By Bhai Sahib Satpal Singh Khalsa (Ambassador of Sikh Dharma)
Vaisakhi (also spelled Baisakhi) is one of the most significant dates in the Sikh history. It is the Sikh New Year festival and is celebrated on first day of Vaisakh month i.e. 13th of April. In Sikhism, it is one of the most important holidays commemorating the establishment of the ‘Khalsa’ (the Pure One).
The tenth Guru of the Sikhs Guru Gobind Rai called a big congregation at Anandpur Sahib and around 80,000 people reached at the now Takht Keshgarh Sahib. On Vaisakhi Day, March 30, 1699, thousands of people gathered around divine temporal seat at Anandpur Sahib. Guru Gobind Singh selected Vaisakhi as the occasion to transform the Sikhs into a family of soldier saints, known as the Khalsa Panth. The Guru addressed the congregants with a most stirring oration on his divine mission of restoring their faith. After his inspirational discourse, he flashed his unsheathed sword and demanded one head for sacrifice: After some trepidation one person offered himself for the Guru’s ‘great sacrifice’. He was Dya Ram from Lahore. The Guru took him inside a tent. A little later Guru came out of the tent with his sword dripping with blood only to ask for another head. One by one four more earnest devotees offered their heads. Every time the Guru took a person inside the tent, he came out with his sword dripping fresh blood.
The congregation started to disperse when suddenly the Guru emerged with all five men dressed piously and in a new ceremony that changed the way that one became a Sikh. The Guru now initiated the five into a new and unique order of Sikhs. The ceremony was called pahul, what Sikhs today know as the baptism ceremony. These five beloved ones were Bhai Daya Singh from Lahore, Bhai Dharam Singh from Delhi, Bhai Mohkam Singh from Gujrat, Bhai Himmat Singh from Orissa, Bhai Sahib Singh from Bidar (Mysoor). Then the Guru asked the first five Khalsa Sikhs to baptize him, in the same manner. He then proclaimed that the Panj Pyare — the Five Beloved Ones — would be the embodiment of the Guru himself:
“Where there are Panj Pyare, there am I. When the Five meet, they are the holiest of the holy.”
The Guru ordained-in future the Sikhs should come into my presence wearing long hair. Once a Sikh is baptized, he should never trim his hair or shave. He should not use tobacco, or psychedelic intoxicants that confuse or mutate intellectual comprehension and all Sikhs should henceforth receive the Baptism of the Double-edged Sword.”
The Guru wanted to eliminate the anomalies caused by the caste system. The constitution of the Panj Pyare was the living example of his dream: both the high and low castes were amalgamated into one. Guru Gobind Singh then himself received initiatory rites from five disciples, now invested with authority as Khalsa, and had his name changed from Gobind Rai to Gobind Singh. “Hail,” as the poet subsequently sang, “Gobind Singh who is himself Master as well as disciple.” The Guru gave the surname of Singh (Lion) to every Sikh gave the surname Kaur (Princess) to all Sikh women. With the distinct Khalsa identity and consciousness of purity Guru Gobind Singh gave all Sikhs the opportunity to live lives of courage, sacrifice, and equality. They were enjoined to succor the helpless and fight the oppressor, to have faith in one God and to consider all human beings equal, irrespective of caste and creed.
Vaisakhi is celebrated in much the same way as Gurpurbs. Gudwaras are decorated and visited. Parades, Kirtan programs and other religious activities performed throughout the day. Many Sikhs choose to be baptized into the Khalsa brotherhood on this day by taking ‘Amrit’.
The festival is marked with nagar kirtan processions: processions through the streets (nagar means “town”) which form an important part of Sikh culture and religious celebrations.
Kirtan is a term meaning the singing of hymns from the Guru Grath Sahib, the Sikh holy book. Celebrations always include music, singing and chanting scriptures and hymns.