Vaisakhi – both celebration and remembrance
Sikhs everywhere are preparing for the biggest religious festival of the year – Vaisakhi, which in 2009 falls on April 13th.
It is an event that incorporates the Sikh’s new year celebrations but above all commemorates 1699, the year the Sikh faith was born in the Punjab.
Centrepiece of the festival is the carrying of the Sikh holy scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, in procession to a place of honour.
It was in 1699 that the tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, chose Vaisakhi, which already existed as a harvest festival in the Punjab, as the occasion to transform the Sikhs into a family of soldier saints, known as the Khalsa Panth. He founded the Khalsa in front of thousands at Anandpur Sahib.
An inspirational leader, Guru Gobind Singh came out of a tent carrying a sword and challenged any Sikh who was prepared to sacrifice his life to come into the tent.
He entered with one volunteer, then reappeared with his sword covered in blood. He invited another volunteer to step forward and repeated the same sequence three more times. So five men disappeared into the tent, leaving the crowd to fear the worst until they saw the men emerge wearing turbans with the Guru.
History has it that he had sacrificed a goat although, as they stepped forward, this was not known to the five volunteers, who were to become known as the Panj Piare, or ‘Beloved Five’.
They were baptised into the Khalsa by the Guru who sprinkled them with nectar, or Amrit (the Sikh term for holy water) and said prayers. This ritual gave shape to today’s Sikh baptism ceremony.
Vaisakhi is a day on which many choose to be baptised into the Khalsa brotherhood.
Gurdwaras are decorated and there are nagar kirtans, processions through the streets of cities and towns, which are a key aspect of the faith. The parades feature the chanting of scriptures and singing of hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib.
The holy book is carried into the temple by Panj Piaras in traditional dress.
Vaisakhi has another significant meaning for Sikhs.
In the process of offering followers the purity of Khalsa membership, Guru Gobind Singh also eliminated the differences of high and low castes. He pronounced that all human beings were equal.
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