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http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/we...84-1c0a8400b868

Music, colour honour holy day

Kim Bolan

Vancouver Sun (Canada)

Monday, April 16, 2007

VANCOUVER - Twenty people in Hardeep Kaur Dhillon's family spent hours preparing curry and rice for some of the thousands of people who trekked past their home at 49th and Sophia Saturday.

It was the first time the family, who lives on the route of Vancouver's Vaisakhi parade, decided to cook for the masses.

Their white plastic tent was one of the most popular spots on the strip as tens of thousands waited for hours to see the colourful floats of the caravan organized by Vancouver's Khalsa Diwan Society.

As she filled Styrofoam cups with chai, Dhillon explained that Vaisakhi is important to Sikhs "because our Guru Gobind Singh Ji created the Khalsa today."

That was back in 1699 and it is when the first Sikhs were baptized and adopted symbols of the religion including unshorn hair, a steel bracelet and a kirpan, the ceremonial dagger.

Dhillon said the people lining up for food, many of whom were non-Sikh, were grateful for the family's contribution.

Certainly Dave Lai and his two young sons were enjoying the food. Lai, who lives in Vancouver, had never attended the parade before.

"We just wanted to see the culture and all the people out," Lai said. "It certainly seems to be a very big family thing."

Society leaders and Vancouver police said the parade was the biggest ever in the city with crowd estimates topping 100,000.

Vancouver police Supt. Kash Heed said despite the extraordinary size of the event, everything went smoothly and without incident.

"It's just been a perfect day," Heed said. "Everyone has been out enjoying the event."

Organizer Jarnail Singh Bhandal, former president of the Ross Street temple, said he thinks the crowds were so large because the parade was held on a different weekend than one hosted by a Surrey temple on April 7.

Over the last few years, the temples have held simultaneous events, forcing community members to choose which one to attend.

"In future, we'll always have two different dates," Bhandal said.

Like the Surrey parade a week earlier, politicians of every stripe and government level were out in force Saturday, making speeches at the Ross Street temple and later at a stage at 50th and Main.

Most donned traditional Indian clothes and all spoke -- or attempted to speak -- at least a few words in Punjabi. Mayor Sam Sullivan wore a blue and orange turban, a royal blue tunic and gave his speech entirely in Punjabi.

Premier Gordon Campbell peppered his two speeches with Punjabi and also wore a tunic, but no turban.

"For over 100 years, the Sikh community in British Columbia has been shaping our province, shaping it in every walk of life," Campbell said. "On behalf of all British Columbians, let me say how important it is to each of us that you invite us to join us in this Vaisakhi celebration."

Two national party leaders -- Liberal Opposition leader Stephane Dion and New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton -- flew to B.C. to attend Vaisakhi.

Dion repeated promises to the Indo-Canadian community that if elected prime minister, he would finance the construction of "India gates" in both Surrey and Vancouver "to formally recognize the contribution of the South Asian community in helping shape and build Canada."

"I also spoke of my commitment to offering an official apology for the tragic events of the Komagata Maru," Dion said. "I want a richer Canada, a fairer Canada and a greener Canada."

Layton said the Khalsa was formed to fight injustice, something the Sikh continue to do in Canada today.

"This community is an inspiration to the rest of Canada in so many ways having built this country over the last hundred years," Layton said.

kbolan@png.canwest.com

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

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