BAISAKHI & ITS CONTINUING SIGNIFICANCE

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Baisakhi is a traditional seasonal festival that has come to assume major significance in the Sikh faith. The month now known as Baisakh was spelt Vaisakh in the Sikh scripture and is the second month of the traditional Indian year; the first being month of Chayt. Coming in late spring, when the winter crops come ready for harvesting, it is a heady time with feelings of love, hope, and expressions of joy and thanksgiving pervading the air.

The festival traditionally was celebrated under different names and with different rituals in several regions of India and falls on the first day of the solar month of Baisakh corresponding to April 13/14. The corresponding dates under the Julian calendar were March 29/30.

THAT TIME OF THE YEAR IN GRANTH

The Gurus also lauded the month of Baisakh in a metaphor of love divine. Says Nanak ‘Pleasant is the month of Vaisakh as trees and bushes blossom forth with fresh leaves. The soul-bride yearns to see Hari at her door. Take pity on me – come home my dear Love and carry me across this treacherous world-ocean. Absent You, there is no worth in me but if I am pleasing to You my worth is beyond estimation —- I know that You are not far away – for deep within me I sense Your presence, Your divine abode. O Nanak, thus finding Prabhu in Vaisakh, my consciousness is imbued with Shabad in total belief.’[1]

In a similar vein Guru Arjun says ‘Delightful is the season of spring and pleasant are the months of Chayt and Vaisaakh. I am united with Hari and my mind, body and breath have blossomed forth. The eternal, unchanging One has come into my home as my husband Lord and my friends, dwelling upon His lotus feet, I am transported to a state of sublime bliss. Great are the virtues of the beautiful, proficient, wise and all-knowing Govind. Having found Him by great good fortune my pain is dispelled, my hopes fulfilled. Nanak submits prayerfully, having entered Your sanctuary, gone is my fear of death.’[2]

BAISAKHI & SIKH HISTORY

Guru Nanak was born in the month of Baisakh though traditionally his birthday festivities are celebrated about six months later. Baisakhi was a popular festival in the time of Gurus and it was on the day of Baisakhi in 1567 that Guru Amar Das first institutionalized it as the day when all Sikhs should gather at Goindwal for an annual congregational fair; thus enabling them to meet with the Guru and also to encourage fraternity.
A hundred and thirty two years later, when Sikhs had lived through almost a century of oppression and two Guru martyrdoms, Guru Gobind Singh felt the need for regeneration of Sikhs and he called upon them to congregate at Anandpur on March 30, 1699 for a historic Baisakhi event.

Congregation in place, the Guru spoke powerfully of the dangers that lurked to hurt the Panth. He knew for not only was his own father Guru martyred but he had been forced into several conflicts in the years preceding – by Hindu Rajas at Bhangani in 1685, Alif Khan at Nadaun in 1691 and Hussaini with an alliance of Hindu Rajas in 1696.

Unsheathed sword in his grip, he asked anyone prepared to lay down his life for the Guru to come forward. In the stillness that ensued, on his third call, hesitatingly one Daya Ram came forward. The Guru took Daya Ram inside a tent and reappeared alone with a bloodied sword asking for yet another volunteer. This was repeated four times till a total of five Sikhs had followed the Guru into the tent and not returned. The Guru broke the suspense a little later and led all the five back on to the stage dressed alike in new robes to ceremoniously receive Pahul – the newly devised initiation rite into the order of Khalsa. These five he called panj pyarai, the elect five, a symbolic embodiment of the Guru himself and soon was on his knees asking them to bless him with the Pahul. The Guru also directed Sikhs to wear five K’s that give them their visible identity that you see today among us. Baisakhi therefore is a very important date on Sikh calendar. Sikhs celebrate the day as the day of creation of the Khalsa and the Sikh New Year. The Pahul ceremony is held at many Gurdwaras. At several places sporting activities are a part of festivities. So is nagar kirtan, a colorful procession taken out through city streets.

Several other Baisakhis also acquired historical significance. During the turbulent period of 18th century when Sikhs were faced with severe persecution Baisakhi was again picked by them as one of the preferred occasions to meet and discuss problems confronting the community. When Tara Singh of Van and his companions were killed in 1726, Sikhs met at Baisakhi and resolved to raid government treasuries and arsenals and to chastise spies and informers. Again on the Baisakhi in 1747 Sikhs decided to build a fort at Amritsar that came to be known as Ram Rauni. On Baisakhi day in 1748 Sikhs met and decided on a major reorganization of various resistance groups under the overall leadership of Jassa Singh Ahluwalia. In March 1765, on Baisakhi they resolved to occupy Lahore.

CONTINUING SIGNIFICANCE

The festival has continuing significance for Sikhs and indeed for all the humanity. This is the day when Sikhs commemorate the birth of Khalsa in a way recommitting themselves to the Khalsa ideal to stay resolute to continue to contribute to the well being of one and all and to resist all forms of discrimination, injustice and infringement of human rights by the powerful in societies that they live in!

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This is the complete list of full citations:

[1] vaisaakh bhalaa saakhaa vaes karae || dhhan dhaekhai har dhuaar aavahu dhaeiaa karae || ghar aao piaarae dhuthar thaarae thudhh bin adt n molo || keemath koun karae thudhh bhaavaa(n) dhaekh dhikhaavai dtolo || dhoor n jaanaa a(n)thar maanaa har kaa mehal pashhaanaa || naanak vaisaakhee(n) prabh paavai surath sabadh man maanaa – Tukhari M I, p. 1108

[2] ruth saras basa(n)th maah chaeth vaisaakh sukh maas jeeo  har jeeo naahu miliaa mouliaa man than saas jeeo  ghar naahu nihachal anadh sakheeeae charan kamal prafuliaa  su(n)dhar sugharr sujaan baethaa gun govi(n)dh amuliaa  vaddabhaag paaeiaa dhukh gavaaeiaa bhee pooran aas jeeo  binava(n)th naanak saran thaeree mittee jam kee thraas jeeo – Ramkali M V, Chhant, p. 927

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