FRIDAY, APRIL 13: A primordial agricultural festival and solar New Year make for one big party in India today, primarily in the northern regions with major Sikh communities. For Sikhs, this is the 313th anniversary of the founding of the Khalsa.
Vaisakhi, or Baisakhi, marks the beginning of the Indian agricultural season; for citizens in rural areas, it’s the start of months of grueling yet rewarding work in the fields. Passersby will even notice a complex agricultural dance being performed in many Indian villages today. (For history, customs and traditions, learn more from the Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India.)
For Sikhs, an event that occurred on this day in 1699 changed Baisakhi’s meaning for them forever. During Vaisakhi 1699, the tenth Sikh Guru—Guru Gobind Singh—set up a tent in the midst of the festivities. Sikhs gathered to visit him, but the leader had something more in mind: a test. Gobind Singh asked the crowd for a volunteer willing to give his life, and when one came forward, Gobind took this man into the tent. Some time later, he emerged from the tent with a blood-covered sword, asking for another volunteer. Four volunteers later, Gobind Singh revealed a surprise for the crowd: he had slaughtered goats, and the five men who had risked their lives were deemed the Khalsa, or “pure ones.” (Wikipedia has details.) The Khalsa now holds a prominent place in Sikhism and the Sikh way of life.
Although Baisakhi holds particular importance for Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists observe this day in religious ways, too. While Sikhs are visiting gurudwaras with offerings, Hindus are bathing in the sacred Ganges River. Buddhists commemorate the day Guatam Buddha achieved Nirvana, beneath the Mahabodhi tree. (Access Vaisakhi songs, poems and recipes at ILoveIndia.)
Baisakhi events have been growing in popularity in recent years, too: In 2010, more than 20,000 devotees were expected in Pakistan for (a spike since previous years. Read more in the Express Tribune). A Sikh parade in Los Angeles drew 15,000, and in Canada, Vaisakhi events are attended by approximately 200,000 people.