The Sikh Festivals: Baisakhi

Baisakhi is New Year’s Day in Punjab. It falls on the month of Vaisakh. This festival marks the ripening of the Rabi harvest. The day coincides with the solar equinox on the13th of April. It was on this day that the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, founded the Khalsa (the Sikh brotherhood) in 1699. For Sikhs, this is as a collective birthday. It is celebrated on April 13, though once in 36 years it occurs on 14th April.

The tenth guru Guru Govind Singh selected the auspicious day of Baisakhi to form the order of the Khalsa. On the13th of April in 1699, at a meeting in Anandpur in Punjab, the guru called upon his people to come forward to sacrifice themselves for the good of the clan. Initially there were no response from the audience. However, after several calls from the guru five persons- Daya Ram Khatri, Dharm Das, Mokhan Chand, Sahib Chand and Himmat Rai –were ready to offer themselves. Guru took each of them to the tent nearby and every time he returned alone with his bloodied sword. Then the guru went to the tent yet again, this time for a long time. He reappeared followed by the five men, clad in saffron-colored garments. They sat on the dais while the guru prepared water to bless them. In an iron vessel, he stirred the batasha that his wife, Mata Jitoji had put into water, with a sword called Khanda Sahib.The water was now considered the sacred nectar of immortality called amrita. It was first given to the five volunteers, then drunk by the guru and later distributed to the crowd. All present, irrespective of caste or creed, became members of the Khalsa Pantha. Those five men were christened the Panch Pyare. He discontinued the tradition of gurus and asked all Sikhs to accept the Grantha Sahib as their eternal guide. The suffix Singh derived from the Sanskrit word singha meaning ‘lion’, was added to the name of all male Sikhs, while the women were to call themselves Kaur, assistants to the Singh.

To pay tribute to this event, prayer meetings are organized in gurdwaras across the country. The main celebration however, takes place in the gurdwara at Anandpur Sahib, where the order was formed. The Guru Grantha Sahib is ceremonially taken out, symbolically bathed with milk and water and placed on its throne. Priests called the Panch Pyare then chant the verses that were recited by the original Panch Pyare when the order was created. While the Panch Bani are being chanted, amrita is prepared in an iron vessel and distributed. Devotees sip the amrita five times and vow to work for the Khalsa Panth.

People visit gurdwaras and listen to kirtans (religious songs) and discourses. The holy scriptures known as the Grantha are read, and the book is then carried in a procession led by five leaders of the congregation, carrying drawn swords. After the prayer, sweetened semolinai is served to the congregation. The function ends with the community lunches. The traditional folk dances of Punjab, called the Gidda and Bhangra, are performed with great enthusiasm. Processions include mock duels and bands playing religious tunes

On this memorable Baisakhi day (March,30 of A.D.1699) , Guru Gobind Singh Sahib called a big meeting at Kesgarh Sahib near the City of Anandpur Sahib. Between fifty to eighty thousand Sikhs attended this meeting. When all were expecting to hear words of comfort and consolation from the lips of their Guru, they were perturbed to see him with a drawn sword in his hand and cried ‘ Is there anyone here who would lay down his life for Dharam?’ There was a big silence, but the Guru went on repeating his demand. At the third call Daya Ram, a Khatri of Lahore, rose from his seat and offered himself. The Guru took him into an adjoining enclosure(and soon after) came out with the (blood) dripping(sword in hand) and flourshing it before the gathering, asked again, ‘Is there any other Sikh here who will offer himself as a sacrifice(for the cause of dharma)? At this Daram Das, a Jat of Delhi (Haryana side) came forward and was taken into the enclosure(The Guru again came out with the blood-stained sword, and made his previous demand). In the same way three other men stood up, one after another, and offered themselves for the sacrifice. One was Mohkam Chand, a washerman of Dwarka (Gujarat State); another was Himmat, a cook of Jagannath (Orissa State); and the third was Sahib Chand, a barber of Bidar (Karnataka State). The Guru, after dressing the five in handsome clothes, brought them from the assembly.

These five were then administered ‘Khande di Pahul’ (the double-edged Sword Amrit). They were then knighted as Singhs, as the Five beloved ones, the first members of the Order of the Khalsa. The Guru then asked them to administer the Pahul to him in the same manner in which he had given the Pahul to them, and it was done so.

With the creation of Khalsa, the Khalsa created history and since the birth of Khalsa, the history of Punjab has been the history of Sikhs. Baisakhi played a significant role in this regard. In 1762, Ahmed Shah Abdali, with the sole purpose to destroy the entire Sikh nation, declared ‘Jehad'(holy-war) against the Sikhs and all the Muslims of the Punjab rallied under this slogan. The Sikhs were surrounded near the village Kup in Ludhiana District. Chronicles mention that about twenty thousand Sikhs were martyred in a single day. This event is known in the history of the Sikhs as “Ghallughara” (Bloody Carnage). After this, Ahmed Shah Abdali thought that he had crushed the entire Sikh nation, but was greatly disillusioned when after a few months heard that the Sikhs in large number are celebrating Baisakhi at Amritsar. In due course of time Baisakhi reminds every Sikh of his cultural and religious heritage. On Baisakhi day all the Sikhs used to assemble at Amritsar and decide their problems relating to politics and religion. This convention still goes on.

The celebrations of Baisakhi are similar to the three-day schedule of the the celebrations of other Gurpurabs. It is generally celebrated on 13th April every year.

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