WEDNESDAY, APRIL 13: The Indian harvest festival of Vaisakhi may be today’s original cause for celebration, but it was an event in Sikh history that cemented today’s holiday into the Sikh calendar: During the Baisakhi festival of 1699, 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh established the order of the Khalsa, thereby creating a distinct identity for all future devotees. (Some Sikhs mark this festival on April 14. Sikhsim Guide has details.) Today, Baisakhi is observed by Sikhs worldwide with colorful processions, visits to gurdwara houses of worship, music and much gaiety. (Watch a video and read more on last year’s celebrations at Sikhnet.)
The creation of the Khalsa was actually inspired years before its implementation, by Guru Gobind Singh’s father, Guru Tegh Bahadur. When non-Muslim Indians felt threatened under a particularly iron-willed ruler, bent on converting the populace to Islam, Guru Tegh Bahadur came forward to fight for religious freedom—and wound up martyred. (SikhiWiki has more.) After his father’s death, Guru Tegh Bahadur’s son knew he needed to create a steadfast Sikh army. Guru Gobind Singh created this army at the Baisahki festival of 1699.
The story goes like this: It was common practice for Sikhs to pay respects to the Guru on Baisakhi, and before hundreds of thousands of people during Baisakhi 1699, Guru Gobind Singh asked the crowd for someone willing to die for his faith. Five men volunteered, but then emerged from the tent that Guru Gobind Singh had “killed” them in—unscathed, dressed in white and the first members of the Khalsa order. The Guru explained how the five men had modeled his father’s willingness to give his life for faith and justice, and how all Sikhs should be willing to do the same.
Sikhs have been inviting non-Sikhs to celebrate Baisakhi this year, to return the favor when American Sikhs were invited to the Easter Egg Roll at the White House last year. (Sikhnet has details.) Last year marked the first time in history that members of the next generation of the Khalsa were officially asked to join the White House’s Easter festivities. In Pakistan, extra security has been in place since Monday to accommodate the thousands of festival visitors.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.