By Tharman Shanmugaratnam

My Parliamentary Colleagues, Mr Davinder Singh and Mr Inderjit Singh
President Singapore Khalsa Association, Mr Balbeer Singh Mangat
Mr Nirmal Singh, Chairman, Organising Committee

Ladies and Gentlemen

It is both a pleasure and a privilege to be here to share in the Vesakhi celebrations commemorating the 306th anniversary of the birth of the Khalsa. Once again this year we see the Sikh Singaporean community come together in great numbers to organise and commemorate the Vesakhi celebrations with the traditional Mela, here at the Singapore Khalsa Association. It is a lively occasion. We have just seen a sampling of Punjabi traditions, like Charkha, Kapadi, Ghol or Punjabi wrestling and Gatka. And I understand we will soon be seeing a Giddha performance and the ever-popular Bhangra dances. I only regret I was not here earlier to witness the Longest Moustache and Turban tying contests.

It is also heartening that you have invited non-Sikh Singaporeans and organizations as well as members of the Indian expatriate community based here to participate in this event. It is a sign of what now comes naturally in Singapore - the natural affiliations among Singaporeans of all ethnic communities, and with all other nationalities who live and work in Singapore. This event celebrates the rich Sikh heritage and cultural traditions that first originated in Punjab. We should perhaps take a moment to recognize the role of our forefathers and early pioneers in passing on these deep-rooted values and cultural traditions to current generations. The early Sikh pioneers and community leaders devoted a great deal of their energy and effort to nurturing and sustaining these traditions. They worked hard to rally the community by raising funds to build and maintain Sikh temples, ensuring that Punjabi classes were organized, religious values passed on, and cultural traditions practiced and celebrated at every opportunity.

It is especially significant that the Sikh pioneers and leaders had the foresight to devote substantial effort into building and strengthening secular social institutions like the Singapore Khalsa Association. More than three decades later, the association’s premises, especially on days like today, are a focal point for the entire Sikh Singaporean community to meet and to celebrate its rich heritage in the spirit of friendly competition and celebration. It has also evolved into a meeting place where our Sikh youth can meet and mingle with their friends from the larger Singaporean community through organized sports, recreational, cultural and educational activities.

Today’s Mela, organised in collaboration with the Central Singapore Community Development Council (CDC), is a good example, with Singaporean youth of all races and social backgrounds taking part in cultural events, tele-matches and sports carnival. It is also commendable that the Sikh community has taken special effort to prepare a video CD aimed at giving non-Sikhs a sense of the Punjabi/ Sikh heritage and culture.

I commend the Singapore Khalsa Association for initiating specific activities to promote community harmony by encouraging Sikh youth to form soccer, netball and hockey teams that include a minimum number of non-Sikh players. Community based organizations should continue to explore interesting and appealing ways of bringing together youth from Singapore’s different ethnic communities to interact and play with each other.

On behalf of the Singapore government and the people of Singapore, I extend my heartiest congratulations to the Sikh community as you celebrate Vesakhi on the auspicious occasion of the 306th anniversary of the birth of the Khalsa. It is my pleasure to share in the rhythm, the energy and the vibrance of this joyous celebration of Punjabi/ Sikh culture and heritage. I wish you all an enjoyable and memorable day.