MARCH 21, 2012: MARYLAND, USA: More than 200 guests gathered on Saturday evening for a night of inspiration, reflection, and celebration at the EcoSikh Benefit Dinner in at the University of Maryland, Shady Grove campus in Rockville, Maryland. It was the first benefit event hosted by the new organization and was attended by veteran Sikh leaders and active youth members of the Sikh community from the greater Washington, D.C. area.
Dekila Chungyalpa, a Buddhist environmentalist and Director of the Sacred Earth program at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) then spoke of the larger effort to connect religions to environmental issues. Dekila rooted her own inspiration for caring for the environment in the Buddhist teaching on interdependence. She shared a moving story from one of her spiritual teacher, who taught her that, ‘there is no real place where air ends and humans begin,’ and that ‘we are all connected to this earth.’ She spoke on the impact of Sikh environmental initiatives on other world religions, citing the work of Balbir Singh Seechewal in taking care of our rivers and Green Amritsar as a model in sustainability for religious cities like Bodh Gaya.
EcoSikh Program Manager Bandana Kaur then spoke on the major achievements of EcoSikh since its inception in 2009. This included the celebration of Sikh Vatavaran Diwas (Sikh Environment Day) with over 1,000 institutions on six different continents participating this past March 14; Amritsar joining the Green Pilgrimage Network; the strict implementation of the ban on plastic bags under 30 microns in size in Punjab; the planting of over 130,000 trees in the District of Amritsar in a four month span; and an invitation by Oxford University and the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) to map afforestation efforts by Sikhs in Punjab.
Reflecting on the Sikh inspiration for EcoSikh’s work, she commented. “The Sikh Gurus always created institutions with the needs of all in mind. When a Gurdwara was set up, so was a baoli (well) or sarovar (water tank), so that all, whether high or low, could be provided with the basic human necessity of water,” She continued, “One of the largest sarovars in Tarn Taran, Amritsar was once entirely fed by rainwater for disciples to bathe in, something that has true meaning for the way we use and manage water today.”
Jasmeet Raina, or ‘Jus Reign,’ Canadian Sikh comedian left the crowd with waves of cheerful laughter, when he joked on how little he felt he knew about the environment. He spoke on his own efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle, by using old ‘banaans’ (traditional undershirts) for cleaning spills and reusing old jars to make a decorative crafts, including a memorable snow globe he made as a young child.
Gifted young musician, Raginder Momi, commonly known as ‘Violinder,’ came out to support the new initiative, performing a classical piece on his violin with Maneet Singh on tabla. Raginder also played a number of tracks from his recent album, ‘Take One,’ including ‘Beautiful People,’ a rendition of the Chris Brown song, along with two tracks on birds in Punjab, ‘Kawan’ (crows) originally sung by Gunjan and Bikram Singh and ‘Morni’ (peacock) by the artist Punjabi MC. His performance was greeted with a standing ovation.
The night concluded with Reena Brar singing an old folk poem, on the sweet soil of Punjab recited to her by her mother, and with closing remarks by Dr. Rajwant, President of EcoSikh. He spoke about the tremendous journey the organization has made from its humble beginnings to become an important, and novel platform to address one of the major issues facing the Sikh community and humanity at large.
“To say that we are inspired by the achievements that the Sikh community ha made in the past eighteen months on the environment is an understatement. Each week we receive another story of a Sikh, a Gurdwara, a village, taking initiative to protect and care for the land, air, and water. We are seeing the beginning of a movement that has the potential to shape our future for years to come. It’s a proud moment for Sikhs and all those who have gathered today.”