As the Midlands plays host to a series of vibrant Vaisakhi parades, Jasveer Singh Gill from the Sikh Press Association tells ITV News Central why Sikhs celebrate this event.
Every year for the past 40 years, millions of Brits will have seen Sikhs celebrating Vaisakhi by taking to the streets for colourful processions in their thousands all over the UK.
But how many people actually know why Sikhs celebrate Vaisakhi?
It is very common for Vaisakhi to be labelled “the Sikh New Year” or a “harvest festival”. Both of these are inaccurate.
Sikhs solely celebrate Vaisakhi as the birth of the Khalsa in 1699. The Khalsa is the term for the collective of initiated Sikhs who keep a distinct physical identity and moral code of conduct gifted to them by the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji.
Guru Gobind Singh Ji created the Khalsa by requesting five people to come forward to give their heads in sacrifice to Him at a mass gathering during the period of harvest celebrations in Punjab in India. One by one, five men came forward.
After disappearing into a tent with the Guru they re-emerged wearing the Panj Kakkar (five K's) that are mandatory for the Khalsa to wear still to this day. Khalsa also commit to a moral code of conduct based upon fighting oppression and upholding basic freedoms for all.
The five men came to be known as the Panj Pyare (five beloved ones), with each of their names representing the qualities a Khalsa should have; Daya (compassion), Dharam (righteousness), Himmat (courage), Mokham (determination) and Sahib (sovereignty).
Once Guru Gobind Singh Ji initiated the Panj Pyare, in a unique move for an established leader, He in turn asked them to initiate Him, thus empowering the Khalsa as representatives of the Guru on earth and bestowing them powers of leadership within the Sikh community.
Vaisakhi officially falls on April 13th but Gurdwaras (Sikh temples) will hold celebrations throughout the month. Traditionally celebrations come in the form of processions known as Nagar Kirtans. Nagar translates as town and Kirtan refers to the singing of divine devotional music.
Nagar Kirtans are led by the holy Sikh scriptural Guru, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, and five Khalsa, representing the Panj Pyare. The procession will also usually encompass gatka (Sikh weaponry martial-art) displays and distribution of langar (communal food). There are at least a dozen different Nagar Kirtans in the UK every year, taking place right across the country. Some of the bigger Nagar Kirtans in West London and Birmingham can attract crowds of over 100,000.
People of all backgrounds are welcome to enjoy their local Nagar Kirtan, where they can enjoy the displays, the music and the food, all while learning about the Sikh faith.
- Vaisakhi falls on April 13th but is celebrated throughout the month
- Vaisakhi for Sikhs is a celebration of the birth of the Khalsa
- It is NOT a harvest festival for Sikhs, nor is it the Sikh New Year
- Very few cultures actually celebrate Vaisakhi as a harvest festival in the modern age
- The Khalsa are the collective of initiated Sikhs that still keep a physical identity (the 5 K's) and code of conduct (to provide food and justice for all) gifted to them by Guru Gobind Singh Ji
- Sikh celebrations of Vaisakhi take the form of processions called Nagar Kirtans. They've been taking place in the West for over 40 years and can gain crowds of more than 100,000 people