Vaisakhi is the harvest festival in India, but more importantly for the Sikh religion we celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the Khalsa in 1699. It is celebrated April 14 every year but due to cold weather in Prince George we do the Nagar Kirtan in May.
I’m going to provide a bit of historical background. At the time, Emperor Aurangzeb was an unjust ruler. He was destroying Hindu temples and forcing people to convert to Islam or die. People were being raped and tortured. Guru Teg Bahadur Ji, ninth Sikh Guru and father of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, sacrificed his own life fighting for the rights of all people to be able to practice their religion. After the Guru Ji was martyred, his followers dispersed out of fear of Aurangzeb. There was a big storm which allowed one man to take the severed head, and another with his sons to take the body, of Guru Ji back to their houses to perform the last rites. Guru Gobind Singh Ji became the 10th Guru.
Guru Ji announced a special Vaisakhi for 1699. Sikhs from far and wide came. He stated “The entire sangat is very dear to me; but is there a devoted Sikh who will give his head to me here and now? A need has arisen at this moment which calls for a head”(1). There was a man who was willing to sacrifice his life. Guru Ji took him into the tent and came back with a sword dripping with blood. This was repeated for a total of 5 times. The crowd was starting to disperse out of fear, but the 5 emerged from the tent. These 5 Sikhs, Bhai Daya Singh Ji, Bhai Dharam Singh Ji, Bhai Himmat Singh Ji, Bhai Mukham Singh Ji, and Bhai Sahib Singh Ji, are known as the Panj Pyare (5 beloved ones), and were the first to be baptized into Sikhism. Guru Ji was then baptized by the five Sikhs himself. Thus the Khalsa was created. They were given a clear identity- kesh (unshorn hair), kangha (comb), kara (bracelet), kashera (underwear) , kirpan (sword) (see my previous post about the 5 K’s for more information), and the last name Singh for men and Kaur for women to unite them. The visual identity of the Sikhs was important because that no one could hide as they had done after the martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur Ji, the Sikhs would be brave and accountable for their actions. The Panj Pyare were all from different castes, and this was important in establishing that everyone is equal and the caste system should not be followed.
Every year we hold a nagar kirtan (nagar means town, kirtan is singing of holy hymns) for Vaiskahi. I really liked this article- http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/anupreet-sandhu-bhamra/why-free-food-is-not-the-_b_3129187.html, which reminds us that the nagar kirtan is more than just about food. It’s about the tenants of Sikhism: Naam Japo (remembering God, which we do as we sing the hymns walking along the streets of the city), kirat karo (working hard, which we do when we come together and organize the event), and vand shako( share what you earn, which is why there is free food as there is every week at the temple).