Sikh: Honoring Vaisakhi with flowers, parades

TUESDAY and WEDNESDAY, April 13-14: Sikhs honor Vaisakhi (also spelled Baisakhi), the day Guru Gobind Singh established the Khalsa (“The Pure Ones”), or the military order of disciples, in 1699. (The photo at left is of a 2007 Vaisakhi celebration in London.) Today, the Khalsa includes all baptized Sikhs. In celebration, Sikhs hold services at gurdwaras, their place of worship, parade through the streets and take time out for personal reflection. Vaisakhi also marks the beginning of the Sikh New Year and is one of the most significant Sikh holidays. (Get Baisakhi history, legends, recipes and a lot more from the Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India.)

Of note: This also begins the Hindu solar New Year, recognized by people in Nepal and some regions of India. More at Wikipedia.

Recognition begins early on Vaisakhi as Sikhs make their way to gurdwaras before sunrise. Bearing flowers and other offerings, many Sikhs give thanks for this historical event because they believe the Khalsa gives Sikhs a distinct identity and a set of essential ethical examples. In baptizing the Khalsa, Guru Gobind Singh—the last living Guru of 10—baptized his followers with a sweet nectar, Amrit. (Get a detailed history at SikhNet.) Today, devotees at gurdwaras are given Amrit by a priest and sip the sweet nectar while taking a vow to work for fellowship.

The Khalsa dates back to ethnic and religious conflict in 17th-century India involving a Muslim emperor and pressure on Indians to convert to Islam. A series of tragic conflicts unfolded and the Sikh Guru Teg Bahadur was martyred. His son became the 10th Guru and instituted the Khalsa as a distinct identity for his people marked by pride and courage.

In New York City, a parade typically follows Vaisakhi by a few days and many Sikhs complete religious works like donating food, volunteering or giving to charity. The Surrey Vaisakhi Parade in British Columbia, Canada, draws approximately 200,000 attendees each year. It’s estimated that the Surrey Parade crowd expands by 15 percent each year.

(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)

(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, you can click the “Our Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)

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