On April 24, 1979, His Holiness Gurubachan Singh, the master of the Sant Nirankari Mission, was murdered by people who disagreed with his teachings. The people who followed his teachings cried out to his son, Hardev Singh, to let them retaliate in his name. Hardev Singh, who took over leadership of the mission when he was only 29, said no. He asked instead for prayer and peace.
Now, 27 years later, the anniversary of Gurubachan Singh's murder is honored in mission chapters across the world with Manav Ekta Diwas, or Human Unity Day.
"Human Unity Day came about because it is the best way to give him our respect," Prem Dadlani, the director of the mission's Washington, D.C., chapter, said. "He lived for peace and died for peace and now we honor him with peace."
THROUGHOUT THE morning of Sunday, April 23, people filed into the Sterling Annex to commemorate Human Unity Day. They came to speak, to sing, to listen and to pray. While most were local, some came from Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina to be present at Human Unity Day.
"Anyone and everyone is welcome," Dadlani said, "because that is our message, to give love to the human kind."
Speaking in Hindi, Punjabi and English, people spoke to the congregation about human unity and how it has affected their own lives. Many of those that traveled from other states had been selected by their chapters to speak, but those from the Washington, D.C., chapter were chosen to come forward at random by Dadlani.
"People from this chapter do not know if they are going to be called to speak," Ritika Thohan, 21, said. "Everyone should have something prepared to speak about the Lord."
At the end of the service the Rev. Praduman Singh, who traveled from Toronto, Canada, for the event, spoke to the congregation about human unity and the message of God.
WHILE HUMAN UNITY Day is a special time for the mission, its purpose is not that different from its every day teachings. The mission's members believe in universal brotherhood, Dadlani said, and follow the principals of tolerance and peace.
"The mission believes we can achieve human unity through spirituality and through the knowledge of God," he said.
The mission, which was founded in 1929, preaches that, before anything else, everyone is human and that there is no room in life for discrimination based on race, religion or culture.
"God has created a beautiful garden with different flowers," Dadlani said. "Just because someone doesn't believe the way you believe doesn't make them an enemy."
A great deal of focus in the mission is placed on the youth and one service each month is reserved completely for youth speakers and singers.
"We encourage the kids to get involved a lot," Rajinder Gahunia, a member of the mission, said. "We believe that if kids get involved then they can avoid the bad stuff that is out there."
However, just as an emphasis is placed on teaching the young, there is an equal emphasis on showing respect to your elders. As people enter the annex, they bow and touch the feet of Dadlani. It is a gesture to show their respect of humans and the life that God created.
"It is tradition, the humbleness bow," Dadlani said. "The biggest thing God created is humans. We are his supreme creation and the bow honors that."
EACH PERSON WHO spoke at Human Unity Day spoke about the great love they felt from God and how they believed that love should be shared amongst all humans. They spoke under posters bearing the mission's philosophies: "Religion unites, never divides" and "Know one, believe one, be one."
Ram Nagrani, who has been with the mission for almost 40 years, was one of the last people to speak to the congregation. He chose to speak in English, he said, so the children could understand him.
"As we approach old age and death, death is the great unifier," he said. "Let us not wait until it is too late. Let us start living this life of love and compassion now."