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Vaisakhi Mela festival a 'way to give back to community'

The event in Glen Cove, marking the inception of the Sikh religion, featured dancing, music, vendors, food and children's carnival rides.

Ranjit Singh of Ozone Park cooks bread pakora

Ranjit Singh of Ozone Park cooks bread pakora during the Vaisakhi Mela festival on Sunday in Glen Cove.  Photo Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Serving trays of curried vegetables, samosas and naan were replenished as quickly as hungry celebrants could empty them at Sunday's Vaisakhi Mela festival, an event in Glen Cove marking the inception of the Sikh religion.

But not one of the thousands  of revelers reached for a wallet or swiped a debit card after piling their plates.

“Everything is on the house. You don’t pay a dime,” said volunteer Ravi  Singh, 45, of Muttontown, who was handing out slices of watermelon to guests sweating under a brutal September sun. “It’s a way to give back to the community.”

The event, now in its 14th year, was expected to draw 5,000 attendees to the Gurdwara Mata Sahib Kaur temple grounds on Lattingtown Road. Sunday’s mela, a one-day event, also included an opening ceremony for the temple’s new extension, a second-story prayer room known as a diwan hall.

The mela, Sanskrit for “gathering” or “fair,” featured dancing, music, vendors and children’s carnival rides. But the main draw was, undoubtedly, the feast.

Sikh temples offer free food to everyone 24 hours per day, said event organizer Gurinderpal Singh Josan, but they usually don’t feed thousands at a time. 

“We feed our family and distribute what’s left,” he said of the Sikh philosophy.

The all-vegetarian dishes, which included grilled corn, roti, vegetable “meatballs” and more, are prepared by local restaurants and volunteers.

Jasmin Kaur, 27, of Ozone Park, Queens, along with about 15 members of her family, spent the past week gathering ingredients to cook 1,000 servings of bread pakora, a fried dish. Her husband, Ranjit Singh, 30, bent over a cast iron pot filled with corn oil while stirring bread slices dipped in a garlic and spice batter.

The couple, who have a 19-month-old daughter, own four cellphone stores in Queens and are doing well, she said. They did not calculate the cost of buying ingredients for the event.

“It feels good to feed people,” she said. “In our culture, if we are earning and we have that much money, we should feed people.”

The event also drew many non-Sikhs, with some wearing turbans tied by Sikh volunteers.

Rachel Solomon, 48, of Glen Cove hopped on a bike and came to the festival to learn more about the temple in her community. As a teacher in Astoria, Queens, where there is a sizable Sikh community, she hoped the event could offer an added connection to her students.

“I’d always been curious, and I saw it was open to all,” she said.

Organizer Jagjit Singh Bedi, 58, of Ozone Park wore a white turban bearing an American flag, a garment he’s worn on special occasions since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

An American citizen of 20 years, he wears it to display patriotism, as well as honor his religion.

“I look different, but inside I’m the same,” he said.

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