To be a part of a Sikh festival is an intoxicating experience. You’re lifted out of this world on a cloud of sheer passion, but you’re held aloft by a community that is in every way of the soil. Farmers and warriors, considered to be two sides of the same coin, the Khalsa community lives and breathes vitality. Their famous dance, the bhangra, is inspired by the movements of the agricultural process and their music resounds with the thumping beats of the dholak. Spreading out across the world, they’ve been pioneers in the fields of music and entertainment, but the magic is strongest on home ground.
Baisakhi is the lucky draw of festivals, pulling together the Hindu New Year, a harvest festival and the anniversary of the creation of the Khalsa community—the Sikhs. The New Year part of the festival is celebrated across the country under different names from Vishu in the south to Rongali Bihu in Assam. What makes it special in the heart of Punjab is its overlap with the history of the Sikh religion.
The story begins with the martyrdom of the ninth of the Sikh Gurus, and the ascension of his son Guru Gobind Singh. His father having been beheaded by the Muslim ruler Aurungazeb to still the growth of the religion, the tenth Guru thought it was time to instil courage and passion int the otherwise peace loving agrarian community. On the day of Baisakhi in 1699 he gave a rousing speech and then called upon volunteers from the crowd to give their lives for the cause. Five men stepped forward, one at a time, and followed the Guru into his tent. Each time the Guru returned alone, fresh blood dripping from his sword. But the five men were all alive, a goat had been slaughtered in their place. They were declared the ‘Panj Para’, the Beloved Five. They were the first members of the ‘Khalsa’ the Pure Ones, who had between them no caste or class demarcation but were a wholly equal community that lives on today and celebrates the founding day of their clan each year.
The festival calls for the celebration of life through singing, dancing, parades and wrestling matches, each resounding with the powerful force of life that resides within the Sikhs. A loud and open-hearted people they will drag you into the festivities and send you home breathless from dancing and unable to see beyond your full belly. Follow the march of the Nagar Kirtan through the streets as they sing out from the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book that is revered as the eleventh and final of the Sikh Gurus.