June 23, 2017: People across the world will be treated to free drinks courtesy of the Sikh community this weekend, as diasporas across several nations take part in Chabeel Day on June 24, this year.
Chabeel Day is an international commemoration of Guru Arjan Dev Ji’s shaheedi, organized by the UK-based Sikh Press Association (PA). Non-alcoholic drinks (chabeel drinks) will be served to the general public across three continents, eight countries and by hundreds of volunteers.
The Chabeel tradition, which is still prominent in India, has largely been forgotten by Sikh NRIs, with very few actually being held for the benefit of the general public outside of India. That was until the launch of Chabeel Day in 2015.
Rupinder Kaur, co-founder of the Sikh PA, said the idea of Chabeel Day was one which was behind the very creation of the organization.
One of the aims behind the creation of the Sikh PA was to raise the public profile of the Sikhs.
“We wanted to make this concept more prominent among Sikhs outside of India. The message we saw that was behind the concept of serving Chabeel was that it is about staying Chardi-kala.”
A public relations campaign that helps further an understanding of Sikh history and philosophy, the concept of Chardi-Kala, a Sikh saying which means “ever rising spirits”, is paramount to Chabeel Day. To get this message across Basics of Sikhi, the Sikh educational organisation known for their YouTube channel explaining the Sikh faith in several languages, created specially made Chabeel Day leaflets.
Basics of Sikhi educator Sukhdeep Singh said, “Basics of Sikhi were behind the concept of Chabeel Day from the beginning, as it’s an easy way to spread education about Sikhi. The leaflet is to ensure that the messages behind the practice of serving chabeel can be put across clearly, which isn’t always easy, considering the story most linked with this tradition.”
The story behind the Chabeel history starts in 1606, when the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev Ji, refused to change Sikh religious scriptures as ordered by the tyrannical Mughal Emperor Jahangir, in an effort to curtail the Guru’s growing influence in India. When Guru Arjan Dev Ji refused, He was tortured by being made to sit on a red-hot plate whilst hot sand was poured over him.
Jasveer Singh Gill of the Sikh Press Association said, “Guru Arjan Dev Ji taught Sikhs to accept God’s will as sweet. Therefore, we honour the Guru’s burning by cooling everyone else. This is in line with the Sikh concept of Chardi-Kala, which dictates that one should be eternally optimistic. In today’s climate, we feel spreading Chardi-Kala is more important than ever.”
In 2016 Sikhs of New York held a Chabeel outside a Trump Tower building, leading to many interesting conversations with passersby delighted to be given a free treat.
Mangal Kaur, a Sikh volunteer who has helped organise events in California, said, “Chabeel Day is as simple as it is effective. In the USA Sikhs are often on the end of abuse because of what we look like. A free cooling drink is a great way to break a barrier to start a dialogue, which can help clear any misunderstandings people have about Sikhs.”
Chabeel Day events take place at city centres, schools, colleges, hospitals and more. However, it is not always just chabeel – which refers to rose-water syrup milkshake that is traditionally served – on offer, with water, ice-cream and fizzy drinks often being served instead.
Hunger relief charity Nishkam SWAT (Sikh Welfare Awareness Team) has been one of the front-runners in leading efforts for Chabeel Day since its inception. SWAT volunteer Randeep Singh feels the gesture is a great way to break barriers. “For the last two years, SWAT have taken an ice-cream van into central London, giving away free ice-creams to the public for Chabeel Day. Through this simple gesture, we are able to put a smile on someone’s face and have a chat about why we’re doing it. We speak to hundreds of people and hopefully many of them went away with a bit more understanding about the Sikh faith.
“This year our team will be visiting a hospital in South London, taking treats and toys for the children there. This is how we try to live up to the spirit of Chabeel Day, by both uplifting spirits and educating people at the same time.”
The uplifting factor of connecting with people through offering them a cool refreshment is to be tested in Cyprus for the first time after Basics of Sikhi were asked to come to the Mediterranean nation by local Sikhs.
“We had a message from Sikhs in Cyprus saying that local need education on who Sikhs are. We are aware the Sikh identity can often be conflated with that of an Islamic extremist, something which stems back to pictures of Osama Bin Laden after 9/11.
“Our team decided bringing Chabeel Day to the people of Cyprus would be a great way to teach them about who the Sikhs are, so we hope for some good interaction there this year,” said Sukhdeep Singh.
Denmark’s Sikh community are another group who have taken to Chabeel Day, having last year held an event in central Copenhagen and this year gaining permission to serve free drinks at the nation’s busiest train station.
Hardeep Singh, Copenhagen resident and volunteer, said “The people of Denmark react to our Chabeel Day seva with great warmth and a real open mind. Many people may see Sikhs and not know what our identity represents. So being out in the public, doing our own thing and spreading positivity by interacting with people is an ideal way for people to learn about Sikhs”.
“We are delighted to be part of Chabeel Day 2017 and we hope more people take part in 2018.”