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Seva in Sikhism: Background information when reading The Year of the Runaways

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The Year of the Runaways

A novel

by Sunjeev Sahota

The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota X
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2016, 496 pages

    Feb 2017, 496 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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About this Book

Seva in Sikhism

This article relates to The Year of the Runaways

Print Review

In The Year Of the Runaways, most of the men are Sikhs as is Narinder Kaur, the only woman character. Sikhism (see Beyond the Book for A Moment Comes) is an integral part of Narinder's life and it is through practicing one of its central tenets, service or "seva," that she comes to be Randeep's wife.

While most religions encourage service of some kind, seva is a necessity to be a Sikh. It is one of the two main anchors of the religion, the other being "simran" or remembrance of the gurus' words. Guru Nanak, considered the supreme leader of Sikhism, strongly advocated the concept of seva and believed that a person's actions speak louder than any words. Seva is divided into three different types in Sikhism.

The langar, the first of its kind started by Guru Nanak, is a kind of soup kitchen, which is open to all and serves vegetarian food usually every day or at least once a week. Seva of the "tan" (body) is what is needed to participate in a langar, either through cooking and serving of the meals or catering to the needs of the congregation or sangat, the good people. At the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Sikhism's most famous religious institution, 80,000 people are served everyday at the langar. You need not be a Sikh to eat for free at a langar. In The Year Of the Runaways, Narinder travels to India to take part in such seva.

The two other types of seva in Sikhism are of the "man" (mind), where you share knowledge and other skills; and "dhan" or wealth, where a Sikh is expected to donate ten percent of his or her income to charity. The Guru Granth (Sikh holy text) preaches that the mouth of a pauper is the mouth of the Guru; in other words, feeding the poor is like catering to the Supreme one.

According to Sikhism's holy text, true seva must be done without expectation of rewards and must be executed with purity of intention and humility. As per a quote from the Guru Granth Sahib, "A place in God's court can only be attained if we do service to others in this world...Wandering ascetics, warriors, celibates, holy men, none of them can obtain moksha (salvation) without performing seva."

The video below captures the spirit of the langar at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India:

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

Article by Poornima Apte

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Year of the Runaways. It originally ran in April 2016 and has been updated for the February 2017 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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