PBS documentary broadcast part of Sikh awareness campaign

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(RNS) — PBS stations across the United States are set to air a documentary about the founder of the Sikh faith this weekend. “Guru Nanak: Life & Legacy” will be shown on December 9th and 10th on 100 different PBS stations in over 40 states.

“Although Guru Nanak’s teachings of equality and tolerance resonate with American audiences and are foundational values for American society, very few of our neighbors and Western society at large know anything about Guru Nanak Dev Ji,” said Gurwin Ahuja, the executive director of the National Sikh Campaign, in a statement to RNS.

The documentary, which will air in the early evening, is one piece of a campaign launched by NSC to bring more awareness to the Sikh faith, the world’s fifth-largest religion, and to garner acknowledgement of key dates in the life of the faith’s founder. The film is set to be broadcast in 15 of America’s largest metropolitan areas including Houston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.


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An early 19th century mural depicting Guru Nanak at the Gurdwara Baba Atal in Amritsar, India. Image courtesy of Creative Commons

An early 19th-century mural depicting Guru Nanak at the Gurdwara Baba Atal in Amritsar, India. Image courtesy of Creative Commons

The 90-minute documentary is biographical and also includes views from a variety of Sikh experts and American interfaith leaders. These include Bishop Chane, a Christian leader and former head of the Washington National Cathedral, and Bob Thurman, a Buddhist scholar who was named one of Time magazine’s 50 most influential people.

Sikh Americans began arriving in the United States in the late 19th century, and as early as World War I, Sikh Americans were joining the U.S. military. However, despite more than half a million Sikhs living in the United States today, a 2016 poll conducted by a Sikh organization found that less than 1% of Americans were familiar with the faith. The documentary also portrays Sikh Americans in every aspect of society, including farmers, truck drivers and doctors.


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This will be the third time the film will be aired on PBS. The film was first developed under a contract between PBS Connecticut and Auter Productions for a release in 2019 to mark the 550th anniversary of Guru Nanak’s life and was aired again last December. Yet, organizers believe this year is important, as the easing of coronavirus-related protocols means in-person screenings of the film can take place next year.

“We hope to hold screenings of the film at the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill. That isn’t confirmed yet, but, since so many congressional leaders are elected from districts with significant Sikh constituents, it won’t be a problem,” said Sikh American activist Rajwant Singh, who is involved with the campaign.

This year, the film will also be distributed to educational institutions and libraries, and the NSC has worked to develop a supporting lesson plan. As a secondary goal, the organizers hope to get a major university to introduce a course on the life of the guru.

“In 2022, we will be scaling up our efforts to spread awareness and knowledge of Guru Nanak Dev Ji in American educational institutions,” said Ahuja.

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