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Sikhs celebrate community spirit
30th annual parade attracts an estimated 75,000 people to Y.C.
Yuba City's population doubled Sunday, and gained a higher appreciation for curry, as thousands of Sikhs from across California and elsewhere descended on the Sikh Temple Gurdwara for an afternoon parade that culminated a weekend of events celebrating the India-based religion.
An estimated 75,000 people filled Tierra Buena and Butte House roads before the beginning of the parade, one of the largest annual gatherings of Sikhs anywhere outside Asia.
"Nowhere else can we have an event like this for our people," said Nitoj Singh, who came from Castro Valley with his mother, Kay Singh, to the parade. "There's just a level of comfort here."
The Yuba City Nagar Kirtan and Sikh Parade, in its 30th iteration this year, is a community celebration of Sikhism, attendees said.
And, a reason to have a good time.
"Everyone comes to pay tribute to the temple," said Aman Lasher, 28, of Los Banos. Her family was one of dozens set up in booths along the parade route giving away free Indian food and drink.
Her family's booth both asked for donations for a Sikhi camp near Fresno in December and gave away raas, a juice made from squeezing stalks of sugar cane on site.
Using devices that appeared to come from the 19th century and were imported from India, Lasher's family made cups of the swamp-green liquid with a taste both sweet and vegetative. Some tweaked the drink with lemon juice or salt, others drank it straight.
At about 1 p.m. the parade began with teams of men who sprinkled water on the street, followed by more men and women who swept the path in a side-to-side fashion.
Parade watchers flocked to the first float, made by the temple itself, to drop money in a recess at the float's front. The float was accompanied with men in gold and blue uniforms bearing long, curved scimitars that shined brightly in the afternoon sun.
More floats followed, from businesses, school ethnic clubs and charities such as the American Red Cross' local chapter. Some floats had a political message, such as one from a group of Sikh college students that warned of oppression against Sikhs in their native India.
Two men stood on the float with their heads positioned inside nooses, while words read, "A community will never forget."
Other floats had a more festive theme. On many, jubilant Indian music was accompanied by live singers, drummers and dancers, some of whom gratefully accepted bottled water offered by the booths along the path.
Though the vast majority of attendees were Sikhs, the men in bright headscarves and the women in a rainbow array of gowns and veils, here and there others could be seen sampling Indian food and taking photos and video as the parade passed.
Crystal Hill and Sara Novak, both of Yuba City, said they'd come at the urging of a Sikh friend who'd pestered them to do so for years.
"I love it. Everyone is very friendly and welcoming," said Novak, 29. She said she particularly enjoyed pakora, deep-fried vegetables, along with sweets other booths gave out.
The two women said they'd quickly noticed when they arrived their skin tone stood out. "We saw we were the minority here, but we don't feel that way," Novak said. "I think this celebration is more inviting than any other one we have in Marysville or Yuba City."
While many Sikhs came to town just for the parade, others began arriving late last week for three days of events around the temple, including a fireworks show Friday night and an open house Saturday.
As they walked back toward their cars, Kevin and Simi Warring of Folsom said they'd enjoyed themselves.
"We come because of the celebration atmosphere, of all Indians coming together," Simi, 17, said, as she greeted a friend walking by in Punjabi. "You feel like you're at home.
"And it seems like it's getting bigger every year."
Contact Appeal-Democrat reporter Ben van der Meer at 749-4709 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Yuba County news see Ben's blog, "Yuba County Insider," at appealdemocrat.com.