Vaisakhi is the birthday of Khalsa Panth
|Observed by||Hindus, Sikhs|
|Significance||Solar New Year, Harvest festival, birth of the Khalsa, Punjabi new year|
|Celebrations||Parades and Nagar Kirtan, Fairs, Amrit Sanchaar (baptism) for new Khalsa|
|Observances||Prayers, processions, raising of the Nishan Sahib flag, Fairs.|
|2019 date||Sun, 14 April|
|2020 date||Mon, 13 April|
Vaisakhi (IAST: vaisākhī), also pronounced as Baisakhi is a historical and religious festival in Sikhism and Hinduism. It is usually celebrated on 13 or 14 April every year, and celebrates the start of the month of Vaisakha. For Sikhs,  the day commemorates the formation of Khalsa panth of warriors under Guru Gobind Singh in 1699. For many Hindus, the holiday is known as Vaisakha Sankranti and celebrates the Solar new year, based on the Hindu Vikram Samvat calendar. Vaisakhi marks the first day of the month of Vaisakha. It is additionally a spring harvest festival for many Indians.
Vaisakhi observes major events in the history of Sikhism and the Indian subcontinent that happened in the Punjab region. The significance of Vaisakhi as a major Sikh festival marking the birth of Sikh order started after the persecution and execution of Guru Tegh Bahadur for refusing to convert to Islam under the orders of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. This triggered the coronation of the tenth Guru of Sikhism and the historic formation of Khalsa, both on the Vaisakhi day. Ranjit Singh was proclaimed as Maharaja of the Sikh Empire on 12 April 1801 (to coincide with Vaisakhi), creating a unified political state. Sahib Singh Bedi, a descendant of Guru Nanak dev, conducted the coronation. Vaisakhi was also the day when the British colonial empire official, General Reginald Dyer, committed the Jallianwala Bagh massacre on a gathering, an event influential to the Indian movement against colonial rule.
On Vaisakhi, Gurdwaras are decorated and hold kirtans, Sikhs visit local Gurdwaras, community fairs and nagar kirtan processions are held, and people gather to socialize and share festive foods.
For many Hindus, the festival is their traditional solar new year, a harvest festival, an occasion to bath in sacred rivers such as Ganges, Jhelum, and Kaveri, visit temples, meet friends and take part in other festivities. In other parts of India, the Vaisakhi festival is known by various regional names.
Vaisakhi is traditionally observed on 13 or 14 April, every year. The festival coincides with other new year festivals celebrated on the first day of Vaisakh in other regions of the Indian Subcontinent such as the Pohela Boishakh, Bohag Bihu, Vishu, Puthandu among others.
Spelling and pronunciation
The spelling varies with region. In Punjab region, Vaisakhi is common, but in the Doabi and Malwai dialects, speakers often substitute a B for a V. The spelling used depends on the dialect of the writer.
Khalsa tradition started in the year 1699, as it is on this day that the 10th Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh laid down the foundation of the Panth Khalsa, that is the Order of the Pure Ones, by baptizing Sikh warriors to defend religious freedoms. This gave rise to the Vaisakhi or Baisakhi festival being observed as a celebration of Khalsa panth formation and is also known as Khalsa Sirjana Divas and Khalsa Sajna Divas. The festival is celebrated on Vaisakhi day (typically 14 April), since 1699. The Birth of the Khalsa Panth was either on 13 April 1699 or 30 March 1699. Since 2003, the Sikh Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee named it Baisakh (Vaisakh), making the first day of the second month of Vaisakh according to its new Nanakshahi calendar.
A special celebration takes place at Talwandi Sabo (where Guru Gobind Singh stayed for nine months and completed the recompilation of the Guru Granth Sahib), in the Gurudwara at Anandpur Sahib the birthplace of the Khalsa, and at the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
Sikh New Year
According to the Khalsa sambat, the Khalsa calendar starts with the creation of the Khalsa which is 1 Vaisakh 1756 Bikrami (30 March 1699). Accordingly, Vaisakhi has been the traditional Sikh New Year. The festival has been traditionally observed in the Punjab region. The alternative Nanakshahi calendar begins its year a month earlier on 1 Chait which generally falls on 14 March and begins with the birth year of the Guru Nanak Dev in 1469.
Sikh communities organise processions called nagar kirtan (literally, "town hymn singing"). These are led by five khalsa who represent the Panj Pyaare, and the processions through the streets. The people who march sing, make music, sing hymns from the Sikh texts. Major processions also carry a copy of the Guru Granth Sahib in reverence.
Vaisakhi is a harvest festival for people of the Punjab region. In the Punjab, Vaisakhi marks the ripening of the rabi harvest. Vaisakhi also marks the Punjabi new year. This day is observed as a thanksgiving day by farmers whereby farmers pay their tribute, thanking God for the abundant harvest and also praying for future prosperity. The harvest festival is celebrated by Sikhs and Punjabi Hindus. Historically, during the early 20th century, Vaisakhi was a sacred day for Sikhs and Hindus and a secular festival for all Muslims and non-Muslims including Punjabi Christians. In modern times, sometimes Christians participate in Baisakhi celebrations along with Sikhs and Hindus.
Aawat pauni is a tradition associated with harvesting, which involves people getting together to harvest the wheat. Drums are played while people work. At the end of the day, people sing dohay to the tunes of the drum.
Fairs and dances
The harvest festival is also characterized by the folk dance, Bhangra which traditionally is a harvest dance.
Fairs or Melas (fair) are held in many parts of Punjab, India to mark the new year and the harvesting season. Vaisakhi fairs take place in various places, including Jammu City, Kathua, Udhampur, Reasi and Samba, in the Pinjore complex near Chandigarh, in Himachal Pradesh cities of Rewalsar, Shimla, Mandi and Prashar Lakes.
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The first day of Vaisakh marks the traditional solar new year and it is an ancient festival that predates the founding of Sikhism. The harvest is complete and crops ready to sell, representing a time of plenty for the farmers. Fairs and special thanksgiving pujas (prayers) are common in the Hindu tradition.
The first day of Vaisakh marks the solar new year. It is the New Year's Day for Hindus in Assam, Bengal, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Kerala, Odisha, Punjab Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttrakhand and other parts of India. However, this is not the universal new year for all Hindus. For some, such as those in and near Gujarat, the new year festivities coincide with the five-day Diwali festival. For others, the new year falls on Cheti Chand, Gudi Padwa and Ugadi which falls a few weeks earlier.
It is regionally known by many names among the Hindus, though the festivities and its significance is similar. It is celebrated by Hindus bathing in sacred rivers, as they believe that river goddess Ganges descended to earth on Vaisakhi from Svarga. Some rivers considered particularly sacred include the Ganges, Jhelum and Kaveri. Hindus visit temples, meet friends and party over festive foods.
Vaisakhi coincides with the festival of 'Vishu' and 'Puthandu' celebrated in Kerala and Tamilnadu a day after Vaisakhi. The festivities include fireworks, shopping for new clothes and interesting displays called 'Vishu Kani'. Hindus make arrangements of flowers, grains, fruits which friends and family visit to admire as "lucky sight" (Vishukkani). Giving gifts to friends and loved ones, as well as alms to the needy, are a tradition of Kerala Hindus on this festive day.
- Bikhu or Bikhauti in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, India
- Bisu – Tulu New Year Day amongst the Tulu people in India
- Bohag Bihu in Assam, India
- Edmyaar 1 (Bisu Changrandi) – Kodava New Year.
- JurShital (New Year) in Mithila (parts of Nepal and Bihar, India)
- Maha Vishuva Sankranti (or Pana Sankranti) in Odisha, India
- Naba Barsha or Pohela Boishakh in West Bengal and Tripura, India, Nepal and Bangladesh
- Puthandu in Tamil Nadu, India
- Ugadi in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana, India
- Vishu in Kerala, India
The new year falls on or about the same day every year for many Buddhist communities in parts of South and Southeast Asia. This is likely an influence of their shared culture in the 1st millennium CE. Some examples include:
- Aluth Avuruthu in Sri Lanka.
- Bikram Samwat / Vaishak Ek in Nepal
- Chol Chnam Thmey in Cambodia
- Pii Mai Lao in Laos
- Songkran in Thailand
- Thingyan in Myanmar
The Bikhoti Festival of Uttrakhand involves people taking a dip in holy rivers. A popular custom involves beating symbolic stones representing demons with sticks. The fair is celebrated in various major centres including Sealdah, Bageshwar and Dwarahat and involves much singing and dancing, accompanied by local drums and other instruments.
Vishu is a Hindu festival celebrated on the same day as Vaisakhi in the Indian state of Kerala, and falls on the first day of Malayali month called Medam. The festival is notable for its solemnity and the general lack of pomp and show that characterize other Hindu festivals of Kerala such as Onam.
The festival is marked by family time, preparing colorful auspicious items and viewing these as the first thing on the Vishu day. In particular, Malayali Hindus seek to view the golden blossoms of the Indian laburnum (Kani Konna), money or silver items (Vishukkaineetam), and rice. The day also attracts firework play by children, wearing new clothes (Puthukodi) and the eating a special meal called Sadya, which is a mix of salty, sweet, sour and bitter items. The Vishu arrangement typically includes an image of Vishnu, typically as Krishna. People also visit temples on the day.
Bohag Bihu or Rangali Bihu marks the beginning of the Assamese New Year on 13 April. It is celebrated for seven days Vishuva Sankranti (Mesha Sankranti) of the month of Vaisakh or locally 'Bohag' (Bhaskar Calendar). The three primary types of Bihu are Rongali Bihu, Kongali Bihu, and Bhogali Bihu. Each festival historically recognizes a different agricultural cycle of the paddy crops. During Rangali Bihu there are 7 pinnacle phases: 'Chot', 'Raati', 'Goru', 'Manuh', 'Kutum', 'Mela' and 'Chera'.
Maha Vishuva Sankranti
Maha Vishuva Sankranti marks the Oriya new year in Odisha. Celebrations include various types of folk and classical dances, such as the Shiva-related Chhau dance. More popularly it is known as Pana Sankranti (ପଣା ସଂକ୍ରାନ୍ତି). On this day people hang pieces of Neem branches with leaves in front of their houses believed to have health benefits. They prepare a liquid mixture of jaggery, mango, pepper and other ingredients which is called Pana(ପଣା). An earthen pot with a small hole and a grass(କୁୁଶ) within the hole at the bottom is hung over the Tulasi (ତୁୁୁଳସୀ ଚଉରା). The pot is filled with water daily which acts as a drip to protect the sacred plant from the summer heat.
The Bengali new year is celebrated as Pahela Baishakh on 14 April every year, and a festive Mangal Shobhajatra, started by students of Dhaka University in Bangladesh in 1989, is organized in the Indian states of West Bengal and Tripura, as well as modern-day nation of Bangladesh. This celebration was listed in 2016 by the UNESCO as a cultural heritage of humanity.
The festival is celebrated as a national holiday in Bangladesh. Also spelled Pohela Boishakh is also known as Nobo Barsho as it is the first day of the Bengali month of Bongabdo. Fairs are organised to celebrate the event which provides entertainment including the presentation of folk songs.
On this day, Tamil people greet each other by saying "Puttāṇṭu vāḻttukkaḷ!" or "Iṉiya puttāṇṭu nalvāḻttukkaḷ!", which is equivalent to "Happy new year". The day is observed as a family time. Households clean up the house, prepare a tray with fruits, flowers and auspicious items, light up the family Puja altar and visit their local temples. People wear new clothes and youngster go to elders to pay respects and seek their blessings, then the family sits down to a vegetarian feast.
Jurshital in Bihar
In the Mithal region of Bihar and Nepal, the new year is celebrated as Jurshital. It is traditional to use lotus leaves to serve sattu (powdered meal derived from grains of red gram and jau (Hordeum vulgare) and other ingredients) to the family members.
Sikh celebrations outside India
Pakistan has many sites that are of historic importance to the Sikh faith, such as the birthplace of Guru Nanak. These sites attract pilgrims from India and abroad every year on Vaisakhi. Pakistan used to have many more Sikhs, but a vast majority moved to India during the 1947 India-Pakistan partition. Contemporary Pakistan has about 20,000 Sikhs in a total population of about 200 million Pakistanis, or about 0.01%. These Sikhs, and thousands more who arrive from other parts of the world for pilgrimage, observe Vaisakhi in Western Punjab (Pakistan) with festivities centered on the Panja Sahib complex in Hasan Abdal, Gurudwaras in Nankana Sahib, and in various historical sites in Lahore.[note 1]
According to Aziz-ud-din Ahmed, Lahore used to have Baisakhi Mela after the harvesting of the wheat crop in April. However, adds Ahmed, the city started losing its cultural vibrancy in 1970s after Zia-ul-Haq came to power, and in recent years "the Pakistan Muslim League (N) government in Punjab banned kite flying through an official edict more under the pressure of those who want a puritanical version of Islam to be practiced in the name of religion than anything else". Unlike the Indian state of Punjab that recognizes the Vaisakhi Sikh festival as an official holiday, the festival is not an official holiday in Punjab or Sindh provinces of Pakistan as Sikhs constitute a very small number in terms of population.
In the Province of British Columbia, large, local Sikh communities in the cities of Vancouver, Abbotsford, and Surrey hold their annual Vaisakhi celebrations in April, which include two Nagar Kirtan (parades). The Vancouver parade starts at Ross Street Temple and makes its way through the traditional Punjabi Market in South Vancouver. One week later, the festival in Surrey is one of the largest such celebrations outside of India, having attracted over 200,000 people in 2014, over 350,000 in 2015, and approached 400,000 in 2016. The 2017 attendance in Surrey reportedly topped 400,000, causing organizers to consider future distribution of the festival over several days and local cities, particularly in areas of economic disadvantage which would benefit from the generous charitable efforts seen during Vaisakhi celebrations. Record attendance was again experienced in April 2018 in the 20th annual Surrey Vaisakhi parade, with the RCMP officially estimating the crowd at over half a million people in a city with a 2016 census population of 517,887. Starting at the Gurdwara Dashmesh Darbar Temple (12885 85th Avenue in Surrey), the parade features a variety of floats, community groups, free food, live music and dancers and performers, and travels along 124th Street, turns left onto 75th Avenue, continues on 76th Avenue, onto 128th Street, then back to the Temple. Kelowna's annual Vaisakhi parade is held a week after Surrey's parade each year and begins and ends at the Sikh Temple on Rutland Road. Victoria's all-day Vaisakhi celebration features a parade that begins and ends at Gurdwara Singh Sabha, 470 Cecelia Road. The 2018 celebrations on 29 April would be the first held in Victoria in over 100 years.
In the Province of Ontario, the Toronto Vaisakhi Parade is held in April, starting at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds and traveling east to Toronto City Hall, finishing almost three hours later. Following the parade, dignitaries address the gathering until late afternoon. In the city of Malton, a three-hour Nagar Kirtan parade winds from Morning Star, Goreway, Derry Rd, & Airport Rd to Malton Gurdwara Sahib. In the city of Brampton, the Gurudwara Sikh Sangat temple and Gobind Sarvar Gurmat School hold Vaisakhi cultural events such as yoga, pagh (turban) tying, storytelling, and food fairs.
The United Kingdom has a large Sikh community originating from the Indian sub-continent, East Africa and Afghanistan. The largest concentrations of Sikhs in the UK are to be found in the West Midlands (especially Birmingham and Wolverhampton) and London. The Southall Nagar Kirtan is held on a Sunday a week or two before Vaisakhi. The Birmingham Nagar Kirtan is held in late April in association with Birmingham City Council, and is an annual event attracting thousands of people which commences with two separate nagar kirtans setting off from gurdwaras in the city and culminating in the Vaisakhi Mela at Handsworth Park.
Amongst Sikh populations in the United States, there is usually a parade commemorating the Vaisakhi celebration. In Manhattan, New York City people come out to do "Seva" (selfless service) such as giving out free food, and completing any other labor that needs to be done. In Los Angeles, California, the local Sikh community consisting of many gurdwaras holds a full day Kirtan (spiritual music) program followed by a parade.
The Sikh community, a subgroup of the Malaysian Indian ethnic minority race, is an ethnoreligious minority in Malaysia, which is why Vaisakhi is not a public holiday. However, in line with the government's efforts to promote integration among the country's different ethnic and religious groups, the prime minister, Najib Razak has announced that beginning 2013, all government servants from the Sikh Malaysian Indian community will be given a day off on Vaisakhi Day. Vaisakhi 'open houses' are also held across the country during the day of the festival, or the closest weekend to it.
- On 8 April 2016, Punjabi Parchar at Alhamra (Lahore) organised a show called Visakhi mela, where the speakers pledged to "continue our struggle to keep the Punjabi culture alive" in Pakistan through events such as Visakhi Mela. Elsewhere Besakhi fairs or melas are held in various places including Eminabad and Dera Ghazi Khan.
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