Written by Harpreet N - Employer branding and employee advocacy at Sky
Being Sikh most people assume I know the meaning of Vaisakhi. Don't get me wrong I know it's an important date in the diary which is celebrated every year. But the meaning? Not so much. Every year I'd ask my grandad what it meant- and he'd willingly explain in Punjabi. The problem for me? I also don't fully understand Punjabi! So despite my grandad’s best efforts, I was unable to fully understand, leaving me none the wiser and feeling like a failing Sikh. As a result, every year I find myself in the same position as I get confused between stories of Diwali and Vaisakhi, whilst trying to understand the meaning for Hindu's and for Sikh's…
Let's start with what I do know, which is how the day is celebrated. As a kid, I knew sometime around Easter we'd go to the Gudwara (Sikh temple) in our best “suits”, to celebrate something. If it coincided with Easter, we'd get Easter eggs too (yay!). Then after I got married, I got to experience "Nagar Kitan" for the first time ever, in Southall. It's a religious procession, where there are food and drink stalls full of people doing "Seva" (selfless service)- which is why everything being served is free. Yes free. From samosas, to chips and saag, pakoras, cha, capri-sun cartons - all vegetarian of course. It's an incredible experience and extremely humbling to see such a selfless act on a massive scale. Open to everyone, if you get a chance to go in your local area- go!
But why do we really celebrate? Firstly, it's always been the annual Spring Harvest festival in Punjab - celebrated by Punjabi Sikhs and Hindus.
But the story my grandad told (coupled with a bit of help from google) is during Vaisakhi in 1699, our 10th Guru - Guru Gobind Singh called together a crowd of over 50,000 Sikhs. They expected him to give a speech but instead, he drew his sword and said: "I want a head". One by one five men stepped forward towards the tent, and after each, Guru Gobind Singh came out of the tent to show his bloody sword to an anxious crowd. After the fifth - he came out, not with a bloody sword, but with all five men walking behind him. He explained he wanted to test the crowd’s faith in him.
After this, Guru Gobind Singh used "amrit" to baptise these five men, who became the "Panj Piaras" (five beloved ones), and they then did the same for him. Using "amrit" to baptise the rest of the crowd- the first Khalsa order was born, giving men the last name of "Singh" and women the last name of "Kaur", as well as the birth of the five K's. They all committed to believing in one God and treating all people as equal.
This year Vaisakhi will be celebrated on Saturday 14th April. I hope whether you're celebrating or not, this gives you an understanding of how and why we all celebrate. I know it's helped me understand the significance more too.
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