” said Singh. “From this will come a rebirth.”

“It’s a service for a beloved,” he added at the time. “This is like a religious service to us. From the sacrifice of this building will come a beautiful rebirth. Something wonderful will rise here. We don’t see this as a negative. This is a positive thing, it was meant to be. God has other plans for this site.”

Work on a new temple was set to start that summer.

And in March 2008, a Sikh holy man and spiritual leader from India took part in the rededication of the Gobind Sadan USA temple.

Jethadar (leader) Giani Iqbal Singh ji, leader of one of the five traditional sects of Sikhism, took part in the ceremony to dedicate the rebuilt temple. It is located across the driveway where the original was destroyed.

The site for Gobind Sadan USA, was chosen according to the vision of Baba Virsa Singh ji, Gobind Sadan’s beloved founder and preceptor, during his first to America in 1986.

The new building dedication had awaited Baba Virsa Singh ji’s return visit, but Babaji left this world on Christmas Eve, 2007.

At the recent gathering, devotees read from the scripture’s teachings: “Everyone is part of my community, I see no one as an outsider or enemy.”

Participants sat together in the new temple that had risen from the ashes.

Everyone there had contributed in some way to the rebuilding effort, and were called back to share in the Light which everyone could almost touch, Singh told Oswego County Today.

“I could see the glimmer of old times and the reflection of what wonder is before us,” he said. “If we can overcome the hatred that lead to the arson attack, why in this time can’t we put our differences aside and live together in peace.”

The three teens who were arrested and convicted of the crime told authorities that they believed the temple was called “Go-Bin-Laden” and those who worshipped there supported Osoma Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

November 2001: The original temple is destroyed by an arson fire. (Photo courtesy of Ralph Singh,Gobind Sadan, USA)
November 2001: The original temple is destroyed by an arson fire. (Photo courtesy of Ralph Singh,Gobind Sadan, USA)

“In a defining moment 16 years ago when our country was paralyzed with fear of ‘others,’ instead of further stoking the fires of hatred, we went public with a powerful statement of forgiveness which brought the broader community together and began the healing process for both the arsonists and the community,” Singh pointed out.

“We are all called to love our neighbor. At a time when others may have seen hatred, you embraced the teachings of your faith,” said the Rev. Tammy Nipper of the Palermo United Methodist Church and Chaplain of the Palermo Volunteer Fire Department. “At this time, we should all heed that teaching and live our faith.”

The Gobind Sadan community thanked Rev. Nipper and the fire department for their assistance – and contributed to both their Thanksgiving funds.

The temple is located within the Mexico School District.

Sean Bruno, superintendent, was unable to attend the ceremony.

“The one thing that we all truly have in common is our differences. In a world that seems to only report on the negative and use our differences against each other, it is time to focus on the positive,” he said in a prepared statement. “It is time for our world to embrace and celebrate our differences so we may appreciate each other and live in peace.”

Mary Jane Garlow, of the First Universalist Society Central Square, shared a message from Andrea Abbott, the minister at Universalist Church.

“I am so pleased to be here to honor Gobind Sadan and its work. The people of Gobind Sadan met a work of destruction, not with anger or vengeance, but with a works of mercy, love and understanding that should stand as an example to us all,” she said. “Our congregation has always enjoyed the relationship we have had with Ralph and with the community here. It is an excellent thing to have a community so close to us that can show us another way to live and to worship. This community adds depth and breadth to this area and makes us richer for its presence. May our friendship be everlasting. Thank you for being here.”

Tim Hart, another congregation member and frequent visitor to Gobind Sadan, added, “We are called to turn the other cheek – you set a shining example.”

Madis Senner, author of “The Way Home,” said that “this is truly one of the most sacred sites on the planet. I use dowsing rods to locate and measure the energy fields in the earth. Babaji clearly knew the power that existed here, and the prayers recited by everyone have only amplified that power. So, I’m not surprised that the Holy Scripture survived the fire – I can see the energy fields spreading out endlessly from this holy place. I’m not a Sikh, but I urge everyone to visit, sit in the meditation center, recite the powerful prayer that Babaji has blessed everyone with, Ek Onkar Satnam Siri Waheguru, and watch your consciousness rise. We should all have a goal to raise our consciousness.”

Amy Shaw, manager of the Mexico branch of Pathfinder Bank, accepted the community’s heartfelt thanks for the bank’s ready willingness to step up and support the rebuilding effort.

“Without which, we would not have been able to have gathered today,” Singh said.

A special thanks was passed along to Thomas Schneider, President and CEO of Pathfinder, for his steadfast support.

Others shared their experience with Babaji and visits to Gobind Sadan.

Sara and Sue Farchione, two sisters who after taking Singh’s “Exploring Spirituality” class asked if they could join him and Joginder on a “field trip” to Gobind Sadan, shared how blessed they were to be in Babaji’s blessings and receive His message that God is love without any boundaries, that inspired them in their lives and work.

Gobind Sadan’s Suresh Rijhwani, secretary, and Jaspal Singh Kalra, treasurer, both dedicated community servants, thanked the gathering and reminded everyone that they were always welcome.

Gobind Sadan was Babaji’s gift of a safe place for people from all walks of life to come together to heal and to heal the fractures in our broader community, they explained.

At this time, when anger and hatred is leading to more senseless acts of violence, everyone came together in prayers so the light can once more overcome the darkness, they added.

Debbie Denery, Palermo’s assistant fire chief, summed up everyone’s feelings.

“As firefighters we only look at the address. We never ask who lives there?” she said. “Why can’t we all learn to transcend our differences and live together in peace?”

This indeed is the message of Gobind Sadan, “God’s House without Walls,” and the need of the day to strengthen our social fabric and contribute to a more compassionate, engaged and vibrant, democracy, Singh added.

The Sikh religion was founded more than 500 years ago by Guru Nanak Devji and his nine successors. It is now considered the fifth largest with numbers of more than 20 million worldwide.

Gobind Sadan means “House of God” and members of the Sikh religion travel from as far away as Ontario, Canada, to worship at the center in Palermo, Singh noted.

Gobind Sadan honors all prophets and religions, he said. Baba Versa Singh encouraged Sikhs to celebrate each others’ holidays and share each others’ scriptures.”

For more information, visit www.gobindsadan.org/gsusa/