STOCKTON — A crowd estimated at about 40,000 descended Sunday on the neighborhood surrounding south Stockton’s Gurdwara Sahib, the first Sikh temple to be built in the United States, to celebrate Vaisakhi Day and participate in the 20th annual Sikh Parade and Festival.

The gurdwara, at 1930 S. Sikh Temple St., is a California historical landmark. Doffing their shoes, adherents to the religion founded in India in 1699 first paid their respects inside the temple Sunday morning before venturing out to the streets to leisurely parade north to downtown Stockton and back.

Upon their return, free food and drinks were available to all comers.  

In the true spirit of the religion, 25-year-old Hardeep Dhillon of Tracy and seven of his young friends put in about $100 apiece to purchase water, potato chips, sodas and ice to give away to those attending the festival.

“It’s once a year. My friends want to make sure there’s enough food and water for everybody,” Dhillon said. He and his friends offered the same provisions at the much larger Sikh festival in Yuba City last year.

“You don’t have to do a lot. You can do a little bit or a lot,” he said. As the day wore on, a group of even younger boys — about 11 and 12 years old — stopped at Dhillon’s trailer and volunteered to help distribute chips and drinks and keep the surrounding area clean.

“We’re just giving back to the community, Everybody pitches in,” Dhillon said.

Following the lead float carrying the Guru Granth Sahib, or holy Sikh scripture, several floats focused on educating the public about the 1984 massacre of Sikhs in India at the hands of the military. Many of Sunday’s marchers brought attention to the “2020 Referendum,” a campaign to separate the northwest Indian state of Punjab and create the new nation of Khalistan.

Contact reporter Joe Goldeen at (209) 546-8278 or jgoldeen@recordnet.com. Follow him at recordnet.com/goldeenblog and on Twitter @JoeGoldeen.