British Columbia

Sikhs mark Vaisakhi with online services and sharing with community, as parades cancelled for a 2nd year

As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on into a second year, some Sikhs in Metro Vancouver are celebrating the religion's most important day by focusing on sharing with others and connecting with loved ones.

Surrey's Gurdwara Dukh Nivaran Sahib is giving out groceries to anyone who needs them

Narinder Singh Walia, president of Gurdwara Dukh Nivaran Sahib in Surrey, B.C., said people need to stay home and be safe but the temple will be giving way groceries to help people in the community. (Martin Diotte/CBC news)

As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on into a second year, some Sikhs in Metro Vancouver are celebrating the religion's most important day by focusing on sharing with others and connecting with loved ones.

They are joining Sikhs all over the world to mark Vaisakhi, which symbolizes the New Year and the birth of the Khalsa, the Sikh identity and community.

In the past, hundreds of thousands of people have attended religious parades in Vancouver and Surrey which featured colourful floats, music, political speeches and free food stands during the month of April.

Due to the pandemic and ongoing measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, both cities' Vaisakhi parades have been cancelled for the second year in a row.

Instead, this year volunteers are collecting bags of rice, flour and lentils at the Gurdwara Dukh Nivarn Sahib in Surrey, B.C., in order to give them away to people in need as a way to recognize Vaisakhi, which also marks harvest time in India.

Bags of grocery items including lentils have been collected to donate to people in need on Vaisakhi. (Martin Diotte/CBC news)

Temple president Narinder Singh Walia said the pandemic has severely affected the community, with many people losing their jobs and struggling to pay rent, and he wants to help.

He explained that sharing and selfless service is the Sikh way.

"People can come and take groceries. Anybody can come and take groceries for a month, for two months, not one day," he said.

Walia said religious services will be online and he urged people to stay at home to celebrate Vaisakhi.

"We have a radio program. We have a TV program. They can attend online services," he said.

Surrey resident Benisha Aujla, 28, said Vaisakhi was traditionally a time for her to gather with family members, including her grandparents, who live along the parade route.

But with B.C. now in a third wave of the pandemic and coronavirus variants spreading, she is planning a low-key celebration.

"We will be virtually celebrating with our family, maybe doing a Zoom call with them just to connect with them."

April is also Sikh Heritage Month in B.C. and a dedicated website features online events. 

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