Why Vaisakhi is important to the North West region's Sikh community

The Guru Gobind Singh Gurdwara in Manchester is ready to welcome around 2,000 worshippers after two years of Covid kept gatherings apart. Credit: ITV News

Sikhs across Manchester and beyond have come together to celebrate Vaisakhi, one of the holiest days in the Sikh calendar.

Depending on the cycles of the Sikh Calendar, it generally falls on 13 or 14 April.

What is Vaisakhi?

In April 1699, the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, founded the Khalsa after many years of persecution against the Sikhs by Mughal rule.

The Khalsa is a group of initiated Sikhs (both male and female) who are leaders of the Sikh faith and are sworn to protect those less fortunate - irrespective of religion or caste.

It gave Sikhs a clear identity through appearance, clothing and names.

Initiated Sikhs will wear the 5Ks; Kesh (uncut hair) which makes Sikhs distinguishable and indicates that hair is a gift from God; Kara (a steel bracelet) to represent that God has no beginning or end; Kanga (a wooden comb) which keeps a Sikh's hair clean and tidy; Kachera (cotton underwear that must not come below the knee) which was suitable for warfare; and a Kirpan (steel sword) which symbolises the struggle against injustice.

Sikh men were given the surname Singh (Lion) as a sign of their bravery and women were given the surname Kaur (Princess) as a sign of sovereignty - challenging rigid gender stereotypes of the time.

Parkash Singh (seated on the left), who is a volunteer at the Gurdwara, says the turban is a "crown". Credit: ITV News

In the UK, initiated Sikhs are allowed to wear a Kirpan and use it in religious ceremonies.

It is not the Sikh New Year, which is celebrated in mid March according to the Sikh Calendar.

How is Vaisakhi celebrated?

The past two years of Covid have meant that the traditional and colourful worshipping has been muted.

Usually, worshippers will attend the Gurdwara, or Sikh temple, in the morning and listen to prayers. Due to the highly spiritual nature of Vaisakhi, highly trained priests from the Golden Temple, Sikhism's holiest shrine, are often specially commissioned to perform hymns across the world.

Many will also volunteer in the kitchen making Langar, an inclusive vegetarian meal that is served to Sikhs and non-Sikhs.

Karnail Singh, a volunteer in the kitchen, says: "Everybody is welcome to have Langar. No matter their religion, their caste - it's not a problem."

He is part of a team that has the capacity to feed 2,000 people - but he adds in an attitude typical of the Sikh community that they would be able to surpass that capacity.

A Langar kitchen has the capacity to feed thousands of people, with volunteers often working from dawn. Credit: ITV News

Langar is often the way in which Sikhs begin their charity work.

Around the same time, Sikhs will also partake in the Nagar Kirtan, a religious procession that goes through Manchester, visiting multiple Gurdwaras. These often draw in thousands of people across the country.

Volunteer Parkash Singh says that due to the planning taking up to nine months and Covid restrictions having only just eased, he is determined that 2023 will be the year in which those joyful celebrations will return.

The end of the Nagar Kirtan in 2019 illustrates what the community is looking forward to. Credit: ITV News

Whilst Covid meant that many Sikh families had to pray in their own homes and celebrate over social media, Parkash was optimistic that Vaisakhi puts current dark events such as the cost of living crisis in focus.

He says: "These dark times, we'll get together and pull through.

"The Gurdwara is open to anyone who needs food and help and we'll carry on with the support of the community.

"There's lots of people who donate lots of things to us and with those donations, we can help others."

Can anyone attend Vaisakhi or a Gurdwara?

Yes, you don't have to be a Sikh to attend the Gurdwara where strangers and family alike are unconditionally welcomed.

Luckvear Singh, another volunteer at the Gurdwara spoke of his joy at people meeting each other without Covid restrictions.

He says: "People are now able to hug each other, shake each others' hands, have a cup of tea with each other, sharing their happiness.

"It's joyful to watch."