Baisakhi or Vaisakhi, the most important religious festival for Sikhs, is celebrated in the middle of April . Vaisakhi falls in the Nanakshahi calendar ( Sikh Calender named after Guru Nanaka, the first sikh Guru) on the first day of Vaisakh month and marks the sun’s entering of Mesha Rasi (this fact is called Mesha Sankranti, i.e. the solar transit into Aries). Vaisakhi is therefore determined by the solar calendar. Vaisakhi usually falls on April 14, and on April 15 once every thirty-six years, however it has now been agreed for Vaisakhi to always fall on the 14th of April. It is not, as is commonly believed, a New Year for the Sikhs. This Sikh New Year is celebrated on the 1st day of Chet which usually falls on March 13, a month earlier.
Vaisakhi is the harvest festival of Punjab, but the establishment of Khalsa on this day added an extra significance. Vaisakhi commemorates the establishment of Khalsa. It was on this day in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa. So this is also the birthday celebration of Khalsa. Vaisakhi is celebrated with prayers in Sikh Gurdwaras and in the streets with processions, and melas.
On Vaisakhi Day, March 30, 1699, hundreds of thousands of people gathered around Guru Gobind Singh’s temporal seat at Anandpur Sahib. The Guru addressed the congregants with a most stirring oration on his divine mission of restoring their faith and preserving the Sikh religion. After the speech Guru asked a question to those assembled; “Is there anyone here who will give their life for our God , Akal Purakh ?”
One man came forward offering his life for the service of God. Guru Gobind Singh took the man to his tent. There was a swish and a terrible thud and then blood flowed out from under the tent. The Guru came out carrying a blood stained sword. The crowd was horrified.
Guru Gobind Singh repeated his question. After a long pause, another man came forward. Again there was a swish and a terrible thud in the tent. This repeated until five men were beheaded this way.
Then to the amazement and joy of the crowed the five men followed Guru Gobind Singh out of the tent. Now they were wearing blue robes .
The Guru declared the five men as the ‘five beloved’ and they became the first members of the khalsa. The word Khalsa translates to “Sovereign”. Another interpretation is that of being “Pure”. Khalsa is responsible for all executive, military and civil authority in the Sikh society.
Celebrations in Gurudwara on Vaisakhi day
The Amrit ceremony is held at the Gurdwara on Vaisakhi day. Sikhs can take part in the ceremony from the age of 14. There will be joint prayers and services which may last the whole day. In front of every Gurdwara, there is a flagpole where a flag called the Nishan Sahib flies at all the times. The flag bears the Khanda, a symbol with a double edged sword at the middle, which stands for one God, who can create as well as destroy. On Vaisakhi day the flagpole is lowered so that the flag and the robes can be removed. The flagpole is washed with yoghurt, which the Sikhs consider to be very pure.
Vaisakhi Celebrations in Australia
Australian Sikhs celebrate the Vaisakhi festival with gaiety and great fervour. This year (2013) in Sydney to mark the occasion, over 5,000 Sikhs participated in a parade that started from Opera and culminated at Martin place .The Sikhs, including women and young boys and girls, participated in the parade attiring in saffron turbans and scarfs and also displayed the martial arts ‘Gatka’, which was cherished by the Australian people. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard congratulated the community on this holy day and hailed the contribution of the Sikhs community in social arena.
Every year Punjabi Council of Australia recognises contributions of members of the community by presenting Pride of Punjabis Awards.
Melbourne , which has a large Sikh population, celebrated Vaisakhi with a Mela which featured cultural programs and Punjabi food.
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