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Los Angeles Times, July 23, 2004



"Smithsonian Opening New Exhibit on Sikhs"

WASHINGTON - A model of the Golden Temple of Amritsar graces the entryway, facing a series of small, exotic paintings. Overhead, the faces of nine Gurus look down as the Smithsonian Institution introduces visitors to the world of the Sikh people.

The new exhibit "Sikhs: Legacy of the Punjab," opens Saturday at the National Museum of Natural History, featuring more than 100 items of Sikh artwork, arms, clothing, coins, musical instruments and other artifacts.

When the museum began working on its Sikh Heritage Project, an inventory found not a single Sikh-related item, Paul Michael Taylor, director of the museum's Asian Cultural History Program, explained.

Now materials are being acquired and borrowed to present the exhibit on one of the world's largest religious groups.

With some 22 million members Sikhs, both a religion and an ethnic group, outnumber all but a few other religions, Taylor explained. But they number between 250,000 and 500,000 in the United States and so are not as well understood here.

Indeed, Taylor said, that caused problems following the 9/11 terrorist attacks because Sikhs, who wear turbans and beards, sometimes were mistaken for Muslims.

The Sikh homeland is the Punjab, now divided between India and Pakistan. Founded by Guru Nanak in the 15th century, the Sikhs believe in a single God and were led by a series of Gurus, or leaders, until they chose as the last Guru their holy book, called Guru Granth Sahib.

Sikhism is one of the few religions to change from following a series of individual leaders to focusing on a book of teachings, Taylor explained.

The exhibit, near the museum's popular Baseball as America display, is scheduled to be shown for two years on the building's first floor and them move to the second floor for three years.

"This Smithsonian initiative to help preserve and celebrate Sikh heritage comes at a crucial time," said Taylor.

"Many Sikhs describe their religion as one that draws from both Islam and Hinduism, and they feel that their presence in these neighboring countries contributes to peace between them," he said.

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