Baisakhi or Vaisakhi Festival
Baisakhi marks the ripening of the Rabi crop and is celebrated in the month of Vaishakh (April-May). After harvesting of the winter crops, farmers of northern states of Punjab and Haryana celebrate this day as the beginning of another year. Vaishakh months of April and May are filled with festivals of fun, frolic and merry-making.
WHEN IS BAISAKHI/VAISAKHI CELEBRATED?
It was on this day 13th of April that the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, founded the Khalsa panth (the Sikh brotherhood) in 1699. Sikhs, therefore, celebrate this festival as a collective birthday and is celebrated with vigor and joy by the people of Punjab.
WHY IS BAISAKHI/VAISAKHI CELEBRATED?
To stop the forcible conversion of the Hindus by the Mughals, Guru Tegh Bahadur came to Delhi on the request of Pandits of Kashmir where he was martyred at Chandni Chowk (Delhi) in 1675, and his head was brought to Anandpur sahib by Bhai Jaita (later called Bhai Jeewan Singh). Guru Tegh Bahadur scarified his life for the protection of Hindus.
BIRTH OF KHALSA – When Guru Gobind Singh learnt about the whole issue he started planning and said,”I will create Khalsa, who would be recognized among hundreds of thousands of men by his appearance.” In 1699 he sent message to all his disciples all over the Indian subcontinent to gather at Anandpur Sahib on the Vaisakhi Day. Everybody was excited to meet the Guru. At this gathering on April 13, 1699, after the Gurubani recitation, Guru addressed his audience with a glittering sword drawn in his hand and demanded a head of a brave Sikh. There was silence and utter stillness in the crowd.
Daya Ram, a Khatri from Lahore rose and offered his head with great humility. The Guru took him to a tent pitched behind the audience. After some time Guru returned back to his audience with the blooded sword. He asked for one more head and repeated the same process five times. Four more volunteers came forward, each of them went with him to the tent and every time he returned alone with his bloodied sword.
Once again guru went to the tent, this time for a long time. He then appeared followed by five men, clad in saffron-colored garments. The crowd was astonished to see all these 5 men alive as they had assumed them to be dead.
All 5 men sat on the daris made for the occasion, while the guru prepared water to bless them. Guru prepared Amrit by stirring water and Patasas (sugar crystals) with khanda (double edged sword), while reciting Gurubani. Then Guru himself bestowed Amrit to five of them.The water was now considered the sacred nectar of immortality called AMRIT.
It was first given to the five volunteers, then drunk by the guru and later distributed to the crowd. These first five were called as “PANCH PYARAS” -Five Beloved Ones of the Guru. They were given the surname of Singh (lion) and all their previous sub-castes removed from their names. Every one was equal and they were like foster brothers.
They were directed by the guru to wear five K’s: Kesh or long hair, Kangha or comb, Kripan or dagger, Kachha or shorts and a Kara or bracelet. He discontinued the tradition of gurus and asked all Sikhs to accept Guru Granth Sahib as their eternal guide. After that thousands of people took Amrit and become Amritdhari Sikhs.
The Purpose of founding Khalsa was-
1. To spread righteousness and to uproot the repression and injustice.
2. Create love and harmony among humankind and end evil of hatred. Khalsa stands for gender equality.
3. To instill self-confidence. Live a humble life with self-respect and serve the society as its honorable Sant Sipahi ( Saint Soldier).
HOW IS BAISAKHI/VAISAKHI CELEBRATED?
To pay tribute to this event, prayer meetings are organized in gurdwaras across the country. Main celebration however, takes place in the gurdwara at Anandpur Sahib, where Khalsa was formed.
At about 4 o’clock in the morning, Guru Grantha Sahib is ceremonially taken out from its resting chambers. After a symbolic bath with milk and water, it is placed on its throne. Priests called the Panch Pyare then chant verses called Five shabads or Panch Bani.
At noon, after the ardas, Karah Prasad is offered to the guru for his blessings. It is then distributed to the congregation. They eat prasad, before proceeding to participate in guru ka langar. Believers perform kar seva. Shabads and kirtans are sung all daylong to honor Guru Govind Singh and the beloved five- founders of the Khalsa Panth. Akand paath is read from start to finish by relay of readers. This is also the time to change and clean Nishan Sahib. It is taken down every Baisakhi, and replaced with a fresh flag.
People collect in the evening around a bonfire to celebrate the harvest festival. There is energetic dancing and loud joyous singing as the traditional folk dances of Punjab, called the Gidda and Bhangra, are performed.
CELEBRATED AS VISHU IN KERALA
Baisakhi day is celebrated all around the country under different names as the Naba Barsha (New Year) in Bengal, Vikram Samvat year for Hindus, Bihu in Assam, Ugadi in Andhra Pradesh and in Karnataka, Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra, Puthendu in Tamil Nadu, and Vishua Sankranti in Orissa —are all celebrated around the same time of year.
In Kerala the festival is called Vishu, and people of Kerala celebrate Vishu as a new beginning and auspicious day. All around Kerala it is celebrated with colorful rituals and customs, accompanied by joy and merriment.
The main feature of Vishu is called Vishuk Kani meaning “that which is seen first on Vishu day.” A night before, mothers and grandmothers arrange and decorate their puja room and adorn images of gods with flowers- to assure that everyone opens their eyes and see an auspicious image before them marking a good start to an another year. These are arrangements of flowers, grains, fruits, cloth, gold, and money and are viewed early in the morning, to ensure a year of prosperity.
On Vishu day, famous temples like Sabarimala are filled with devotees, where special pujas and prayers are held.