Yuba City, Nov. 06, 2005
NRI (non-resident Indian) Sikhs, estimated more than
55,000 attended the annual parade today in Yuba City,
California commemorating the receipt by Sikhs of their
Holy scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, in 1708. Every
year on the first Sunday of November, Sikhs from throughout
the United States, Canada, England and India attended
the celebration. That was 26th annual Sikh Parade
in Yuba City on Sunday.
The 4 and 1/2 mile parade, lined by an estimated
60,000 people, featured floats and a procession of
parade participants. From Friday morning until Sunday
morning, the entire 1,430-page text was read aloud,
then carried onto a lavishly decorated float and ushered
down Butte House Road, a crew of volunteers continuously
sweeping the street in front of its path.
For the past over 100 years the Punjabi population
in the Yuba Sutter area has grown to be one of the
largest in the United States. The Punjabi American
Heritage Society each year presents a festival to
promote a better understanding the Punjabi community,
its colorful history and the many contributions they
make to this region. The one day event at the Yuba
Sutter Fairgrounds features Punjabi performers, East
Indian cuisine and crafts and educational booths
NRI sikhs in Yuba City proud to boast their culture
and religion to the thousands of people surrounding
them, particularly because they lives in an area that
has one of the largest Sikh populations outside of
the Punjab state of India. The NRI Sikh population
in Yuba City is about 10,000. Most of them are engaged
in agricultural or horticultural activities. Peaches,
prunes and almonds, etc are big crops. Fruit picking
starts in July and lasts till September-end.
The Yuba-Sutter area is not a hot tourist spot like
the wine-producing counties 160 kilometers to the
west, but it has some of the best agricultural land
in the United States, placed between the Sierra Nevada
mountains to the east and the Coast Range to the west.
The weather is fine. This was one reason Sikh pioneers
A number of
Sikhs from all over the USA throng Yuba City for the
Sikh Day Parade
A mela in America
For the past three decades, every year on the first
Sunday of November, Sikhs from all over the USA converge
on Yuba City, California, which reverberates with
the spirit of sewa. A witness to the unique nagar
kirtan, Asha and Ramesh
Seth recount their experiences. The Gurgaddi
is taken out in a procession during the nagar kirtan
OF all the sights my wife and I witnessed during our
long trips to America, the annual nagar kirtan of
Yuba City in California was unique. For the past 30
years, it is held every year on the first Sunday of
November to celebrate Gurgaddi Day of Sri Guru Granth
Sahib. On that day at least 50,000 Sikhs gather there
every year from all over America to take part in the
mela. Yuba City looks like a place in rural Punjab
at this time.
The Sikh population in Yuba City is about 10,000.
Most of them are engaged in agricultural or horticultural
activities. Peaches, prunes and almonds, etc are big
crops. Fruit picking starts in July and lasts till
September-end. In October the crop is stored and dispatched.
Thus the mela, on the first Sunday of November, is
in the nature of thanksgiving by the local Sikhs just
as the Americans celebrate their Thanksgiving Day
later in November.
We arrived there a week in advance to imbibe the
atmosphere. It enabled us to witness the preparation
needed for such a big mela and later to take part
in it. One week before the event those in charge of
organising the mela started gathering at the gurdwara
at 11 am every day. They would all sit in a group,
out in the autumn sun, as the elders of a family sit
in India before a wedding - reading newspapers, gossiping
and whiling away their time. Those who were allotted
specific duties attended to these. For others, it
was vacation time when the problems of the world were
Right from Sunday, one week before the mela, an increasing
number of devotees started bringing dry groceries
to the gurdwara as a run-up to the big day. On an
average day, only some of the devotees bring milk
cartons, flour packets, juice containers, etc. But
in view of the mela, now every one had something or
the other in his or her hands. Coming to the gurdwara
empty-handed seemed to have gone out of fashion during
Soon the quantity of offerings became more than the
gurdwara store could hold. On Tuesday, five days before
the mela, we found an empty 40-feet cargo container
placed by the side of the langar hall to be used as
a temporary storage area for dry groceries. During
the course of the week, three similar containers were
brought for the same purpose. The Sangat was fully
alive to the fact that langar had to be prepared for
45,000 people and, therefore, brought sufficient groceries.
Since Friday the sky over Yuba City was overcast.
On Saturday it appeared that it might rain. I asked
someone what if it rained on Sunday. "Dont
you worry," he said complacently. "It is
Maharaj jis own function. The Guru Maharaj himself
will provide succour."
On Saturday evening a galaxy of raagi groups had
collected inside the gurdwara to regale the Sangat.
Far too many jathas for a single evening; most of
the jathas could be allotted only 15-20 minutes to
perform kirtan. The programme ended by 2 am
Sunday morning began with an overcast sky, but by
10 am the clouds had mostly cleared up. Soon it was
a bright, mellow sunshine on that cool November day.
The odd cotton ball clouds floated across the blue
sky, lending additional charm to the scene. Guru Maharaj
did provide succour.
The first item on the agenda was to change the Chola
Sahib of the Nishan Sahib. Amidst the recitation of
Gurbani, the saffron flag was taken down and the seva
done. After that the Nishan Sahib was hoisted again.
Once again the standard of Sikh religion was gaily
flying high above, beckoning the Sangat to the house
of God. Thereafter, for the next one hour the Sangat
stood all around with folded hands repeating the holy
Since early Sunday morning, the crowd had started
pouring into Yuba City from all over America. There
were at least 50,000 Sikhs who had gathered to take
part in the mela. It was a sight to see. Men and women
were dressed in colourful dresses; all in an exuberant
holiday mood. The Yuba City mela is the grand daddy
of all Indian melas in America.
The langar hall was too small for this momentous
occasion. Since langar could not be served to all
inside, a large number of service tables were put
out in the open. Piled up high upon these tabletops
were containers of milk, fruit juices and soft drinks.
I remarked that drinking water could run short, but
milk, juices and soft drinks would never be in short
supply. People took their plates and consumed food
Apart from Tierra Buena Gurdwara, the host gurdwara,
some other gurdwaras as well had put up stalls to
serve food and other eatables to the Sangat. One particular
stall was serving only hot milk in a big karahi and
freshly prepared jalebis. Feeding 45,000 people is
not a joke. But with voluntary help and the spirit
of seva uppermost in their minds, it was tackled efficiently.
Over 2,00,000 meals are cooked over the weekend of
The nagar kirtan started at midday. First, Sri Guru
Granth Sahib was ceremoniously carried out from the
gurdwara to the main float, which was a replica of
the Golden Temple. The float is a permanent exhibit,
built upon a large trailer. Even during the rest of
the year, this one stays mounted on the trailer, and
is housed in a specially built shed behind the gurdwara.
Various other Sikh groups from different areas of
America, too, had put up their own floats. These followed
the lead float in a long procession. The procession
took four hours to complete its round of the city.
All along the route the devotees had put up stalls
to serve refreshments to the procession. No one wanted
to be left behind in performing seva to the Sangat
that had gathered from far and near. A Sikh does not
easily let go of an opportunity to render seva to
the Sangat. And here was an opportunity the likes
of which came but once in a year. So their enthusiasm
At the conclusion of nagar kirtan, the procession,
led by the main float carrying Sri Guru Granth Sahib,
returned to the Tierra Buena Gurdwara. The clouds
had held. There were no rains. The entire programme
went off without a hitch. Once again on November 6,
2005, there will be the mela but we shall not be there.
We were lucky, however, to witness the mela at least