Vaisakhi, by Meeno Chawla, UAL Sikh Faith Advisor

Meeno (centre) at Nagar Kirtan with the founder of ‘Khalsa Aid’

Vaisakhi, also known as Baisakhi is the new year, which signifies the Spring harvest festival and the formation of the ‘Khalsa’.  Vaisakhi is an important day for Sikhs, which takes place this year on Tuesday 13 April. Around this time a procession usually takes place called the ‘Nagar Kirtan’. ‘Nagar’ means neighbourhood and ‘kirtan’ means hymns. This involves many Sikhs coming together and walking through the local area, singing hymns and spreading the lord’s message. The pandemic resulted in last year’s procession being cancelled and due to the size of the event, it is unlikely to take place this year.

To give you an idea of the Nagar Kirtan and its importance to Sikhism, I will explain the history of Vaisakhi. Guru Gobind Singh Ji is the tenth Guru of Sikhism and in 1699, the Guru chose five fearless individuals to lead the ‘Khalsa Panth’ who are called the ‘Panj Piyare’ (five beloved ones). The Panj Piyare from my local Gurdwara lead the Nagar Kirtan and are dressed in saffron colour attire. This is followed by Sikh holy book called Guru Granth Sahib Ji, an embodiment of a living Guru which is placed on a float and worshippers can pay their respects during the procession. Volunteers come together to prepare food and drink called the Parshad or Langar for the event and assist with making sure the streets are kept cleaned. This procession brings together the whole Sikh community.

Panj Piyare at the Gurdwara

On Vaisakhi, I usually go to the Gurdwara with my parents. We listen to hymns and prayers and remember the birth of the Khalsa. It is important to remember the sacrifices our Gurus made and how their teachings should be embedded in our daily lives.

The Nishan Sahib (orange flag hoisted at all Gurdwaras) is cleaned and replaced by the Sikh community on Vaisakhi, which is significant in showing new beginnings. My Grandfather represented the Panj Piyare, as seen in the photo below:

Meeno’s Grandfather at the Gurdwara, reading the Guru Granth Sahib Ji

On Vaisakhi, those who would like to be a part of the Khalsa are baptised by the Panj Piyare, who prepare Amrit (holy water) with water and sugar. Prayers are said whilst the Panj Piyare stir the water with the double-edged sword. Those being baptised wear the 5ks, which are Kesh (uncut hair), Kara (steel bangle), Kanga (wooden comb), Kachera (cotton underwear) and Kirpan (steel sword).

Panj Piyare

They will drink the holy water and it is sprinkled on their head whilst they recite the Mool Mantra, which is the opening verse in the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, as follows:

There is only one God Ik onkar
Eternal truth is his name Sat Nam
He is the creator Kurtah Purakh
Without fear Nir Bhau
Without hate Nir Vair
Immortal without form Akaal Moorat
Beyond birth and death Ajooni
Self-existent Saibhang
By the Guru’s grace Gurprasaad

I have attended the Nagar Kirtan in previous years, and it feels amazing to collectively walk across town with the community and celebrate the birth of the Khalsa.

Nagar Kirtan

Although it is not the same without the human interaction, technology has brought me closer to my faith. I celebrated Vaisakhi last year by watching a City Sikhs Vaisakhi programme on Zoom. The virtual programme gave us all an opportunity to continue our celebrations together. If you would like to see last year’s celebration, you can do so below.  Wishing you all a Happy Vaisakhi!