ARIA Spotlight: Rhiane Persaud

As a Religious Studies major specializing in Hinduism, I was excited to have the opportunity to learn about another South Asian religious tradition that I previously knew very little about, Sikhi. During this internship I have been conducting textual and ethnographic research on karah prasad to aid Professor Farran who will be writing an article on karah prasad. Karah prasad is a sweet, pudding-like food made of whole wheat flour, sugar, ghee (or butter) and water. Karah prasad smells like freshly baked cookies, has an almost caramel-like flavour and leaves your palms slick with grease after eating. It is received by devotees after prayer at a Gurudwara. While it is a fundamental part of any Gurudwara around the world, very little research has been done on it and no article centres it. The literature on karah prasad so far leaves out the theological and ritual significance of the prasad, instead only focusing on the physical elements and its use in rights and rituals. We are interested in how karah prasad goes from ordinary food to a blessed substance according to Sikhs and what blessed karah prasad is believed to do to the one who consumes it.

Karah Prasad is so much more than a tasty treat after prayer, it is a substance imbued with the blessings of God. Prasad (प्रसाद in Sanskrit and Hindi, ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦ in Punjabi) literally means “grace”. It is understood as containing the blessings of God, and by consuming it that grace is also consumed. It is blessed by the recitation of gurbanis (hymns) and the name of God "waheguru" while it is being made. Once the karah prasad is finished it is brought up to the darbar sahib where it is placed on a table or stool close to the Guru Granth Sahib (holy book of Sikhi), the proximity to the book also imbues the prasad with blessings. Since very little has been published on Karah Prasad I was tasked with finding mention of it in academic texts and writing an annotated bibliography. This was more difficult then I anticipated because both the Punjabi words ਕੜਾਹ and ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦ have been transliterated in a number of ways including: karah, karha, kadha and kada for ਕੜਾਹ and prasad, prashad, parshad, and parsad for ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦ. I also conducted ten Gurudwara visits, have watched karah prasad being prepared and have assisted Professor Farran in conducting two interviews with an influential senior member of the Montreal Sikh community.

Since I had little background knowledge on Sikhi, the beginning of May consisted mainly of reading as much as I could about the faith and having many meetings with Professor Farran discussing Gurdwara etiquette and important things to know about the religion and the Sikh community in Montreal. By the time I first went to a Gurdwara, Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar in LaSalle, though I was more prepared, I still felt like an imposter. Gurdwaras are meant to be spaces for all, irrespective of nationality, ethnicity or religion, however, in Montreal, those who attend are almost exclusively Punjabi Sikhs. While I was instantly picked out as an outsider by my inability to understand Punjabi or Hindi and my white-passing appearance, I encountered great hospitality and warmth from the community. Over the course of this summer, I have visited four of the six Gurdwaras on the island of Montréal: Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar LaSalle, Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar Park Extension, Gurudwara Sahib Quebec and Gurudwara Sahib Greater Montreal. I have spent the most time in Gurdwara Sahib Quebec and have become best acquainted with the congregation at this Gurdwara through my volunteer work in the langar (Gurudwara kitchen).

A highlight of my ARIA internship was being invited by Professor Farran to attend The Canadian South Asian Studies Association/Association canadienne d'études sud-asiatiques (CSASA-ACESA) annual congress meeting from May 28 to 29. I was able to assist at the conference and my research and photos were cited in Professor Farran’s presentation on karah prasad and the Sikh community of Montreal. Another highlight was getting to attend the Nagar Kirtan on May 21 on the LaSalle Gurdwara grounds. Thousands of Sikhs gathered on the grounds and in the streets all dressed in their best shalwar kameez. Delicious street style langar was served at many stalls around the grounds and there was music, speeches and various booths to visit.

This internship has ignited in me a love for original research that I hope can lead to career of ethnographic research after my undergraduate degree. After this internship is complete I will continue to attend the Gurudwara Sahib Quebec where I have met friends and am fulfilled by preforming seva (selfless service) for my community.

I would like to thank the Garmaise Family who generously sponsored this amazing opportunity.

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