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Let’s celebrate Vaisakhi

 

(AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

Vaisakhi (say "va-SAH-kee"), also known as Baisakhi, is one of the most important dates in the Sikh calendar. Read on to learn more about this annual festival.

What is it?

Sikh men with sabres celebrate Vaisakhi.
Sikh men hold sabres, known in Punjabi as "talwar", as they prepare to lead the annual Vaisakhi parade in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Vaisakhi originated as a harvest festival, but is so much more than that. It is serves as a reminder to the Sikh community of the creation of the Khalsa order which promotes justice and equality for the creation of a more equal and just society, commits to wearing the five articles of faith and practices daily meditation. It also allows individuals access to their Sikh spiritual guide.

It originated in the Punjab region (the northern part) of India, but is celebrated in Sikh communities around the world. The celebration is held on either April 13 or 14 every year.

What are the origins?

A depiction of Guru Gobind Singh initiating the first five members of the Khalsa Woodcut, Amritsar or Lahore, about 1874-5
Wikimedia/public domain

During the Vaisakhi in 1699, the 10th Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, tested the courage and faith of his followers.

In front of crowds of people, he had held up a sword and asked if there were any volunteers who would give their lives for their religion. One after another, five men eventually came forward and joined the Guru in his tent.

The crowds grew confused and uneasy. Then all of a sudden, the five men emerged from the tent alive — and wearing turbans.

They are known as the Panj Piare, which means “the beloved five.” After they were baptised by the Guru, they were declared the first members of the Khalsa. The Khalsa are devout members of the Sikh community who wear religious attire.

How is it celebrated?

Devotees sit in front of the illuminated Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh shrine on the occasion of Vaisakhi, the Sikh New Year, in Amritsar, India, Tuesday, April 14, 2009. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)
Devotees sit in front of the illuminated Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh shrine on the occasion of Vaisakhi, the Sikh New Year, in Amritsar, India, Tuesday, April 14, 2009. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

Sikhs begin Vaisakhi with a visit to the gurdwara, which is a place of worship. After religious services are held, people begin a day of celebration.

They wear colourful, traditional clothes as they take part in parades through the streets. There is lots of singing, dancing, and chanting of hymns.

There's also a lot of free food. Giviing out free food comes from a tradition called langar, where everyone in the community, no matter how rich or poor they are, would come together and share a meal.

 

Celebrating Vaisakhi in the streets.
Photo by Ciutat Vella BCN licensed CC BY-NC 2.0

Are there any other special traditions?

Smiling girl dances the Bhangra to celebrate Vaisakhi.
Photo by S Pakhrin licensed CC BY 2.0

During the festival, many people perform a traditional folk dance known as the Bhangra. This energetic dance is performed to the rhythm of a drum called the dhol.

Bhangra is said to have its roots in the 14th century, when Punjabi farmers danced to celebrate their harvest. Over time, it became a part of celebrations, such as weddings and festivals, with both men and women dancing away.

On Vaisakhi, people dance the Bhangra while wearing bright costumes, which helps bring a splash of colour to the day’s celebrations.

 

Man drums on drohl in the streets to celebrate Vaisakhi.
Photo by Guy Evans licensed CC BY 2.0