SPIRIT AND FESTIVAL OF BAISAKHI
A Prayerful Reflection
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
Kanwal Prakash Singh.
Baisakhi is one of the most important and transforming events in the Sikh history, and this year marks its 315th commemoration. Besides its enormous religious significance as a landmark event in the Sikh history, Baisakhi heralds the beginning of harvest of wheat time in the State of the Punjab. The Punjab is the birthplace of the Sikh faith, one of the major religions founded in India; the others being Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Baisakhi is one of the major festivals on the Indian calendar. Baisakhi generally falls in mid-April. The Festival and celebration of Baisakhi is one of the most joyous and colorful cultural festivals of India and is gradually becoming a major global cultural celebration.
On this day, March 30, 1699, at the Baisakhi gathering at Anandpur Sahib, located in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains, the Tenth Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, organized the young Sikh faith into a formidable Brotherhood of Khalsa (an Army of the Pure, saints and soldiers). He organized a baptismal ceremony and invited the followers of Guru Nanak, the Sikh Founder, to embrace a distinct visual identity with five sacred articles of faith; to uphold the sacred and inalienable rights of equality, justice, human dignity of all living beings; to recognize all humanity as One Brotherhood, One Race. He advocated the sacred right of self-defense against tyranny, oppression, and injustice towards anyone. The Guru commanded his followers to bear arms and honor the five sacred articles of Sikh faith that included uncut hair covered with a turban and to carry the unifying last name of Singh (lion) for males and Kaur (princess) for female members of the Sikh Brotherhood.
Baisakhi 1699 became a remarkable moment in Sikh faith history and is regarded as a renewal, revival, and resurrection of a people that were beaten down by the events, foreign occupations, and tyranny of ruthless rulers of the time. Baisakhi of 1699 set in motion the emergence of a new fearless race of people. In time, the Sikhs became the legendary guardians and defenders of the Gateway to India, which for centuries was an open corridor to invading armies, hordes of Muslim, Mughal, and Mongol looters and plunderers of India’s honor and fortune.
Today, Sikhism is the fifth largest faith, with over 30 million followers worldwide, and nearly a million in the U.S.A. serving in every field of endeavor. Sikhs are hardworking, proud and robust, daring and innovative; people with strong family values and commanded to honor the sanctity of other faith traditions, cultures, and communities. Sikhs understand struggle and sacrifice, service and serving the nations and communities that are their new home.
At the community and family Baisakhi celebrations, the festivities include traditional folkdances of Bhangra and Giddha, delicious Punjabi food and treats, dancing to the famous, robust, and rocking Punjabi music. In recent years, there has been a concerted effort to invite friends and honored guests from other faiths and ethnic communities to these annual cultural and religious celebrations.
Throughout India and the Punjab and in the Sikh Diaspora spread across all continents today, much like Easter, Baisakhi is an occasion for family gatherings. Colorful parades with much pageantry and religious fervor highlight the days before the festival. People go on pilgrimages and attend prayer services at the holiest shrines decorated with festive lights and earthen lamps placed along the sacred pools associated with Sikh gurdwaras (temples). The festivities invariably include massive fireworks in the evening witnessed by enthusiastic throngs that number into hundreds of thousands, and the sacred compounds resound with popular Sikh jakaras (joyous acclamations). At the major Sikh historic gurdwaras, in some instances, laser displays have replaced the traditional fireworks. Baisakhi or just being at Harmander Sahib is a momentous experience and a spiritual pilgrimage.
Harmander Sahib of the Sikhs (The Golden Temple) - Amritsar, India
The Golden Temple is the spiritual center of the Sikh religion; the Temple is the St. Peter's Basilica of the Sikhs. People of all religions are welcome to visit the Golden Temple, and over 100,000 do so each day. On festivals such as Baisakhi, over 250,000 people may visit the Golden Temple. People come to pray, to witness a monotheistic faith at its holiest shrine that has been a witness to much history; work in the community kitchen that serves a free meal to all who visit to the Temple and wish to partake.
The Golden Temple is a beautiful example of when sacred architecture becomes a testimony of celestial splendor. It gives us pause about the history of this monument, holiest of holy to the Sikhs, a place of bliss for everyone who arrives here for prayer, with a petition, or with a spirit to learn about the tradition of a major world religion. This magnificent edifice, the Golden Temple at Amritsar, embodies all that and much more as a world spiritual center.
For the Sikhs, the Golden Temple is their heart and soul: a place that has witnessed the history of their faith, sacrifices of countless to defend its sanctity. Visiting the Golden Temple reinforces their faith and commitment to the sacred commandments of equality, justice, dignity of all One God's children. Sikhism has reverberated with the message of sanctity of all faith traditions as our collective spiritual treasure and service of humanity.
At this place, the sacred Scripture of the Sikhs was installed by the Fifth Sikh Prophet, Guru Arjan Dev in 1604 A.D. Associated with the lives of other Sikh Gurus, the foundation stone of this Temple was laid by a venerated Sufi Saint, Hazrat Mian Mir, in 1588 A.D. The Temple was richly adorned and embellished by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the nineteenth century. This sacred complex is associated with celebrated martyrs who gave up their lives in righteous defiance and for the defense of this magnificent Harmander Sahib: 'The Temple of God' surrounded by a 'Pool of Immortality' and anchored by The Akal Takht: 'The Throne of God.'
This majestic heritage site is rich with history and tradition. This is hallowed ground for all humanity. This place is alive with pilgrims of faiths from the remotest corners of earth. The Golden Temple is an exquisite example of Indo-Sarsenic architecture and radiates a celestial aura. The sacred Sikh music emanating daily from inside the Golden Temple, from before dawn until late into the evening, fills the air with blessings and praise of the Divine. The music, melody, and Ragas (patterns of music), universal message, serene beauty, and warm spirit of the place seem to transcend all differences, embraces people of diverse cultures, languages, national origins, and other rich traditions into folds of seamless spiritual bliss.
The arts, architecture, the ceremonial walkway surrounding the sacred pool, memorial structures and markers, grand entrances to the complex, the gilded facades and domes, marble columns, walls decorated with frescoes and ceilings inlaid with precious stones, all mirror an image of sacred splendor that is breathtaking and all-embracing, manifesting a spirit of unity, universality, and our shared humanity. Here architecture embodies something immeasurably enlightened and reaffirming to the human spirit. The architecture, arts, the sacred aura enshrined within and radiating throughout the surrounding space of the famous Darbar Sahib: 'The Court of the Lord,' makes the word spiritual Grace manifest. The serene environment uplifts our thoughts and prayers as we witness before us a rare architectural gem in living color, and a captivating scene of indescribable majesty etching a lasting imprint on the human soul.
REFLECTING ON BAISAKHI MESSAGE AND LESSON
Beyond the commemorations, celebrations, and proud recounting of glorious legacy and legends of the historic Baisakhi of 1699, the struggles and sacrifices since, and the unimagined achievements of the Sikhs on the world stage in recent decades, there remain formidable challenges of Sikhs knowing so little about their own faith. Sikhs and their faith continue to be mistakenly identified by other cultures and communities around the world as something that they are not. Going forward, we must make a commitment, that our challenge is not just to dispel unfounded stereotyping, but to recognize that imaginative initiatives and innovative engagements with other communities and institutions is among our most urgent unexplored frontier to be successful citizens in new lands. Our significant multi-level efforts are making a difference.
- Baisakhi text and photographs by Kanwal Prakash (KP) Singh, Indianapolis, Indiana USA, Technical and Digital assistance: Rabindra Paul Singh ---www.KPSinghDesigns.com <> facebook.com/KPSinghDesigns
About the photographs and drawings:(by KP Singh)
DSCF 0891 Commemorative drawing of Golden Temple Amritsar by KP Singh
CIMG 2262 A view of Darbar Sahib from Dukh Banjani
DSCF 7315 Causeway connecting the Prakarma to the Golden Temple
Just a few weeks prior to Baisakhi, the largest festival on the Sikh calendar, thousands of
people await entry into the Golden Temple.
Picture 001 A Sikh faithful at Darbar Sahib
"I have seen all places of pilgrimage, but none is as magnificent and blissful as this." Guru Granth Sahib
Picture 002 The magnificence and serenity of the Golden Temple complex at dusk.
DSCF 7443 A Nihang Singh at Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Sahib, New Delhi
Nihang Singhs are a group of Sikh warriors and dedicated defenders of the faith.
CIMG 2261 A Sikh Guard at the Golden Temple, Amritsar
Assuring order and decorum of visitors.
CIMG2147 Visitors at Bangla Sahib Gurdwara, New Delhi
One of the famous Gurdwaras (houses of Sikh worship) in Delhi, India associated with the
eighth Sikh Guru, Har Krishan, who stayed here during his stay in Delhi in 1664. Guru Har Krishan
helped those suffering from cholera and small pox by giving aid and fresh water from the well at this
house. He contracted the illness and died on March 30, 1664.
DSCF 7272 Inside Bangla Sahib Gurdwara, New Delhi
Gurdwara Bangla Sahib drawing by KP Singh
CIMG 2437 Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib Gurdwara at Anandpur Sahib
CIMG 2448 Inside Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib Gurdwara
This Gurdwara, associated with the time and life of Guru Gobind Singh and the founding of Kalsa at
Baisakhi 1699, is a major holy pilgrimage site for Sikhs.
Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib drawing by KP Singh
CIMG 2149 Inside Gurdwara Sis Ganj, Old Delhi, India.
At the site of the martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadurjee Sahib on November 11, 1675.
CIMG 2158 Image of Guru Teg Bahadur at Gurdwara Sis Ganj, Old Delhi, India.
Golden Temple drawing with artist KP Singh.
CIMG 2306 A saintly Sikh and his son in their shop in Ludhiana.
CIMG 2250 Siri Akal Takht Sahib, Amritsar.
The highest temporal seat of the Sikh faith.
DSCF 0903 Golden Temple drawing by KP Singh.
Article: SPIRIT AND FESTIVAL OF BAISAKHI
A Prayerful Reflection
CIMG 0798 Baisakhi Nagar Keertan- Los Angeles Downtown