Sikhs celebrate faith with food, music in Glen Cove

Gia Chadha, 6, of Westbury, partcipates in a

Gia Chadha, 6, of Westbury, partcipates in a celebration dance at the temple. Hundreds of sikhs gathered to participate in the annual festival held at Mata Sahib Kaur Sikh temple in Glen Cove. (June 30 2013) (Credit: Johnny Milano)

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They sang, ate, mingled and danced. And then they ate some more.

The thousands of revelers who spent Sunday afternoon at the ninth annual Vaisakhi Mela celebration at Gurdwara Sahib, a Sikh temple in Glen Cove, were well-fed, to say the least.

Rows upon rows of white tents held tantalizing trays of mostly Indian food -- steaming, heaping piles of rice, curries and puri. Even some American dishes and pizza could be found among the culinary offerings, as well as doughnuts, fruit, corn on the cob, cupcakes and fresh juice -- all of it free to everyone who came to celebrate Vaisakhi, a Sikh holiday that honors the day the 500-year-old religion, which originated in India, was formed.

That's one of the main tenets of the Sikh religion, explained Mohan Singh Sudan, who spent the day in the shade of a big tent, walking visitors through a detailed visual history of Sikhism and its teachings: generosity and caring for the needy.

"There's one God, he's our creator, and we are the children of God," he explained. "We all have the same soul."

The colorful, loud, lively day centered on celebration of the Sikh faith and included prayer, traditional songs, dance and music, but also catered to a broader audience with secular attractions, such as a mini petting zoo, pony rides and Bingo games.

More than 5,000 were expected to attend, and as the afternoon wore on and the throngs of people multiplied, many visitors from outside the faith said they were overwhelmed by the Sikhs' openness.

Rochelle Schaeffer, of Glen Cove, wandered in after a game of golf at a course across the street. She's come to this festival twice before.

"I respect them, and I love that they're so giving," Schaeffer said.

Early in the day, Sikh children sang a prayer to the Gurus, the religion's founders and prophets, as proud parents huddled around the stage, shooting video with their smartphones. As the crowds and heat swelled later in the day and a light drizzle started, some broke into a frenetic dance as up-tempo Punjabi music throbbed across the temple lawn.

"They're a beautiful religion, as all religions are -- a way to the divine," said Cathie Guagenti, 64, also of Glen Cove, who said she came to the festival for the first time this year as part of a study in different faiths.

"It's lovely," she said. "Everybody is very gracious here. Very open, very happy to see someone from outside their culture."

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