Vaisakhi is a significant event in Sikh history, where Sikh identity and practices were forged. On April 13, 1699, the last living Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, called for Sikhs across India to gather at the city of Sri Anandpur Sahib, in Punjab, North-West India.
Sikhs believe that God is the self-existing light within all, and the ten living Gurus guided us to realise this light within. In 1699, faiths in India were being persecuted. Guru Gobind Singh Ji asked the congregation of Sikhs for a volunteer who was prepared to sacrifice their life for their Guru and faith. All were silent until a man raised his hand to volunteer, a shopkeeper. He was led to a tent. Guru Gobind Singh Ji returned to the congregation with his sword dripping in blood. He then called for another volunteer. The next volunteer was a farmer. He disappeared into the tent and the Guru returned with a bloody sword. He called for three more volunteers, and three men answered from different castes. The congregation was further stunned as the five men came out of the tent dressed in white robes and holding swords.
The Guru and Mata Sahib Kaur conducted the first Amrit Sanchar (Sikh initiation ceremony) where the five men – the Panj Pyare (five beloved ones) – took their vows to practice the central tenets of Sikhism. This is summarised by the term Sant-Sipahi, saint-soldier, where one aims to remember God and act according to spiritual values of humility and compassion for all.
The Panj Pyare were inducted into the order of the Khalsa, the pure ones. The Guru was then initiated by the Panj Pyare himself. He proclaimed the Panj Pyare to be the embodiment of the Guru and that wherever five initiated Sikhs meet the Guru is met as well. This underpins Sikh leadership. Then the caste system was prevalent in India, causing inequality. To establish equality, Guru Gobind Singh Ji conferred the same surname to Sikh women and men that identified them as Sikh and transcended caste and the circumstances of one’s birth. Sikh women are given the name Kaur (princess and female lion) and Men are given the surname Singh (male lion and a popular name amongst royals), denoting grace and courage. The Guru bestowed the five K’s , five sacred symbols worn at all times by initiated Sikhs, that represent core Sikh values. Sikh practices do not discriminate according to gender and Amrit Sanchar is the same for women and men, as are the responsibilities of organising worship.
Today Sikhs in Bristol all over the world, those initiated and those heading towards it, celebrate Vaisakhi with love and devotion. Sikhs will conduct a procession, carrying the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, through the streets, singing prayers and taking Langar (kitchen open to all) on the road. Vaisakhi is a time to connect with our faith and communities, remember the Guru’s commands and be inspired by the Panj Pyare to practice Sikh values of love and justice. Amrit Sanchars will be conducted all over the world. Many Sikhs will choose to be initiated into the Khalsa, dedicating their lives fully to God and following the Khalsa code of conduct.
In Bristol the four Gurdwaras, Sikh temples, will be celebrating Vaisakhi throughout the week. The Guru Granth Sahib Ji will be recited from beginning to end, continuously throughout the day and night, beginning this Friday morning. This will be followed by a congregational prayer thanking the Gurus and God and for the goodwill of mankind. The congregation will then sing shabads, Sikh holy prayers. The Guru Granth Sahib Ji is written in 42 different Raags, melodic scales, and music is at the heart of Sikh worship. The Nishaan Sahib, the saffron flag pole that stands outside every Gurudwara will be cleaned and a new flag will be erected. Gurdwaras will continue to serve langar, their kitchens are open to all regardless of faith, caste or creed. Sikhs will practice Gatka, martial arts, with competitions held for children. We will remember and discuss important lessons of Vaisakhi and how we can act according to Sikh values.