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Vaisakhi – A Guide to the Annual Sikh Parade and Traditions

Vaisakhi

By Imroze Singh Deol on April 11th, 2016

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In a week or two, you’ll probably start hearing about “the Sikh Parade” that happens around Vancouver and Surrey every year. You’ve also most likely heard about the free food given out at the parade but there is so much more to it. To a Sikh, the day of April 13th holds a very special place. On this day they celebrate the Harvest season and the Birth of Khalsa.

Sikhs follow a solar calendar called The Nanakshahi calendar named after the founder of Sikhism- Guru Nanak Dev Ji. April 13th marks the end of the month “Chet” and beginning of the month “Vaisakh”.

The beginning of the month Vaisakh is when the farmers celebrate the “harvest season” and Sikh devotees celebrate “the Birth of Khalsa”. It’s a key month in Sikh history.

1. All About The Harvest Season

Harvest Season

Bhangra Dance OneFor farmers, the beginning of the month “Vaisakh” is the Punjabi version of thanksgiving where the farmers pay their tributes, thank god for the harvest and pray for happiness and prosperity. The harvest season is a joyous occasion not only for farmers but for every punjabi since Punjab is an agriculture driven state. The state is also known for producing the majority of India’s wheat, rice and barley each season.

In celebration of a successful harvest, the festival is also characterised by the folk dance – Bhangra, which is traditionally a harvest dance. Hence, the colourful turbans and dresses.

2. The Birth of Khalsa[1]

Kesgarh

For something to exist it needs a purpose. Before understanding what Khalsa is, I’ll explain why Sikhs needed Khalsa in the first place. Long ago, Sikhs and the Mughals had a peaceful relationship but things changed when Jahangir came to power.

Jahangir

Jahangir arrested and executed the fifth Guru, Guru Arjan Dev ji in 1606. Following that, the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind ji, militarized the Sikhs and introduced “Miri Piri” aka Saint Soldier.

Miri-Piri

After the introduction of Miri-Piri, Sikhs who focused mainly on spirituality also turned into warriors; hence the term “Saint Soldiers”. In 1675, the Ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahudar Ji, was beheaded in Delhi for protecting Hindus’ right to practice their religion by Aurangzeb.

On Vaisakhi of 1699, in Anandpur Sahib, the 10th Guru and son of Guru Tegh Bahudar ji, Guru Gobind laid down the foundation of the Panth Khalsa, that is the Order of the Pure Ones giving rise to the festival of Khalsa Sirjana Divas.

The Birth of Khalsa


“The tenth of the Sikh Guru-Prophets—Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708 CE)—invited his disciples to join him in the city of Anandpur Sahib. At this gathering, Guru Gobind Singh formally established the Khalsa Panth (the community of committed Sikhs) and publicly entrusted it with leadership.”

-Simran Jeet Singh


Khalsa is about being initiated into Guru’s Panth aka the embodiment of the Guru. It’s also about a Sikh’s commitment to God, to God’s creation, to him/herself and letting go of earthly restraints. In short, it’s the belief in giving up your own ego and accepting God into your life while accepting yourself as one with the entire creation.

Khalsa not only brought in spirituality to Sikhs, it also showed them how to protect themselves and to stand up for others when injustice occurs. Just as Guru Tegh Bahudar ji did for the Hindus.

Khanda

The Khanda[2]

Guru Gobind Singh Ji gave Sikhs a title.

Males were given the title of “Singh” which means Lion and females were given “Kaur” which means Princess.

Singh and Kaur

3. The 5 Ks (Panj Kakkar)

Guru Gobind Singh Ji introduced the 5 Ks and together they symbolise that the Sikh who wears them has dedicated themselves to a life of devotion and submission to the Guru.

The 5 Ks are five physical symbols worn by Sikhs who have been initiated into the Khalsa.

The 5Ks

  1. Kesh – Uncut hair which signifies holiness and strength. It also symbolizes adoption of a simple life, and denial of pride in one’s appearance.

  2. Kanga – A wooden comb. This symbolises a clean mind and body; since it keeps the uncut hair neat and tidy.

  3. Kara – An iron bracelet. A symbol of restraint and gentility. It acts as a reminder that a Sikh should not do anything of which the Guru would not approve.

  4. Kacchera – A pair of drawers (a specific type of cotton underwear). It’s a symbol of a Sikh soldier’s willingness to be ready at a moment’s notice for battle or for defense.  It also symbolises self-respect, and always reminds the wearer of mental control over lust.

  5. Kirpan – A dagger or sword. It symbolizes:

  • Spirituality

  • The soldier part of the Soldier-Saints

  • Defence of good

  • Defence of the weak

  • The struggle against injustice

  • A metaphor for God

Now, that you’ve had the brief history lesson, here is how Sikhs celebrate this holy day.

The Parade or the Nagar Kirtan[3] is led by a huge float with Guru Granth Sahib ji (the holy book) as the surrounding participants sing the holy hymns. The parade initially begins from a gurdwara and comes full circle as it concludes at the temple where it started.

4. Vaisakhi is about more than just the free food

In order to best understand why there is “free-food”, I need to explain the basics of Sikhism and the 3 dogmas:

1. Naam japo: To remember the One creator and meditate on It’s presence.

Naam Japo

2. Kirat karo: To work hard and earn through honest means.

Kirat Karo

3. Vand chako: To do selfless service and share resources, including food.

Vand Chako

Parade FoodIt should also be noted that free food is isn’t just served at the Vaisakhi parade. You can head to any Sikh Temple called a Gurdwara[4] where food is always served to you, no matter what your background, caste or race is.

You’ll see attendees enjoying foods from traditional Punjabi cuisine like a chickpea curry called chola, Punjabi sweets, leafy-greeen saag, and an unlimited amount of makki di roti to eating pizza and noodles. There won’t be any shortage of food!

5. Crowds in Surrey can reach up to 300k

Surrey ParadeAlthough Sikhs all around the world celebrate this holy day, you can still find Vaisakhi celebrations in big cities such as New York City, London, Singapore and Vancouver.

We also can’t forget Surrey. Surrey’s Vaisakhi parade is known for bringing in a crowd of somewhere in between 80,000-300,000 people and is the second largest parade outside of India[4].

At this parade, you’ll see an ocean of people wearing orange turbans and saffron dresses. The colour orange signifies solidarity among the Sikhs and prosperity.

You’ll even see some special Bhangra dance performances during the parade. Feel free to join in but you’ll have to leave the “screw in the light bulb” move at home as it’s unfortunately not one of the dance moves.


Bringing the Community Together

Father and SonThese parades hold a very special meaning for a Sikh, Punjabi or an Indian. For a Sikh, it’s a holy day celebrating the Birth of Khalsa whereas others are celebrating it to thank the almighty for peace and prosperity.

It is also an occasion with vibrant performances, live music, decorated floats, and food and drink by local residents and businesses.

In the end, we all are celebrating this day together not as a Sikh or a farmer but as a community coming together.

PS, you will also get to see cute little kids wearing turbans and dresses. They are super adorable.


Vaisakhi Events in Vancouver and Surrey

Vancouver Khalsa Day Parade – Vaisakhi Nagar Kirtan
When: April 16th, 2016

Surrey Khalsa Day Parade – Vaisakhi Nagar Kirtan
When: April 23rd, 2016

Parade

Check out our 6 Facts You Might Not Have Known About Vaisakhi! [VIDEO]


References
[1] Khalsa means “Sovereign/Free” or a being of “Pure/Genuine”
[2] Khanda- represents the dual characteristics of Miri-Piri, indicating the integration of both spiritual and temporal sovereignty together and not treating them as two separate and distinct entities.
[3] Nagar Kirtan- The Punjabi word, nagar denotes town, and kirtan means singing of religious hymns. So Nagar Kirtan literally means going around the town singing sacred hymns.
[4] Gurudwara- which means gateway to the guru aka the lord aka the one that brings light to the darkness.

Sources
[1] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/04/13/the-meaning-of-vaisakhi-the-biggest-sikh-celebration.html
[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/anupreet-sandhu-bhamra/why-free-food-is-not-the-_b_3129187.html
[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/sikhism/customs/fiveks.shtml
[4] http://www.thenownewspaper.com/news/307705911.html?mobile=true


Imroze Singh Deol

About the Author

Imroze Singh Deol is Graphic Designer at Brighton College but when’s not working he loves photography, listening to podcasts and being a “not-so-professional” ping-pong athlete. He also enjoys being a part-time batman whenever he has a free evening.


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