Significance of Vaisakhi
For many 1000's of years, April has been the time when farmers have put their sickles to harvest and collected the precious life saving crops. In the countryside, during this time, the fragrance of the harvest is ubiquitous with scenes of many large piles of grains in one corner of the field; the stacks of wheat stalks ready as fodder for the cattle in another and the general urgency and excitement of the hustle and bustle of transporting and selling of the farm commodity by the farmers.
Without a good harvest, communities would perish and so there was always great joy when a good harvest resulted at Vaisakhi time. The spring season has always been an important and decisive time for the people of the northern hemisphere from times immemorial. During historical times, much had depended on the outcome of the harvest. This in turn had depended on the weather during the months following winter.
1699: a renewed beginning
However, since 1699, the Sikhs have had a further reason to celebrated at this time of the year. Now Vaisakhi is celebrated with even more energy, pomp and fanfare. It has become a holy day to mark the birth of the Khalsa fraternity. And so 300 years on, this traditions continues with much gaiety, vigour and enthusiasm. Sikhs worldwide will justifiable spend much time remembering this most important day in their religious calendar – the day the Khalsa was created.
The religious remembrance mixed with the remnant of the harvest festivals of Punjab combine to make this an exciting and particularly festive time for all. Celebrations of many different type take place - many Nagar kirtans will be arranged in many large cities both in the west and in India; lots of Langars will be held in many Gurdwaras ; and holy Paaths will also be undertaken where the sacred verses of Sri Guru Granth Sahib will be recited.
With these religious events on the one hand will be combined Bhangra dancing, Vaisakhi Dinner and dance functions and much drinking and partying by the non-Gurdwara going community. Under the volumes of such a terrific amount of fun and celebrations have we forgotten the real significance of Vaisakhi? Has the real message of Vaisakhi of 1699 been lost?
A new significance
If we take ourselves back to 1699 and the birth place of the Khalsa perhaps the real significance of Vaisakhi can be comprehended. During the period around 1650, the country around Punjab was in turmoil; the rulers were corrupt; there was no rule of law; the rights of the common people were tramped on; justice did not prevail. The strong imposed their will and their way without question; the weak suffered constantly and quietly; there was misery everywhere.
The weakest were slaughtered daily and no one heard their screams; the rich were accountable to no one and their wishes prevailed; higher authority could be easily bought with money and wealth; for the average person, no peace could be guaranteed; people lived like animals; fear gripped many nations. The minority ruled by imposing terror upon the common people; death was never far away from one's thoughts.
It was under these circumstances that Guru Gobind Singh rose to the occasion and chose to create the Khalsa – the pure saint soldier. The Guru was looking for special people within the community who would take on the challenge and rise above the weakness of the common people; to be strong and fearless; to be prepared to face these challenges without reservation and without resorting to injustice; to be fair and even handed at all times; to be prepared to die for the truth.
Praise of Khalsa (Khalsa Mahima)
The Guru says the following about the Khalsa:
The Khalsa is my true image. I dwell in the Khalsa.
Khalsa is my chief purpose. I am forever with the Khalsa.
Khalsa is my closest friend. Khalsa is my mother, father & my comfort.
Khalsa is my caste & creed. My creation is through the Khalsa.
Khalsa is my haven and storehouse. Because of the Khalsa I am honoured.
Khalsa is my body & spirit. Khalsa is my life & soul.
Khalsa is my total, true Guru. Khalsa is my courageous friend.
Khalsa is my wisdom & knowledge. I will always contemplate for the Khalsa.
Full tribute of the Khalsa is beyond me. It is impossible to truly praise the Khalsa with one tongue.
I certify that in the above, nothing is false. God and Guru Nanak are my witnesses to this truth.
The Guru had a vision to create a human being who would hold dear the message of all the previous Gurus and who would be able and be strong enough to see their mission through. Guru ji clearly states that his mission on earth was very clear. In the Dasam Granth (Page 136), Maharaj says:
When I was busy in the austere devotion, the Lord called me and sent me to this world with the following words.28.
The Word of the Non-Temporal Lord: Chaupai:
I have adopted you as my son and hath created you for the propagation of the path (Panth).
"You go therefore for the spread of Dharma (righteousness) and cause people to retrace their steps from evil actions".29.
I stood up with folded hands and bowing down my head, I said: "The path (Panth) shall prevail only in the world, with THY ASSISTANCE."30.
A New era dawns
So the tenth Guru chose April and in particular Vaisakhi in 1699 to ask for the Sangat (congregation) to make a commitment to the Panth (community) and join his army of Saint Soldier. Their mission was to help in the spread of Dharma and to stop the spread of evil and sin. The passage of time does not diminish the significance of this call from the Sikh master. It is a call to all the peoples of the world. His call requires the community to join his specialist army unit to defend and nurture the high principles set by the Gurus.
The Gurus promoted the principles of equality, compassion, love and peace, humility and contentment, devotion to truth, protection of the weak, the sharing of resources, the right to work, the right to free worship and remembrance of God, etc. The real significance of Vaisakhi is to heed the call from the Guru. If you are already an Amritdhari Sikh, renew your duties to the Panth and if you have not taken Amrit yet, then this is the time to listen carefully to that loud call of the Guru in 1699. What is that call saying? "I want the head of one dedicated Sikh!" Why not make it your head this year and become a fighter in the army of Guru Gobind Singh.
The path of Dharam
Even today, the evil in the world continues to increase:- hatred; war; terrorism; unrest; lawlessness, etc., with all the other enemies of Dharma continue to increase. The need for Guru's Khalsa is there even today. So become a Singh or Kaur and become part of the family of Guru Gobind Singh and Mata Sahib Kaur and realise the significance of Vaisakhi! It should be considered a day of reflection for all of us, the believers of the Sikh faith and all others who care for the world and its peoples. It should be the day when all who call themselves ‘People of God’ start making some grass-root resolutions to change the status-quo rather than going with the flow.
Vaisakhi should be the time when vows to uphold those golden principles of Dharam and Sikh faith are renewed. It should be the time when those of us who have shunned ‘the Sikh identity’ to realign once again our philosophy with the original spirit of this day. It should be the day when Turban is given back the ‘Glory of a Crown’ it once commanded. It should be the day when Sikhs intoxicate themselves with Guru’s Amrit rather than with booze. It should be the day when they reintroduce the concept of Sikh-Rehat in their lives rather than running away from it in hordes. Then and only then, this festival of Vaisakhi will have some meaning for us, the Sikhs.
- Above article based on text from:
- Dr. Jaswant Singh Sachdev
- and many others
Celebrate but also Resolve to Follow its Intent
Truly speaking, no other day or event in the life of a Sikh carries more significance than the day of Vaisakhi, for it was on this day in the year 1699 that the ‘Order of the Khalsa’ was initiated by Sahib-E-Kamaal Guru Gobind Singh Ji. It signifies the beginning of the process of transformation of the ordinary people of India into a morally responsive and disciplined martial army of the pure and fearless, difficult to reckon with. As per Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s own statement in the Bacchitter Naatak, this act was accomplished under the direct command from God Almighty. The initiation of the Khalsa Panth’, in the religious landscape of India, indeed re-defined the concept of standing up against religious tyranny and human rights violations. By emphasizing ‘the protection of the defenseless and helpless people’ as an essential concept of the religious obligations of the Sikhs, he was able to give a fresh shot in the arm of developing faith on this day of [[Vaisakhi].
According to some historians, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of the Sikh faith was actually born during the month of Vaisakh and not on Purnima of Kartika, as is commonly believed. This fact alone makes this day even more significant for the Sikh people. Guru Amar Dass Ji, the third Guru of the Sikhs had initiated an annual congregation on Vaisakhi at Goindval in Punjab. As time passed, the Sikh Sangat started to assemble on this auspicious day, where ever the seat of the then Guru would be.
For centuries, ‘the meek and week’ of India had been living under constant fear and coercion not only from the invaders who came via North-West India but also from the ruling class. They had been continuously exploited and forced to adopt the religion of the people in power. On that fateful Vaisakhi day, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the tenth Guru of the Sikhs, ultimately gave a choice to the people to mold their own destinies by standing firm to face the bigoted and intolerant rulers of the day. Interestingly, this concept of Sant Sipai, or ‘Saint-Soldier’ had already been instilled in the Sikh-psyche by Guru Hargobind Ji, the sixth Guru and the grandfather of Guru Gobind Singh Ji. But it was Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the Sahib-E-Kamaal, who finally institutionalized this concept.
Guru Gobind Singh Ji, a true Indian nationalist, a daring son and a selfless father with a keen desire to serve his country of birth, its people and their faiths, had invited the Sikh congregation on Vaisakhi day at Anandpur Sahib in the Shivalik foot hills. He desired to mold them by infusing a new blood of a new philosophy. Eighty thousand people had gathered from all over the country. Standing with a naked sword in his hand, he asked for a head from within the congregation for his stated cause. One by one, five committed individuals came forward. They were drawn from across the country from different castes, a Khatri from Punjab, a Jat from vicinity of Delhi area and three other low-caste Hindus respectively from the States of ]]Gujarat]], East India and from the township of Bidar in Karnataka. And then through a unique ceremony of “Amrit Sanchar” known as ‘Sikh Baptism’ in Western culture (perhaps due to the lack of a better word) he transformed them into Punj Piaras, the Five Cherished Ones.
And then he bent down on his knees and sought Amrit for himself from those who had just been turned into ‘Cherished Five’ of the Khalsa. With folded hands and bowed head and with a posture of extreme humility, this man extra-ordinaire’ set an example of equality and democratic fraternity, not to be found anywhere else in the annals of world history. Such an act of democratic equality and great humility where a Leader, the Guru purposefully turned around and transformed himself into a Seeker (Guru-Chela) had never been performed before, nor will it ever be again!
Describing this event, Dr. Gopal Singh mentions in his book, “The people of India had lost hope, courage and their country to the invaders of the middle-east. He abolished privilege and raised the lowest, equal in all ways to the highest and restored to man his manhood, to woman her woman-hood. He was undeniably and absolutely adamant in his refusal to ever be called God by his followers, unlike many other spiritual heads. Putting a serious injunction against those who ever wished to know him as such, he commanded ‘He who calls me God will for sure burn in the fires of hell. For, I am only a servant of God; yea doubt not the veracity of this statement’ (From Bachittar Naatak, written by Guru Gobind Singh, translated by Dr. Gopal Singh).
Such metamorphosis of the followers initiated by this patriotic son of motherland, led to the emergence of a martial nation, the Khalsa Panth, whose noble objective, among others, included its ultimate liberation from the clutches of the cruel and polluted rulers. Thus Guru Gobind Singh Ji turned sparrows into hawks to confront the forces of intolerance that had been leashed upon the helpless people by the ruthless and bigoted rulers of the times, for this was the only language, he felt, they understood. Yet Sarbans-Daani father of the Khalsa wrote in precise and clear terms that such an option should be exercised only after all other means had failed. Even W. H. Mcleod, a controversial Sikh history writer, in his book titled ‘Exploring Sikhism, published by Oxford University Press, clearly mentions on page 59 ‘The Khalsa was established by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699 as a formal and defined order because the Panth in its earlier, looser form was inadequately equipped to resist forces of destruction which loomed threateningly…’.
By proclaiming such a sea-change within the Sikh people on this auspicious day, Guru Gobind Singh Ji promoted a highly visible Sikh identity of uncut hair and other articles of the Khalsa. By assigning a specific code of conduct (Rehat Maryada), he formalized the Khalsa Panth once and for all and transformed it into the ‘Fauj of Akal Purukh’ or the ‘Army of God’. In fact, it is only the followers of this unique faith who can trace their existence to a formalized spiritual order with an assigned external discipline having its roots in one specific event on one particular day. No other religious festival could ever boast of such a singular association. That is why, the Vaisakhi has also been known as the ‘Saajna Divas’ or the ‘Day of Creation’ of the Khalsa. He wanted to make sure that his people, the Khalsa, even if they wished, could not hide themselves in the crowd especially at a time when their presence to protect the weaklings became imperative.
But Alas! Look at us, the ‘Modern Sikhs’!
With the passage of time, we have been gradually losing sight of that fundamental spirit and significance of this important day. We simply keep on flouting the very basic guidelines established by the Khalsas' founder. The Sikh community as a whole, whether in India or abroad, is turning Vaisakhi into an event of hollow festivities without due attention to what it truly stands for. The celebrations are getting more and more elaborate, both on the religious and social fronts, yet the true perspectives and spirit behind such activities are continuously eroding in our minds.
Certainly, in saying so, I do not intend to imply that one should not celebrate this festive occasion in great jovial spirit that it is worthy of. On the contrary, I would categorically state that this being the ‘Day of Creation of Khalsa’, the celebrations should encompass all the happiness and excitement that they can muster. But unfortunately what is missing in all these celebrations is the lack of motivation to understand and then act on the message that was imparted to the Sikhs on this particular day.
We find more and more of us looking like others. Instead of supporting our Turbans, the Crowns, we are subtly emphasizing crew-cuts for our children. The distinct uniqueness of the Sikhs is being continuously adulterated by us, the so-called ‘Modern Sikhs’ who seem not to care much about the true meaning or message of Vaisakhi. So much so, that this concept of ‘Modern Sikh’ even shows up at the time of Anand Kaaraj, the most sacred Sikh marriage ceremony. In order to look like what a Sikh should be looking like, our Sikh children have started temporarily supporting a turban with partially cropped up and clipped beard just for the time of this ceremony. The metamorphosed appearance even disorients the closest of the invited friends not to talk about somewhat less than close acquaintances. Come evening wedding reception, the Turban, the Crown of the Sikh, is thrown away like an unneeded piece of clothing, never to be seen again. The newly-wed groom appears at the show in his usual day to day appearance, totally groomed with a shaven beard and without an iota of hair. ‘Can such temporary deception at the time of Anand Kaaraj ever confuse the ‘Guru Eternal’ whom we pay the utmost respect and around whom we circumambulate while taking vows to stay true to our future life partner?’ If not, then one has to wonder as to the need of playing such games and with whom?
Didn’t our Guru emphasize upon us to maintain a unique identity with full uncut hair, beard and turban once and for all? What could be clearer than his statement “Jub Lug Khalsa rahe niaraa, Tub lug tej deeo Mai Saara. Jub Aeh Gahai bipran kee reet, Mein naa karron inkee parteet.” meaning thereby “That so long as my Khalsa stays uniquely distinct, I will provide it with all the strength. And when it starts imitating others, I will not care for it any more”.
Vaisakhi should be considered a day of reflection for all of us, the believers of the Sikh faith. It should be the day when all who call themselves ‘the Sikhs of Guru’ start making some grass-root resolutions to change the status-quo rather than going with the flow. It should be the day when vows to uphold those golden principles of Sikh faith are renewed. It should be the time when those of us who have shunned the ‘Sikh identity’ realign once again our philosophy with the original spirit of this day. It should be the day when Turban is given back the ‘Glory of a Crown’ it once commanded. It should be the day when Sikhs intoxicate themselves with Guru’s Amrit rather than with booze. It should be the day when Sikhs reintroduce the concept of Sikh-Rehat in their lives rather than running away from it in hordes. Then and only then, this festival of Vaisakhi will have some meaning for us, the Sikhs.
- Above article by Dr. Jaswant Singh Sachdev, MD, Phoenix, Arizona April 9, 2007