Baisakhi: Celebration of New Beginnings

By Simrat Sandhu

Baisakhi is a festival that represents different hues and emotions. It is a festival of merriment and amusement, and also a festival of celebration of chivalry, valor, sacrifice, resilience, and courage that stood against the oppression of any form since time immemorial.

Before 13th April 1699, it was celebrated mainly as an agrarian festival to celebrate the harvest. The farmers in Punjab and many parts of northern India are in a joyous mood in this period as it’s harvesting time for the Rabi crop – wheat. Prayers are held all over to thank God for the bountiful crop before reaping the benefits of the hard work of last season. It’s a festive season of purchase of new clothes and amusement. Fairs were held and people got together in large numbers for merriment and thank giving. With surplus cash in hand after the sale of crops and not much work in the fields, most weddings are solemnized in this season, marking a new beginning of life.

Before the epoch-making year 1699, the festival of Baisakhi was a harvest festival for the farming community. However, on the historic day of April 13, 1699, the tenth Guru of Sikhs – Guru Gobind Singh gave a call to his followers to gather in large numbers at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab a town situated strategically on the bank of river Sutlej.

The Guru addressed the congregation and demanded five heads as sacrifices. The audience was stunned but five brave men came forward one after other showing great courage and offering their heads to the Guru. These were ordinary men from different professions. The Guru took them inside an antechamber and after a while, he emerged again with these five men who were in a new attire of warriors and had turbans on their heads. These five men were baptized and these initiated five men, in turn, baptized the Guru. From that day onwards Baisakhi assumed a new meaning as well.

The Guru laid the foundation of Khalsa Panth and gave them a new identity. All these baptized men became “Singh” and the women became “Kaur”. On that day Guru propounded equality of men and women specifically for his followers and as history tells us women fought with men shoulder to shoulder in all Sikh battles against Mughals and British. The Sikhs enthused with this new identity created a history of unparalleled bravery in Punjab, and in the Indian army.

The Guru also gave a unique order for the charity to all Sikhs – “Daswand” i.e. to contribute ten percent of earnings to the needy. This feature of Daswand continues to date and people have witnessed the Sikh community donating in langar in pandemics and many other calamities across the globe.

Every year on Baisakhi people still get together in Lakha at Anandpur Sahib, the birthplace of Khalsa, to commemorate the historical event. Prayers are held in all Gurudwaras. The traditional weapons are displayed and the traditional game of Gatka i.e. fencing.

Baisakhi is now celebrated not only as a harvest festival but also to pray to God for “Chardi Kala” for the Khalsa Panth. People wear saffron color largely as a symbol of sacrifice and courage. Kheer, yellow rice, and Kadah Parshad is made and distributed amongst people.

With the birth of Khalsa, Baisakhi assumed a new form i.e. a day marking the turn of history of resistance and resilience on April 13, 1919. It was a Baisakhi day when people gathered at Jallianwala Bagh to protest against the oppression of the British regime. Though the protest was silent and peaceful, General Dyer opened fire and thousands were killed including women, children, and the elderly. Instilled by the spirit of courage that was sown on Baisakhi of 1699, Udham Singh shot General Dyer in London several years later.

In all, Baisakhi is a festival of various moods of Punjab, of jubilant farmers and of chivalrous soldiers, and a joyous celebration of new beginnings.

Simrat Sandhu

(The writer is a social activist hailing from Amritsar, Punjab.)

Images courtesy of (Image Courtesy: Indian Express), (Image Courtesy: Daily Excelsior), (Image Courtesy: Navodaya Times) and Provided

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