Sikh Community

Sikh Life and Practice in Boston

Many of Boston's earliest Sikhs were professionals—doctors or engineers, for instance—who arrived in Boston in the years after the adoption of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. A second wave of Sikh immigration occurred in the aftermath of the deadly riots in Delhi in 1984, bringing Sikhs of a wider range of occupations and backgrounds to the area.

Keeping with tradition, the Punjabi language is used during Sikh divans  (services) for scriptural recitation and kirtan  (sacred music), but several gurdwarasin the area provide translations with a projector. Punjabi classes are also common, particularly for younger worshippers and second-generation immigrants.

Kirtan is an integral part of Sikh observances, and in addition to the traveling musicians that perform the scriptural hymns, some Boston gurdwaras provide kirtan lessons for interested youth, and children often play the instruments and sing during the diwan. The langar, or communal meal, is another important aspect of Sikh culture, and worshippers and guests alike are invited to share an Indian meal at the end of the weekly diwan.

Particularly after the events of September 11, 2001, common misunderstandings about Sikh culture and customs—especially the turban—have led to incidents of discrimination across the United States, and Boston has been no exception. On September 12, 2001, for instance, a member of the Milford Gurdwara Sahib was arrested on an Amtrak train for carrying a kirpan, a small knife customarily worn by Sikh men. While the charges were eventually dropped, the incident left many of Boston's Sikhs shaken, concerned, and motivated to engage with the broader Boston community to ensure that such confusion could be reduced. Some Sikh groups, for instance, created initiatives to teach law enforcement officers about Sikh practices and customs. Many gurdwaras have also held public events such as chhabeel celebrations, which provide opportunities to explain Sikh beliefs and traditions.