To many New Yorkers, the most ubiquitous piece of Sikh culture is undoubtedly the bhangra beats coming out of sweaty dance parties in the city's coolest clubs. But this weekend, visitors to the Asia Society can check out other facets of lesser-known Sikh culture—through film.
This Friday and Saturday at the Asia Society, the Sikh International Film Festival, now in its seventh year, celebrates the world's fifth largest religion. The festival will screen 12 documentary films in English and in Punjabi, the language of the Punjab region which spans northwestern India and eastern Pakistan, and the language most often spoken in Sikh gurdwaras, or temples. The films are intended both as a celebration of Sikh culture as well as a form of outreach to the larger non-Sikh community.
One film which is having its New York premiere this week is the documentary "Holy Kitchens: True Business," a look into the Sikh practice of serving meals free of charge, called langar. Humanitarian and chef Vikas Khanna hosts much of the 37-minute film. Though he is a Hindu by birth, Khanna has regularly shared food with the crowds of followers in the world's largest Sikh temple, the Golden Temple, in his home town of Amritsar, India. Khanna feels strongly that his movie was helped by a divine hand as the funding came through for the documentary, and the participation from big names like Dr. Deepak Chopra.
Khanna got the inspiration for "Holy Kitchens" when he visited the Golden Temple with his mother on a visit home. The Temple, he says, has four doors representing the gurdwara's openness to people of all walks of life, religions and traditions. Khanna says he saw beyond the food itself while he was talking to a woman who cooks, cleans and serves food there in honor of her son who died in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. "This has nothing to do with the kitchen and the food and serving people," says Khanna. "This is about a relationship with God."
The Sikh Film Festival runs from Friday, October 22 to Saturday October 23 at the Asia Society. New Yorkers interested in Sikhism or in the tradition of langar are free to partake in a traditional Sikh vegetarian meal at the city's gurdwara's.
Check out some highlights from the festival below: