A religious procession, known as the Nagar Kiratan, will make its way down the streets of Abbotsford this Sunday to honour the anniversary of the opening of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, the sacred text of the Sikh religion.
For Parks Canada historian Sharanjit Kaur Sandhra, the event has become an annual tradition she looks forward to sharing with her family.
"There is this excitement that always comes up," Sandhra said. "Like my boys were asking me two weeks ago, are we going to go to the Nagar Kirtan and their friends are asking them — their friends who aren't even Sikh."
She says the event is the biggest Sikh celebration in Abbotsford, drawing large crowds of people from all over the Lower Mainland and even from the United States.
According to the City of Abbotsford, "approximately 100,000 individuals are expected to join the procession."
The event will start at the Kalgidhar Darbar Sahib Gurdwara on Blueridge Drive at 11 a.m. and make its way back to the temple at the end of the day.
The city says rolling road closures will be in effect from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with roads expected to be closed for two hours as the procession passes by, and longer closures near the Gurdwara.
A spokesperson for B.C. Transit said detours can be expected on Sunday for anyone travelling on Route 1 heading towards the University of the Fraser Valley and on Route 2 heading to McMillan Road and Highstreet Shopping Mall.
Celebrating the Sikh holy text
Gurvinder Singh, a volunteer at the Kalgidhar Darbar Sahib Gurdwara, says the term Nagar Kirtan roughly translates to 'singing hymns through the city.'
He says people often believe Nagar Kirtan events are parades due to the music, floats and food, when really they are a religious procession.
"It's not a parade," he said. "Nagar Kirtan is when people are singing holy scripture through the city from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
Singh says the event in Abbotsford has been held since 1996.
People attend the Vancouver Vaisakhi parade in April this year, another Lower Mainland Nagar Kirtan procession, and pray at the float containing the Sikh holy text. (Ben Nelms/CBC)
Sandhra says Nagar Kirtans are held for a variety of reasons, with the biggest ones in B.C. taking place in Surrey and Vancouver to mark Vaisakhi, or the Sikh harvest festival.
"Historically, Sikhs in British Columbia used to take turns commemorating events in different gurdwaras … Abbotsford commemorates the Prakash (opening) of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji," said Sandhra.
She says early September marks when the Sikh holy text was unveiled and recited for the first time in the 17th century at Harmandhir Sahib, or the Golden Temple of Amritsar.
"To this very day that text guides [Sikh followers]. It guides our faith. When we enter a Sikh gurdwara, we bow before that text because of the knowledge that it contains."
The preparation of free food for attendees, as pictured here in Surrey, B.C., in April 2019, is an important element of Nagar Kirtan events. (Ben Nelms/CBC)
The first float in the procession is especially significant for Abbotsford's Nagar Kirtan, as it will carry the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
Sandhra says the text, 1,430 pages long with 33 different sections, is unlike other religious texts, and doesn't follow the format of a story.
"The Guru Granth Sahib Ji is a collection of poetry. It is incredibly complicated. It is metaphorical," she said, adding contributors to the text include the 10 gurus of the Sikh religion, as well as people from oppressed castes and non-Sikhs, including those from Muslim and Hindu backgrounds.
"It's the only spiritual text in the world that I know that has incorporated multifaith perspectives … [Different faiths and] oppressed communities have written in this."
For community members interested in checking out the event, Sandhra says everyone is welcome, but asks people to be mindful that the procession is still a religious event.