Each April Vaisakhi commemorates the formation of the Khalsa panth of warriors under the 10th Guru, Guru Gobindsingh in 1699 and from where Sikhi was born as a collective faith. The full history behind Vaisakhi, can be read on sikhismguide.org. It is also a New Year harvest festival too!
The festival is marked with Nagar Kirtan processions through the streets (Nagar=town) (Kirtan=devotional song) people walk from one Gurdwara to the other in the same town or gather together in a large venue e.g. Trafalgar square.
The float contains the Sri Guru Granth Sahib – Sikh scripture and Guru, holy songs are sung and you will hear lots of Wahe Guru (sometimes proounced Vahe Guru) Wahe – wow, wonderful which can’t be explained Guru – Gu means darkness ru means divine light of knowledge. Also Sat Siri Akal, Sat – truth Siri – great Akaal – timeless being, God. In the procession, especially close to the float, have a scarf ready to cover your head to show respect for the Guru.
At Vaisakhi you will also see Gatka, an ancient martial art that is as spiritual as it is physical and it’s really interesting to watch, full of life!
I have been to three Vaisakhi’s this year and they are just brilliant. Three different places each with there own celebrations that are similar and really enjoyable.
Vaisakhi is open to all members of the community ALL MEMBERS! It doesn’t matter if you are black, white, asian, buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, no religion etc anyone is welcome. If you show up with an open heart and respect for others then welcome!
I have been integrating Sikhi into life for less than a year, am white British and wear a turban most days (made with scarfs and the moment) and wear a mixture of Indian/English dress depending on how I feel on any given day. Though I don’t see many people ‘like me’ at them. I was chatting to people after the event, one woman said that she saw the procession from her car with her children and was felt drawn to park up and join as it looked colourful and joyful, also there is free food which I will cover in a moment. Another women told me how she also saw it from her car and could have joined too. It’s interesting that intuitively they felt pulled to go but though self doubt, past experiences and lack of information they didn’t.
At Vaisakhi Nagar Kirtan people share food, bring your appitite it is an important part of Sikhi and and every Gurdwara has a Langar hall where people are welcome to a free meal vegetarian meal regardless of their sex, colour or religion. The first Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji established Langar as to spread the notion that everyone is equal and everyone shares the tasks of preparing, cooking, cleaning (also known as Seva-selfless service) to others in the community.
Each town will do it a little differently but in my experience as you walk along the proccession people will pass you foods on paper plates, they are homemade by people in the community. You can usually come across Pakora (spinach, potatoe fried), Bread Pakora (fried potatoes bread), Panner (Indian cheese), Chick peas with rice, Samoasas, Pani Puri (deep fried hollow balls) Gulab Juman (sweet balls in syrup), Jalebis (orange deep fried wheat flour) and Laddu (sweet balls). These are just a few and not all towns will do these the list is a combination of foods I’ve eaten. Foods, fruits, bottles of water and Chai tea are also freely given out. Sometimes buisnesses get involved such as Tesco and Herbies who gave out water and pizza slices this year.
Going to a Nagar Kirtan in 2016 was the first time I had ever eaten the foods above! They are home made and delicious Indian street food. Gulab Juman is my faveourite, also Pakora and chickpeas with chappattis of course! I am enthusiatc abotu Chai too, real chai with the spices, where you can actually taste the cardomon! I feel it is such a gift to be given these foods that otherwise I would have never come across and spicy foods are my most faveourite – so much flavour. Made with love eaten with love. I look forward to the foods each year, especially in Southall.
Vaisakhi celebrated in one place is fun too, such as Trafalgar Square London. There was Langar stand and I enjoyed tasty foods once again but this year was all about the radio presenters talking about Sikhi and music, Kirtan (devotional song, spiritual music), speakers and art works. There was turban tying and Basics of Sikhi and Kundalini yoga had a stand too.
5 People I heard on stage that are worth checking out:
- Harjinder Singh – co founder of Gurmat Sangeet Academy
- Qi Rattan – Kirtan singer
- Amrit Kaur Lohia – Sarangi player and vocalist
- Taran Kaur – Sikh spiritual music
- Golden Roots – Punjabi folk
- Jaspreet Kaur – Spoken word artist
There were some great art works on show too though I can’t share who as I didn’t write down names and there’s no information online either.
Overall Vaisakhi celebrations are a wonderful thing to go along to, whether it be for the food, music, to learn more or talk to people. In Reading I got chatting to a lovely woman and finally learnt how to pronounce Kirtan (you know, after a year of singing everyday) – Keertan!
If anyone knows of the artists showing there works or any mistakes I’ve made please contact me.