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Tamandeep Singh live-streams Sikh services to thousands from his Shepparton home

By Madi Chwasta

Tamandeep Singh has not been able to attend Shepparton's Sikh temple during the pandemic, but he has helped thousands bring the temple to their living rooms.

With his friend Avvi in Melbourne, he has organised religious services that broadcast each day on the Facebook page Virtual Kirtan Diwaans, hosted by Sikhs in their homes.

“It was started at the beginning of the pandemic, and we contacted people asking them to sing,” he said.

“We got a good response.”

Tamandeep has even had his turn at hosting a live stream himself.

These services have been a lifeline for the 21-year-old, who moved back to his parents’ place in Shepparton from Melbourne when the pandemic began.

“They help fill the void — it still feels like you’re seeing people,” he said.

Tamandeep was brought up in Sikhism, a 500-year-old religion birthed in the Punjab region in north India.

Singing Kirtan with the harmonium: Sikh services involve lots of singing.

He was born in Punjab, and migrated to Australia with his father, Kamaldeep, and mother, Jasbinder, in 2003.

The family lived in Melbourne, where his brother, Agammjot, was born, before moving to Shepparton in 2013.

“We moved here to ultimately have a better standard of living, as there's a lot of pollution and overpopulation in India,” Taman said.

“Sikhs are a minority in India as well — we make up two per cent of the population, and there's a lot of mistreatment of minorities because of their religion.”

What encouraged Taman to continue to practise his faith as he got older were the values.

These are represented in three pillars: Kirat Karni, which means to live an honest life; Vand Chakna, which translates to sharing with others; and Naam Japna, which is about focusing on God.

“The morals really resonated with me,” he said.

Another important aspect of Sikhism is Sangat, meaning to surround yourself with like-minded people, achieved by attending temple regularly.

Taman used to attend the Sikh temple in Shepparton — the Gurdwara Sahib — at least once a week when he used to live here.

“But we try to go every day in Shepp, even for just five minutes,” he said.

“It’s just like visiting someone you’re close to.”

He also observes the Guru Granth Sahib, which is the main holy text in Sikhism.

The text is closely linked to music — its sections are broken up into rags, which have corresponding melodies and rhythms.

Sikh services feature a lot of singing and playing of the harmonium, an accordion-like organ, and the tabla, Indian hand drums.

Playing the tabla: the rhythms played on the Indian hand drums correspond to the Sikh religious text.

“I started playing tabla and singing Kirtan when I was about six,” he said.

“When you’re singing together, you feel the words (of Guru Granth Sahib) through the music.

“Playing music is a form of prayer.”

Tamandeep practises tabla and singing regularly, and has continued throughout the pandemic.

He has also had more time in the past couple of months to research Sikhism, alongside his university study.

“I now have the time to look at Sikh literature, to look at history, where I’m from and what my religion actually stands for,” he said.

Continuing prayer through COVID-19: Tamandeep Singh has been a Sikh since he was born.

But most of the comfort comes from the sense of community Sikhism brings, even when he can't see people in person.

“The Sikh values allow me to connect and have a common ground with other people,” he said.

“There are so many Sikhs in Australia you can talk to, just to see how they’re going.”

And difficult times such as these reaffirm his choices.

“There’s doubt (following Sikhism) sometimes,” he said.

“But when I look at examples of past figures and how they’ve gone through so much struggle, it motives me and makes me feel okay.

“It shows me it’s definitely worth following this path.”

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