How do you celebrate the New Year?
Perhaps you trek to Times Square in New York City to watch a crystal ball drop from the top of a building.
Maybe you sip champagne with friends at a party, happy to be surrounded with those you love and admire.
If these celebrations occur on the night on December 31, you are celebrating the turn of the year according to one culture’s calendar; the Western world! While our sense of time is often oriented around the Gregorian and Judeo-Christian timeline of events, other cultures celebrate the new year at other times in the calendar according to their own schedule. Consider the Chinese New Year or Rosh Hashanah in Judaism.
In Punjab, Baisakhi marks New Year’s Day. The day coincides with the solar equinox on April 13th, and it was on this day that the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, founded the Khalsa (the Sikh brotherhood) in 1699.
For Sikhs, this is as a collective birthday. It is celebrated every April 13 and the celebrations are similar to the three-day schedule of other Gurpurabs.
On this memorable Baisakhi day (March,30 of A.D.1699) , Guru Gobind Singh Sahib called a big meeting at Kesgarh Sahib near the City of Anandpur Sahib. Between fifty to eighty thousand Sikhs attended this meeting. When all were expecting to hear words of comfort and consolation from the lips of their Guru, they were perturbed to see him emergewith a sword, dripping in blood and asking, ‘Is there any other Sikh here who will offer himself as a sacrifice for the cause of dharma? At this Daram Das, a Jat of Delhi (Haryana side) came forward and was taken into the enclosure.
In the same way three other men stood up, one after another, and offered themselves for the sacrifice. One was Mohkam Chand, a washerman of Dwarka (Gujarat State); another was Himmat, a cook of Jagannath (Orissa State); and the third was Sahib Chand, a barber of Bidar (Karnataka State). The Guru, after dressing the five in handsome clothes, brought them from the assembly.
These five were then administered ‘Khande di Pahul’ (the double-edged Sword Amrit). They were then knighted as Singhs, as the Five beloved ones, the first members of the Order of the Khalsa. The Guru then asked them to administer the Pahul to him in the same manner in which he had given the Pahul to them, and it was done so.
With the creation of Khalsa, the Khalsa created history. Since the birth of Khalsa, the history of Punjab has been the history of Sikhs.
To pay tribute to this event, prayer meetings are organized in gurdwaras across the country. The main celebration however, takes place in the Gurdwara at Anandpur Sahib, where the order was formed. The Guru Grantha Sahib is ceremonially taken out, symbolically bathed with milk and water and placed on its throne. Priests called the Panch Pyare then chant the verses that were recited by the original Panch Pyare when the order was created. While the Panch Bani are being chanted, amrita is prepared in an iron vessel and distributed. Devotees sip the amrita five times and vow to work for the Khalsa Panth.
People visit gurdwaras and listen to kirtans (religious songs) and discourses. The holy scriptures known as the Grantha are read, and the book is then carried in a procession led by five leaders of the congregation, carrying drawn swords. After the prayer, sweetened semolinai is served to the congregation. The function ends with the community lunches. The traditional folk dances of Punjab, called the Gidda and Bhangra, are performed with great enthusiasm. Processions include mock duels and bands playing religious tunes Bhaisaki is a wonderful celebration enjoyed in cities around the world. In Punjab especially, Bhaisakhi Fairs are huge events. Like with all parties, food stalls and shops selling trinkets make Bhaisakhi Melas a great party for all. Bhaisaki is also a harvest festival, celebrating the wheat harvest.