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Chardi Kala: Our Source of Love and Joy

Written by Tahil Sharma
May 4, 2020

This blog post is from URI Regional Coordinator for North America, Tahil Sharma, as part of our #PoWRofLove Campaign

The Sikh tradition has stood the test of time through its understanding of faith to God through service to all. From a community that began with the words of Ik Onkar (One Universal Creator) from the lips of Guru Nanak to a tradition now followed by over 25 million people, the history of the tradition reflects a practice of uplifting those in need and defending those who face tyranny and oppression. For the cause of justice, gurus and adherents of Sikhism were martyred to protect others. And for the sake of love unconditional, we live by the concept of relentless and eternal optimism, known as chardi kala.

The phrase comes from the final line of the Ardas, or the Supplication that is made at the beginning or end of a significant task: Nanak Naam Chardi Kala, teraa bhane sarbat da bhala. Oh Nanak, with the Name of God comes Chardi Kala and with your blessings comes the well-being for all creation.

This idea of relentless optimism is more than just about a smile or look for the light at the end of the tunnel; it’s making sure to make the best of any situation through courage, resilience, and kindness. It’s about being that light that illuminates your tunnel when all seems lost. And in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, that can be a challenge. But my Sangat (community) has found a way to keep reminding me what we need hope in the midst of so much pain and fear and ignorance.

When I first got involved as a Youth Representative for the United Nations for the Parliament in 2014, I joined my colleague Sara Rahim and a number of Board Trustees for a break after the DPI NGO Conference we attended together for a break after our panel presentation. As we were catching up and debriefing, I remember one of the Trustees asking me about my worldview. I come from a Hindu and Sikh background, I said. And it led to the story about how the Sikh community provided langar (community meals) for thousands of people at the Barcelona Parliament. I was not surprised, but hearing that made me beam with joy. My community, time and time again, was coming through to live out its value by feeding people across religions and philosophies an accessible, delicious, and simple meal.

I got to see this in person at both the Salt Lake City and Toronto Parliaments when hundreds of sevadaars (volunteers) from the Guru Nanak Nishkam Sevak Jatha from Birmingham, UK cook and serve food, teach people how to cover their heads and share their joy and love with others in conversations over tea. It was one thing to imagine this space in the words of others, but I couldn’t describe the feeling of humility and love with people breaking bread together from around the world in one space was ever possible.

Seeing it also made me think something else. It made me think about the larger context of interfaith cooperation which is sharing the Power of Love in a world filled with hatred and anger. How I would wish for the world to participate in having langar as one world community to discuss the crucial issues that matter and bring change to those most in need. As someone who has volunteered to feed people langar and having hosted my own once, I know it’s no small task. But something happened that I didn’t think about.

The love of feeding people inside a temple space was extended out to the world because of the Coronavirus. In a number of gurdwaras (Sikh houses of worship) and Sikh organizations, the community has turned centuries of tradition into a lifeline for the elderly, the disabled, the immunocompromised, and the socioeconomically disadvantaged by feeding millions of people. Countries like the United States, India, Malaysia, and others are seeing the impact of the Sikh community’s effort to provide relief for those in need. And this is the love that I hope inspires other communities to do the same and to work together to see us through these unprecedented times.