by MSS Krishna Kaur Khalsa, Los Angeles CA
2021 (First Quarter)
My first experience with Sikh Dharma came in February 1971. I traveled with the Siri Singh Sahib on his very first return trip to India, after he had been living in the United States for two years. The overwhelm of the culture that many in our group experienced on that yatra actually felt good to me.
Being in northern India [Punjab] was like being back in Senegal, Ghana, and Nigeria, West Africa, where I had spent a year on a personal quest to discover how I was supposed to worship God. So, being in the Punjab region of India was the most comforting experience I had had since my return from West Africa. I felt quite at home.
Halfway through the trip, I accompanied the Siri Singh Sahib and his secretary to the Golden Temple in Amritsar. I didn’t know where we were going—and it didn’t really matter. As we entered the Temple grounds, I was struck by the incredible power it had over me. It was like a magnet.
There were thousands of colorful and energetic followers bowing, cleaning the marble floors, and bustling about doing seva of all kinds. After wandering through the Temple for a few hours, melting into the music and the sheer reverence of the place, I had a visceral experience of having been there before—an experience so profound that I elected to take Amrit (baptism of the Sikh faith) when it was offered a few days later.
Becoming a Minister
Becoming a Sikh Dharma Minister was right in the flow of where my life was carrying me. It was during the 1972 3HO Summer Solstice celebration in Northern California that I became ordained. From my perspective, our beginnings were very humble back then. The ministerial duties were not spelled out initially, but I embodied the consciousness and dedication to the responsibility of being a Sikh Dharma Minister.
The analogy given to us was that of an inverted pyramid, in which the Minister was at the bottom, holding and caring for the community at the top. More than anything, we were meant to serve with a sincere devotion to the One God at all times and under all circumstances—and I was totally into it. We were to read and learn the specific protocols of the Sikh faith and follow them as stated in our Minister’s oath.
Of course, we were learning to become what we had taken the oath to become, but from what I could see, nothing in our lives changed. We continued to run businesses, ashram communities, Dharmic schools, etc. There was no specific ministerial training at that time—only the self-taught training taking place in our various communities around the country.
I’m not sure how it happened, but I soon became the unofficial head of the LA/ Preuss Road community. I created programs and orchestrated celebrations for major Gurpurbs and significant historical events in 3HO. I performed marriages, handled disputes among members, assisted in Amrit ceremonies, and traveled to centers around the country in an effort to solve internal community problems.
The Broadway Ashram
At the same time, I was running the “Guru Ram Das Ashram, Broadway” in South Central Los Angeles, which started simply as a center for yoga classes, open to the public. The humble Yoga Center on Broadway and 53rd Street soon bought a large house.
At one point 40 people lived there, including single men, single women, married couples and children, plus a dog named Uraneous. The Yoga Center continued to flourish with dedicated Kundalini Yoga teachers and students.
We were expert at creating activities geared to keeping the participants involved. Being an official minister made it easier to gain the trust of the religious communities near 53rd and Broadway.
I interacted daily with community leaders, including Christian ministers, members of the Nation of Islam, drug and alcohol counselors, community activists, local politicians, dedicated youth leaders, and frustrated mothers from badly-managed community housing facilities.
I was on the Tension Committee in Watts, the Alcohol and Drug Coalition, and met with local and political leaders regularly. I used my position as a Minister, in addition to being a highly enthusiastic yoga teacher, to serve all, big and small.
I knew I was never going to be the type of Minister that administered religious doctrine from an office. I was always a “people person,” serving in the field without direct instruction from anyone, just following my heart.
I started the Guru Ram Das Play School in1973, serving neighborhood kids and children of students who regularly attended the yoga classes on Saturdays. The GRD Play School operated for 6 or 7 years, as the “Broadway Ashram” community grew. The 4-to-7-year-olds who came almost daily during the summer months ended up being our best ambassadors.
It only took a few weeks of questioning me about what yoga was and why we ate the strange food that the whole neighborhood grew to love us and look at us differently. Because of our youth program, every new event or practice we developed helped us win the hearts and minds of the neighborhood skeptics.
Community Seva and Outreach
We had a free kitchen going twice a week and later took food to Skid Row on Saturdays for years. Drawing on my theater background and my UCLA education, I created The Sat Nam Street Players as a way to teach more community folks about what yoga is and what it is not.
The idea came from my “History of the Theater” class I took while at UCLA back in the early ‘60s. I learned that theater as we know it today came into being when the troubadours would go out to villages and use song, dance, mime, and skits to teach the pagans about God and religion. So I thought, why not do the same with Yoga and Dharma? It was not an easy sell, but we were very enthusiastic and highly creative.
Our humble group of yoga teachers and students took to the streets during the summer months, having gotten permits from the city to close down streets in specific neighborhoods. The Sat Nam Street Players performed in residential neighborhoods throughout South Central LA. “Oh, no, ma’am, yoga is not something you eat. That is yogurt! It’s something you do to combat stress and keep you healthy.”
As the summer came to an end, I organized a “Homecoming Celebration” to appreciate our humble troubadours, and invited the entire neighborhood to our wild and wonderful “Street Party.” We spread sawdust on the naked ground, arranged bales of hay for folks to sit on, cooked lots of delicious vegetarian enchiladas, and invited the whole neighborhood to the vacant lot adjacent to the Yoga Center. We partied for hours. Some of those neighbors have since become Kundalini Yoga teachers!
With my little guitar and the four chords I knew, we would join spiritual and community events at high schools, parks and community centers, and other events in South Central LA. We would sit on the floor and sing mantras—right after a rocking gospel choir left the stage!
The introduction of our choir by the MC was always interesting. But people stayed anyway. I guess they figured that if we had the nerve to finagle a place in that gospel extravaganza, they should at least stay seated until we had finished. After all, we were all about God like everybody else on the program!
The Path of a Minister
Over one Thanksgiving weekend, the Siri Singh Sahib invited all the Regional Teachers to come to Los Angeles. At the end of the weekend, we were having dinner at the ashram on Preuss Road, when the Siri Singh Sahib announced that no one could leave until we had come up with a code of conduct for Sikh Dharma Ministers. He spoke of the essence of a code of conduct at length and then sent people off to change their flights.
We all gathered in Shakti Parwha Kaur’s apartment for five or six days. Then, after deep contemplation and heated arguments, we delivered a document to the Siri Singh Sahib. After carefully reading and approving the document, he pronounced that from that moment forward, this group of individuals were not just Singh Sahibs and Sardarni Sahibas. We were given the title of Mukhia Singh Sahib or Mukhia Sardarni Sahiba.
MSS Shakti Parwha Kaur and I were the first and for a while the only Mukhia Sardarni Sahibas. For the first couple of years, I was the only Mukhia Sardarni Sahiba on the Khalsa Council. Slowly, the Khalsa Council grew into what it is today.
I love being a Sikh, and I love being a Minister of Sikh Dharma. They both fit me well and I will continue for as long as the Guru wills it to be so.