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Sikhs prepare for massive celebration in India

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Nearly 1 million Sikhs are preparing to descend on a small town in western India to mark three centuries of their religion.

Some will come on chariots or on horseback, dressed in traditional costumes that include a turban and a “kirpan” or dagger.

The celebration runs for a week from Oct. 27 to mark 300 years since the Sikh religion’s holiest book, Guru Granth Sahib, was finished.

It will take place in Nanded, about 460 km (285 miles) east of Mumbai in Maharashtra, home of the five “takhts” (main centres) of the Sikh religion in India.

Sikhs will stream in on special trains, buses and flights to also mark the 300th anniversary of the death of Guru Gobind Singh, the last of the 10 gurus.

Across the country in gurudwaras, Sikh places of worship, special prayers were being said and processions held, said P.S. Pasricha, head of the board for the Nanded celebrations.

“We were fighting Mughals during the first centenary and the British during the bicentenary,” he said. “Now it is time to celebrate.”

Sikhism, founded in the 15th century by Guru Nanak Dev on principles of Hinduism and Islam, is among the world’s youngest religions, and claims a following of about 20 million.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, also a Sikh, is expected to visit Nanded, said Pasricha, who estimates visitors to Nanded in October and November will total more than 2 million.

“We expect many of our people to go,” said a spokesman for a gurudwara in Mumbai, where a golden chariot arrived this week from Punjab with the Guru Granth Sahib, en route to Nanded.

“It is, after all, the most important occasion we can hope to witness in our lifetimes,” he said.

Maharashtra state has earmarked more than 20 billion rupees ($400 million) to build and improve infrastructure at Nanded, which is located on the bank of the River Godavari.

A giant tent city and langars, or community kitchens, are in place for visitors at Nanded, which has recently seen sporadic incidents of violence and clashes between Sikhs and Muslims.

Security will be tight, said Pasricha, a former director-general of police for the state.

“We expect it to be peaceful, as the philosophy of Sikhism is universal brotherhood,” he said.

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