Vaisakha Festival

By Sarah Chumney

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(video of 2007 festival at the University of Rochester)

Vaisakha (sometimes spelled Baisakhi) is a festival celebrating the harvest time in Punjab by the Sikhs, but also is celebrated in the US where there is a sizeable population of Sikhs. This festival marks the beginning of a new solar year and is also the time to cut and store food or to sell it. Vaisakha is always observed on either April 13 or 14 according to the solar calendar, but sometimes is celebrated on a different day. For example, if it falls on a weekday, then it will be held either the weekend before or after that day. This is one of the largest events celebrated by the Sikhs.

Guru Amar Das had first established Baisakhi in 1567 as one of the special days when all Sikhs would gather to be given the guru’s blessings at Goindwal, the first designated homeland for the Sikhs. The tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, organized the Khalsa in 1699. During the Vaisakhi festival, the guru had a sword in hand and started asking people to enter into his tent to be sacrificed. Five people surrendered themselves to Guru Gobind Singh. Every time Guru Gobind Singh walked out of the tent, there would be blood on his sword. At the end, all five walked out alive and well. Guru Gobind Singh had actually sacrificed a goat. These men became known as the Pani Piare meaning ‘Beloved Five’. They were baptized under the Khalsa. Out of this, the five commitments to their religion were developed. The Khalsa, meaning order of the pure ones, are the five people that Guru Gobind Singh first baptized. He eliminated the high and low status so that all human beings are equal. The Sikhs were thereby transformed into a family of solider saints. The festival was thus initially celebrated before it had such a significant meaning for the Sikhs, but now it is commemorated by them for religious importance.

During the actual festival, there is bhangra and gidda dancing, singing, and eating of fesating. The Sikh motto is Kahw Peeu, which means drink, eat, and be merry. This is an all-day event for Sikhs. The actual festival starts in the early afternoon, around noon and lasts until into the evening, but there is much preparation before the event actually begins. There are several performances that occur during the festival by males and females, young and old. Several of the dances signify the farming aspect and illustrate the warrior characteristics the Punjabi people attain.

Vaisakhi is celebrated every year in April at one of the temples or one of the Indian centers in or around Richmond. This is a vibrant festival with a lot of colors, food, prayer, thanks to the gods, mingling with friends and neighbors, singing and dancing.

Source:
Baiskhifestival website

Profile prepared by Sarah Chumney
May, 2008

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