Over 200,000 people congregated in Yuba City, a small city just north of Sacramento, California, to attend the 44th annual Nagar Kirtan Festival, considered one of the largest Sikh gatherings outside of India.
The three-day event kicked off at the Gurdwara Sahib on Nov 3 with a fireworks show. A weekend of performances, food and community. followed by a parade on Nov 5, with a float-bearing Guru Granth Sahib, wrapped up the show, according to media reports.
“It’s a great time,” Yuba City resident Jaskaran Heer told Fox40. “Everyone gets together. People from out of town come to visit. So I think that’s one of the best… for the family-wise.”
The overwhelming turnout of 200,000 dwarfs the whole of Sutter County’s population by a little more than 100,000 people. Many in the Sikh community are thankful to have Yuba City serve as hub and a place to celebrate with their family and friends, the news channel said.
“It’s a good way to experience our culture, about the Sikh religion… we’re always happy to have more people come and see and learn more about the religion with us,” Yuba City resident Jaskaran Heer said.
Some festival goers even use FaceTime to allow family members that weren’t able to make the annual celebration still be able to enjoy virtually, according to Fox40.
“I have my mom, Maxine… on the phone,” Yuba City resident Jamesse Dowell said. “And I have my sister, Chasity … on the phone. My mom’s from Las Vegas. And my sister’s from Lebanon, Tennessee.
The festival this year took on special meaning as during a time of war and unrest, crowds from around the country and the world raised a sense of community across barriers, organizers said.
“Also for members to come together and really celebrate the moment whether that’s through things like Seva or just doing prayers together,” Upneet Kaur of the Sikh Coalition was cited as saying by CBS News.
“We show up as members of the Sikh community but this also involves a lot of local communities as well,” said Sahej Preet Singh with the Sikh Coalition.
It’s an event that stretches far beyond the Sikh community, bringing in an estimated 200,000 people from other states and countries. Many step up to volunteer, even giving away more than 200,000 free meals every year, CBS News said.
“My favorite parts about this event is the kindness and all the individuals around here regardless of whether they know you or not,” Kaur said.
“It’s actually my first time attending, so the kindness in that respect and just feeling a part of the community.”
The event has grown so large both the FBI and California Highway Patrol now help with security.
Dubbed as one of the largest Sikh gatherings outside India, organizers with the Sikh Coalition told CBS13 it comes at a critical time for a sense of community and peace.
“And that is just amazing the way we all gather together and just break bread together and it is just one of the most amazing feelings that you get around here,” Singh said.