Why Latter-day Saints were invited to host a booth at the Sikh festival in Yuba City

The Sikh festival in Yuba City attracts an estimated 100,000 people and is considered to be one of the largest gatherings of Sikhs outside India

As part of the annual Sikh festival in Yuba City, California, a parade begins at the Gurdwara Sahib Sikh temple and travels a 4.5-mile loop by another temple — the Feather River California Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“People love to talk about the parade going from temple to temple,” said Lynne Takahashi, a Latter-day Saint in Yuba City who participated in this year’s festival held Nov. 4-6. 

The temple-to-temple visual represents a growing interfaith relationship in Yuba City between Latter-day Saints and Punjabis of the Sikh faith — a relationship that is being strengthened through family history.

Yuba City is home to about 15,000 Punjabis, people who originate from the Punjab region of northern India and Pakistan, many of whom are Sikh. 

The 43rd annual Sikh festival is held on the grounds of the Gurdwara Sahib Yuba City Temple Nov. 4-6, 2022. | Riley Shelton

The Sikh festival in Yuba City attracts an estimated 100,000 people and is considered to be one of the largest gatherings of Sikhs outside India.

“This festival is called ‘Nagar Kirtan,’ and it literally means ‘singing in the streets,’” Raji Tumber, a member of the Sikh community in Yuba City, told the Church News. “Once a year, the holy book is taken out of our temple and put on this big, huge, beautiful float, and we have followers of our faith and people that are not of our faith join us, sing with us.”

For the second year in a row, Latter-day Saints were invited to host a family history booth at the Sikh festival. Takahashi, a stake family history consultant in the Yuba City California Stake, volunteered at the booth, as well as missionaries from the California Roseville Mission and other Church members.

“The first time another faith was brought to our festival site, the Nagar Kirtan, the grounds of our temple, is the Mormon faith …,” Tumber said. “I’m doing all I can do to expand the knowledge for each faith to understand each other, and FamilySearch is a big, big part of why I’m really involved because it’s such a beautiful system of getting to know our ancestors.”

Crowds move through the booths at the Sikh festival in Yuba City, California, held Nov. 4-6, 2022. The annual festival attracts an estimated 100,000 people. | Kohl McCabe

A history of friendship

Growing up in Yuba City, Tumber’s family was close with a few Latter-day Saint families. She remembers sharing clothes and her family’s home-grown walnuts and peaches with them. They celebrated birthdays together. One woman taught her mom how to make a turkey for Thanksgiving. 

Tumber’s parents owned a 100-acre property in the area, part of which they sold to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to house a stake center — and now the Feather River temple, which is nearing completion.

“It was such a joyous occasion for my mom and dad that we had a church anchoring the rest of the 90-something acres,” Tumber said. “And so it’s a great relationship our family has with the temple folks and elders (missionaries). … Our love and friendship has grown as time goes on.”

Tumber explained that a tenet of Sikhism is acceptance of everyone, no matter their station in life. “One of the major things in our faith is ‘seva,’ which means ‘to serve.’”

“We’re so paralleled in our beliefs,” she said of Sikhs and Latter-day Saints. “It’s just a blessing to our family, and I hope that more of my Punjabi sisters and brothers are able to learn more about my friends.”

Tumber said she is thrilled that the family history booth at the Sikh festival is making that hope a reality.

Debbie Justesen, area temple and family history adviser, left, poses for a photo with a woman at the Sikh festival in Yuba City, California, held Nov. 4-6, 2022. | Riley Shelton

“A lot of people came up and spoke with the volunteers at our booth,” Tumber said. “It’s a beautiful sight just to learn of each other. Everyone is so respectful to Lynne and her volunteers.”

A family history effort

Takahashi was introduced to Tumber last year through a mutual friend and started helping her with her family history. The two women, almost the same age, were “a perfect fit,” Takahashi said. “Raji is like a sister to me now.”

As she began helping Tumber record her information in FamilySearch, Takahashi discovered that the villages where Tumber’s family lived in India were not standardized (standardized dates and places improve the accuracy of the search, record hints and duplicate features of Family Tree).

With the help of FamilySearch and members of her stake and the Sikh community, Takahashi underwent a monumental effort to add the 12,000-plus villages in Punjab to FamilySearch. “All of the villages in Punjab are in FamilySearch now,” she said, which proved to be beneficial when talking with people at the festival this year. 

This is a visual showing the 12,000-plus villages in Punjab that have been identified through the efforts of Lynne Takahashi and FamilySearch. | Kohl McCabe

In Punjab many places didn’t properly document birth, Tumber explained. “And so this, the FamilySearch process and working with Lynne, will allow us to research it and get to know our ancestors.”

A missionary’s connection

One of the volunteers at this year’s family history booth was 20-year-old Sister Ramya Ramesh of the California Roseville Mission. Sister Ramesh was born in Chennai, India, and lived there for about eight years before her family moved to the United States.

Upon arriving in the mission field, President Douglas L. Talley, her mission president, asked if she would be willing to learn Punjabi.

“She said ‘Yes’ and just jumped at that chance,” President Talley said. Sister Ramesh spent the first nine months of her mission in Yuba City.

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity that I had to be part of that,” Sister Ramesh said of participating in the Sikh festival. “We were able to talk to a lot of people and help them get to know more about FamilySearch, and how they can trace their family heritage back many generations to be able to find out more about their story.”

During the festival, she also did interviews in Punjabi with two news stations.

A newscaster interviews Lynne Takahashi, Sister Ramya Ramesh and Raji Tumber in front of the family history booth at the Sikh festival in Yuba City, California, held Nov. 4-6, 2022. | Kohl McCabe

“She was just in her element,” President Talley said. “She was just so thrilled to have that connection to her homeland again, that she hasn’t had for over 10 years. It was really touching to me to listen to her talk about how fulfilling it was for her emotionally as well as spiritually to be connected to her people that way.”

Sister Ramesh’s family are first-generation Latter-day Saints. Her mom learned about the Church while on an airplane.

“The person she sat next to was a member of the Church and was willing to share and bring up in normal and natural ways the gospel and how it can bless our lives,” Sister Ramesh said. A returning missionary sitting two seats behind her gave her a Book of Mormon and a number to call the missionaries. She was baptized four months later. 

“Being able to be there at the Sikh festival helped me feel the presence of my ancestors close by,” Sister Ramesh said. “I’ve been able to see that as I’m helping gather the people here in Yuba City, I’m able to actually help my own family come closer to Jesus Christ. … It’s strengthened my testimony on how, truly, families can be together forever.”

Sister Ramesh isn’t the only missionary in the Roseville mission to learn Punjabi. President Talley said last year when missionaries served at the family history booth at the Sikh festival, they met a Punjabi couple who offered to teach missionaries Punjabi.

A missionary teaches a passerby about family history efforts in Punjab at the Sikh festival in Yuba City, California, held Nov. 4-6, 2022. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“From time to time, we’ve had as many as six Punjabi-speaking missionaries to reach out to the community and teach the gospel,” President Talley said. 

“It’s just interesting to see, from my perspective, how the Lord can simply move the work forward, to fulfill His own promise that every people would hear the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ in their own language, in their own tongue, the Punjabi being no exception,” he added.

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