Baisakhi – The Sikh festival of harvest and new year

Also known as Vaisakhi, Baisakhi is an ancient festival of harvest, which also marks the beginning of the new year of the Sikhs as well as the foundation of the Khalsa in 1699 at Anandpur Sahib by the Guru Gobind Singh who is the 10th Guru of the Sikhs. Traditionally, it is the fiesta of the Punjab and Haryana states, which also commemorates the start of the Baisakh month as per the solar Nanakshahi calendar. When this is translated as per the English calendar, it comes to mostly April 14.

The festival has varying significance in the rest parts of India. For Orissa, Kerala, west Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Nepal; it is the celebration of the Hindu solar year. On the other hand, in Himachal Pradesh, people revere the Hindu Goddess Jwalamukhi and in Bihar, people worship the Sun-god. In Kovalam, it is known as the Tamil New Year. In addition, many people see this day as the day of bathing in holy streams such as Ganga and Yamuna.

Significance

It is the time to harvest the Rabi (winter) crops and that agriculture is the main occupation.
It is the birth of the most holy Khalsa Panth meaning the Order of the Pure Ones.
It is the day of taking the blessings of a Guru, so declared in 1567 by the Sikh Guru Amar Das.
It is the day on which the Hindu’s Arya Samaj was established in 1875 by Swami Dayanand Saraswati whose followers seek spiritual progress via the Vedas, not through the idol worship.
On this day, the sun enters the Aries (Mesh) due to which it is also called Mesh Sankranti.

Celebrations

For the farmers across the nation, it is the Thanksgiving Day on which they thank God for rewarding them with a lot of harvest and cash for their hard work. So, now in this new year, they pray for good fortune and cultivation. People wake up early, cleanse themselves in rivers or ponds, and then pray at the Temple or Gurudwara.

The couples with the young and old ones reach their farms for celebrations by yelling “Jatta aayi Baisakhi”. You will see men in turban, kurta, and colorful lungi (wore below the waist); while women wear salwar kameez and jewellery. They perform the energetic bhangra dance as well as the gidda dance. As the drums beat fast, the dancers enact their routine farming episodes like reaping, sowing, winnowing, and collecting crops via the dynamic steps. Further, people greet their friends and relatives and then rejoice while having the delicious and spicy Punjabi food.

All over Punjab, the Baisakhi Fairs are held, which are the major attractions. Even in these fairs, you can see the bhangra and gidda dances. Further, there are recreational activities, eating stalls, and shopping facilities.

In the temples, the Guru Granth Sahib that is the Sikhs’ holy book is taken out as per the customs and is cleansed via milk and water. After this, it is placed on its throne and it is read to the worshippers. Remembering all the events of Guru Gobind Singh in 1699, one can see five priests reciting the verses, the preparation of the holy nectar in an iron vessel, and the distribution of it to all people in the temple after the chanting of the holy verses. As a custom, the disciples drink the nectar five times and vow to work for the companionship, the Khalsa Panth. After this, they sing religious songs for their spiritual upliftment.

As noon takes over the chanting morning, the Karah Prasad that refers to a sweet semolina is offered to the guru for attaining his blessings after which it is given to the worshippers. Then, the devotees become a part of the dedicated guru-ka-langar, which means the communal vegetarian lunch. Here, all sit in a line and cover their heads while the meal is served.

Baisakhi Processions are also worth seeing. The sacred book is taken out of the temple via a procession escorted by all people. It is fronted by the Panj Piaras denoting the five courageous disciples who started their spiritual voyage from their homes to Anandpur for seeking baptism. The procession is also accompanied by bhangra, gidda, drums, bands with religious tunes, religious songs, mock contests, and swaying swords. Amidst the sounds of ‘Bole so nihal’, ‘Sat nam’, and ‘Wahe guru’, see if you spot a few men with a headgear of their Lord Guru Nanak and some of Guru Gobind Singh. At the end, the Sikh leaders motivate the people to recall the message of Guru Gobind Singh.