Guru Nanak, Aparna Caur, oil on canvas, Sonia & Devendra Dhami collection

November is California’s Sikh American Awareness and Appreciation (Sikh Heritage) Month and on November 12 this year, Sikhs all over the world will celebrate the 550th birthday of Guru Nanak Dev with special devotion.  

To celebrate Baba Nanak with the wider community in the Bay Area, The Sikh Foundation International partnered with the Triton Museum, the City of Santa Clara and IK Onkar Bridges to showcase the teachings and message of Guru Nanak in the exhibit: Expressions of Divinity. The exhibit ran from August 31st to November 3rd, 2019.  

In his teachings, Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, emphasized equality, shared humanity, and the importance of finding the divine in everyday life.  His message of ‘ Ik Onkar’ is a symbol which appears at the beginning of Sikh scripture and means, “One With Everything“. It’s a symbol of the unity of God in Sikhism, meaning ‘God is One or One God.’  

Sonia Dhami, the Executive Director of The Sikh Foundation International challenged the Sikh community to surround themselves with “art that reflects our values, our heritage and our history” because art can connect in a way that transcends the barriers of language, color, race and religion.

The exhibiting artists included Arpana Caur, Devender Singh, Rupy C. Tut, Keerat Kaur, Rupy Kaloti, Sumeet D. Aurora, Sarabjit Singh and Tanya Momi

On Saturday Nov 2, to celebrate the Art exhibition finale, the first annual Silicon Valley Guru Nanak Community Hero Awards was launched by IK Onkar Bridges and JOY of Sewa.  The award recognizes Sikhs and non-Sikhs who put the principles of Ik Onkar into action by making a difference in the service of others, taking part in the community, or for their leadership. 

Harbir Kaur Bhatia, the founder of Ik Onkar Bridge reminds us of the teachings of Guru Nanak – no labels define us but a life of good actions and deeds does.  

The Sikh Heroes recognized this year were:

Community Service 

Dr. Gurpreet Kaur Padam -Sikh Family Center, Rotacare Board Member,
Nirvair Singh – Community Service, Seva Group Sikh Coalition Volunteer, and Editor of Folktales of Punjab
Vishavjit Singh – Sikh Captain America, Community Activist, Inclusion and Diversity Speaker 

Youth in Service
Mantej Singh – Fremont Community Service, Campaign against vaping, and civic engagement
Sareena Kaur – Documentary film ‘Cheez That Binds Us’ 

Organizations Making Impact
Sikh Family Center
Rotary Club of Santa Clara 

Public Service
Jaskirat Singh – Police Officer with Milpitas Police
Andrew Ratermann – Santa Clara Unified School District Board, Parade of Champions, and more 

Life of Service
Pushpinder Kaur – Khalsa School, Author, Community Activist, Teacher
Mike Sellers – Former Chief of Police, Rotary President Elect, Mission City Community Fund, S.A.A.M outreach 

The community celebrated the event with music from Ishmeet Narula, musician and Sufi singer, and an inspirational poem from Rupy Tut, one of the exhibiting artists. The Silicon Valley Gurdwara and SVG Khalsa School Children performed a short musical on the message of Ik Onkar!

Vishavjit Singh, Sikh Captain America, delivered the keynote address, titled “The Hero In All Of Us’, an inspirational talk that drew upon his own life as a software engineer by day and cartoonist by night.   

Vishavjit often travels and speaks around the country as Sikh Captain America  – a skinny, brown, turbanned, beard superhero with glasses, who fights hates crime – because he wants his image to change the paradigms of what a superhero looks like.  The questions he raises and conversations he has is helping break down barriers, educate people on Sikhism and challenge what it is to be American and look American.  

Vishavjit contends that Guru Nanak is a Guru or a superhero because he found a way for people to transform into the best versions of themselves, by connecting to their inherent “divine energy or force.” 

Everyone can be a hero says Vishvajit, because “to live as a Sikh is a verb, not a noun.” You are defined by your actions and everyone is capable of heroic deeds.

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

Edited by Contributing Editor Meera Kymal

Image Credits

Guru Nanak
Arpana Caur, 2019, oil on canvas
Sonia & Devender Dhami Collection
Other images
Harbir Kaur Bhatia

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is the Donor Engagement Advisor at India Currents and Founder/Producer at She brings her passion for community journalism and experience in fundraising, having...