Several women wearing brightly colored salwar kameez marched down Adams Avenue outside of Fowler on Sunday morning, part of a vanguard of Valley Sikhs who gathered to celebrate the birth of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion.
They were followed by hundreds upon hundreds of celebrants who joined the seventh annual Sikh parade as it moved down Adams and Minnewawa avenues to Panzak Park before heading back to Gurdwara Gur Nanak Parkash outside of Fowler.
Leading the crowds was a hot pink double-decker float adorned with a small platform in front where people bowed and tossed dollar bills. Men inside the float hung out of the windows, handing out a prasad, or a religious offering, of almonds to passersby. A helicopter flew overhead as someone tossed out pink and purple flower petals, which fluttered onto the crowd below.
For some, the event was more than just an opportunity to celebrate the faith, it was a chance to share with others about it. Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world, with 30,000 Sikhs living in the central San Joaquin Valley alone.
Kirandeep Singh, 18, came from Bakersfield to teach others about his religion.
“It’s mistaken for Muslim, Jewish, (other) religions,” said Singh, who attends the University of California, Merced. He spoke about hate crimes against Sikhs, something his father taught him about when he was younger.
“When I first came here (to the U.S.), my father was a victim of a hate crime,” he said. His father was working at a gas station when he was stabbed in the face in a random act of hate, Singh said.
“He survived, but what my father taught me is that it’s not our fault that we’re getting hurt.” Singh said Sikhism is a mostly peaceful religion and some Sikhs are not able to adequately protect themselves because they are taught not to harm others.
During a speech at the park, leaders welcomed people of all religions and races to come together in the small community, a neighborhood many grew up in and still call home.
The parade began at Gurdwara Gur Nanak Parkash outside of Fowler on Sunday with free food and vendors selling items flea market-style outside the temple.
Gatka, a Sikh form of combat-training, was presented by youths several times during the event. Amrit Pal, 31, a coach, said they practice all year long. “It’s an ancient art that’s still relevant and still in use in India,” Pal said.
The parade ended nearly four miles away at Panzak Park in Fowler, where volunteers passed out free food and attendees rested before walking back to the gurdwara.
Sikh leaders said no one was hired for the event because it was based on one of the pillars of Sikhism: share and consume together. Volunteers worked for hours handing out drinks and snacks along the parade route, picking up trash and serving food.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the garments worn by women leading the parade as saris. They were wearing salwar kameez, a different style of traditional clothing that includes a dress and pants.