As part of the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, in a scintillating function organised by the University of Birmingham and Consulate of India, on November 1st, 2019, India’s Union Minister, Shri Hardeep Singh Puri formally announced the launch of the Guru Nanak Chair (supported by the Government of India). This academic Chair will promote research into the life and philosophy of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the revered first Sikh Guru. This announcement was made while the Honourable Minister was delivering the prestigious ‘Distinguished Guest Lecture’ in the packed to capacity Great Hall of the University of Birmingham (UOB). Nearly 400 people from all across the UK braved the early-November chill to listen to the illustrious orator from India speak on the subject of ‘The Contemporary Relevance of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s Message of Inter-faith Harmony’.
In his key note address, lasting a little over half an hour, the Honourable Minister spoke eloquently about Guru Nanak’s powerful and eternal message to the world, and its relevance in the 21st Century. Drawing upon the tenets of the Sikh religion, he exhorted the three principles of Naam Japo (meditation), Kirat Karo (honest living) and Vand Chakho -06(sharing with others), which are inspiring the followers of Guru Nanak even today. He emphasized that Guru Nanak during his travels all around the world, over a period of 27 years, interacted with people of all faith, with commoners, with Kings, with philosophers, and seers, and built inter-faith harmony through dialogue. Long before the launch of the inter-faith movement, Guru Nanak had shared his ideas on building inter-faith understanding and harmony, almost five centuries ago. In today’s world, facing conflict and religious bigotry, the essential teaching of Guru Nanak – ‘See the divine light in all’ can help build peace and harmony around the world. As the world addresses the challenge of terrorism, we don’t have the luxury to ignore this message of Guru Nanak, which can help each of us become a better human being and make the world a more peaceful place for everyone.
The Honourable Minister announced amidst thunderous applause, the launch of the prestigious academic Chair to promote research into the life and philosophy of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the revered first Sikh Guru. He said on the occasion “The University of Birmingham is most suitable for the Chair given the strength of its academic offering, its close connections to the vibrant Sikh community, the larger British-Indian community of the UK, and its history and continuing commitment to India. Equally, the City of Birmingham, in the heart of the United Kingdom, with its rich and diverse religious heritage, and its diverse population, is an ideal place for the Chair to be located.”
In a star-studded setting, the hallowed precinct of University of Birmingham turned into a veritable who’s who gathering for the evening. Among the notable dignitaries gracing the occasion were H.E. High Commissioner of India to the UK, Mrs. Ruchi Ghanashyam, Lord Bilimoria of Chelsea, CBE, DL, Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, University of Birmingham, Bangladesh High Commissioner to the UK, H.E. Ms. Saida Muna Tasneem, Mr. Charanjeet Singh, Deputy High Commissioner of India to the UK, Mr. Samantha Pathirana, Deputy High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to the UK, Prof Robin Mason, Pro Vice Chancellor & Director of India Institute, UOB, Ms. Neena Gill MBE (the first female MEP in the European Parliament), Baroness Sandeep Verma, Professor Nat Puri, Founder of Purico Group, Professor. Philip Plowden, Vice Chancellor, Birmingham City University, Mr. Dipankar Chakraborty, Country Director of India Institute, UOB.
The evening’s proceedings began with a melodious musical performance organised by the Birmingham based South Asian Arts & Heritage institution – SAMPAD. The artist, Priti Kaur, gave an uplifting, solemn and seamless rendition of a Sanskrit Shloka, a hymn from Guru Granth Sahib and sang “Ae Watan, Mere Watan Abad rahe tu, Main jahan rahoon, jahaan mein yaad rahe tu”.
Addressing the guests, Professor Robin Mason, Pro Vice Chancellor (International) said that he was delighted to welcome the Honourable Minister to deliver the Annual Distinguished Guest Lecture which would strengthen the already existing strong linkage between the University and India. He also remarked that the University of Birmingham was the first British University to start academic course in Sikh studies, and was very proud of its engagement with the British-Indian community.
University of Birmingham Chancellor Lord Bilimoria of Chelsea said that, “The Indian Government’s decision that the University of Birmingham should host this high-profile Chair is testament to our long-standing and ever-deepening relationship with India and its people. We are proud of our education and research links with India, particularly in those fields that resonate with the teachings of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. We believe this Chair will help further deepen and strengthen links between our academic community and the Indian Diaspora.”
In her closing address the High Commissioner for India in the UK, Mrs Ruchi Ghanashyam congratulated the British-Indian community for its partnership on various projects to celebrate the auspicious occasion of 550th birth anniversary of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, whose life and teachings inspire Indians belonging to all faiths across the globe. This is a great opportunity for that eternal message of the revered first Sikh Guru to be shared with the British community, and the larger world community.
The programme concluded with the presentation of a souvenir – a large original oil painting by renowned artist Mr. Sukhprit Singh from India. The artwork was especially commissioned by the High Commission of India, London for the occasion and was presented to the Honourable Minister as a token of appreciation from the British-Indian Community of the United Kingdom.
Aman Puri, Consul General of India, Birmingham commented, “I am delighted that the University of Birmingham has partnered on this prestigious academic Chair, as its India Institute is playing such an important role in improving collaboration between India and the UK. Future research by this Chair will help further understand the contemporary relevance of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s teachings.”