BAISAKHI & SIKHS

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Let me first of all thank LVC and more specifically Paul Fullmer, your College Chaplain for his untiring efforts to make this event possible and work diligently to bring it together. I also want to thank my colleagues who have helped in putting together our presentations this evening. You have already heard our youthful members sing an invocation[1] extolling the unity of the Divine reality, whatever be the names and labels that we may use per our personal persuasions and beliefs. The message of Sikh Gurus, you would find, tends to be universal, transcending several differences that divide us.

Let me now turn to Baisakhi. It is in fact a traditional seasonal festival that has come to assume major significance in the Sikh faith. The month of Baisakh is the second month of the traditional Indian year; the first being month of Chayt – late spring to early summer, when the winter crops come ready for harvesting. It is a heady time. A feeling of love, hope, and shared expression of joy and thanksgiving pervades the air.

The festival traditionally was celebrated under different names and with different rituals in several regions of India – as Rongali Bihu in Assam, Naba Barsha in Bengal, Puthandu in Tamil Nadu, Vishu in Kerala and Vaishakha in Bihar and falls on the first day of 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 Baisakh 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 Baisakh, my consciousness is imbued with Shabad in total belief.’[2]

In a similar vein Arjun says ‘Delightful is the season of spring and pleasant are the months of Chayt and Baisaakh. 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.’[3]

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 here 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 – you can see one in New York City on the coming 28th.

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.

THE DANCE CONNECTION

In the secular arena Baisakhi is associated with dancing to the beat of a dhol; Bhangra and Gidda being the two popular dance forms. Jhummar and Sami are the other folk dances in the same genre. Significantly all these dance forms originated in the geographic area between the rivers Chenab and Ravi, now in Pakistan – the same area where Nanak was born and spent his growing years. Chenab is linked to the romantic like the favorite lyric ‘vag vag vai jhana deha paneea, terai kandai te asskaan neh moja maaneeyan’ – flow, flow the waters of Chenab; the lovers have reveled on your banks.

It is believed that traditionally farmers performed Bhangra to ward off ruinous effects of evil spirits on the harvest. Bhangra is also associated with fertility rites. It is vigorous and vibrant and is performed in several styles including Sialkoti, Sheikhupuri, Tribal, Malwa, Majha and Harrisburg Fusion that you will witness this evening.

Gidda is a popular folk dance of women. It is essentially danced in circles. Girls form rings and one of the dancers sits in the centre with a dholki providing the beat as girls take turns to come forward and recite a verse with the others picking up the refrain and joining in. I like its format – the part about women going round in circles. Better them than I – I have had my share of it!

The songs sometimes are mere teasers, at other times they tell a story and yet others give expression to various feelings of love and longing. ‘mere kaag banerai te boleya’ – omen of lover’s coming in Jhummar and ‘dachi waleya morh muhaar ve’ – imploring the camel riding lover to pull the reign to turn homeward in Sami are some examples in addition to what you will hear later in performances.

I may clarify here that singing to the accompaniment of various musical instruments and percussion is an essential part of Sikh worship service but dancing or even rhythmic hand clapping is not permitted. Gurus also introduced a variety of rhythmic measures including some of the most complex known to Indian classical music when setting the scriptural compositions to music. For example in partal the beat changes from stanza to stanza with the base rhythm of refrain as an anchor – reminiscent of some rigorous dance forms. All this is to enhance the possibility of one’s conscious to be able to connect with the sublime in the Word aided by rhyme and rhythm even as the body is kept in control so that the experience stays spiritual and does not stray into the physical. You can now figure out the spacing of my intervention in this evening’s program!

About what is to follow – it is an inter-generational medley to get you a broad flavor. We will have a dhol interlude followed by dance performances by a group of pre teens and then a teen group. Next we would present a musical skit by two young ladies. We would then encourage you all to join in dancing for a few minutes so that you are well energized before we turn you over to our learned speaker for the evening!

I will continue to chirp in as we switch items and now Manpreet, let the dhol roll – – -!

Karam from sd says:

Two fights at Vaisakhi melas in Smethwick and Handsforth Birmingham have marred Vaisakhi festival in UK. The ” Mela’s” used to be a fun family day outing. But now we stay away from these events.

Bad elements use the mela to peddle drugs, binge drinking, sexual harassment of girls, married women and even elderly women. The bad element is Sikh gangsters, who behave as if they were Afro-Caribbean’s, speak like them and play rap music.

When the meet each other, instead of saying Sat-Siri-Akal – they bang fists and shout – ” Respect” – others I have seen grasp each others wrists and shout” Wah” upon enquiry I was told this is shortened version of Wahguru Ka Khalsa wah guru ke fateh.

Meanwhile the gap between Sikh community elders and these young third generation UK born generations is widening. The former have lost touch by preoccupation with Gurudwara elections, perusal of presidential aspirations, politics and in some cases partaking alcohol. Unless concrete steps are taken the gap will widen – the community also needs steps to take to report these bad elements to law enforcement agencies and not become prey to blackmail, threats or any form of physical or mental coercion.

Sikh community in UK and elsewhere need to totally disassociate themselves from Politics of Punjab …quot; These are of concern to Sikhs in India and not us to tell them how to run the mother country sans dirty politics, corruption and insidious rot that runs through the fabric of that society. None of our generations or us has aspirations of settling in Punjab neither can we survive with streetwise Sikhs of Punjab.

Instead Diaspora Sikhs and Sikh Gurudwara authorities need to concentrate on:-

To recognize and understand that the Sikhs in their Diaspora face continuing evolution and shaping of all aspects of their society as a result of influences exerted upon them by the cultural and racial diversity reflected in their adopted environment.

To encourage expression and discussion of issues and challenges facing the Sikhs in their adopted lands to equitably participate in mainstream life and assist them in the elimination of barriers to such participation.

This is the complete list of full citations:

[1] koee bolai raam raam koee khudhaae  koee saevai guseeaa koee alaahi  kaaran karan kareem  kirapaa dhhaar reheem koee naavai theerathh koee haj jaae koee karai poojaa koee sir nivaae koee parrai baedh koee kathaeb  koee oudtai neel koee supaedh  koee kehai thurak koee kehai hi(n)dhoo  koee baashhai bhisath koee suragi(n)dhoo  kahu naanak jin hukam pashhaathaa  prabh saahib kaa thin bhaedh jaathaa – Some address Him as Raam, some as Khudaa. Some serve Him as ‘Gusain’, others as ‘Allaah’. He is the Cause of causes, the generous Giver. He showers His grace and mercy on all. Some bathe at sacred shrines and some make pilgrimage to Mecca. Some perform devotional worship services, and some bow their heads in prayer. Some read the Vedas, and some the Kateb. Some wear blue robes and some wear white. Some call themselves Muslim, and some call themselves Hindu. Some yearn for paradise and others long for heaven. Says Nanak, one who realizes His Hukam, knows the secrets of his Master Prabhu.- Ramkali M V, p. 885

[2] 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

[3] 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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