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Baisakhi

Come April 13th or 14th and it is a grand celebration time all over the North, especially in Punjab. It is Baisakhi, the arrival of the harvesting season and the hot-blooded Punjabis celebrate it with a lot of gusto and gaiety. Just before the festival the farmer returns home with his bumper rabi crop, the fruit of his whole year’s hard labour. This festival is in celebration to thank God for the good harvest.

Being predominantly an agricultural state, Punjab prides itself on its food grain production, therefore, it is natural that Baisakhi is the most significant festival of this state. Baisakhi is amongst the few Indian festivals that come on a fixed date. Baisakhi gets its name from the month of Vaisakh which coincides with the English months of April-May. It also marks the beginning of the solar year and is also celebrated as the Punjabi New Year.

Punjabis are known for their boisterousness and their zest for life. They love to eat, love to entertain and believe in living their life to the fullest. Women dress up in colorful salwar kameez along with dupattas laden with golden embroidery and laces and adorn jewelry. Men are seen wearing equally colorful kurta pyjamas, with a lungi wrapped around the waist and a colorful turban on the head. The air resonates with the greetings of ‘jatta aai Baisakhi’ as the fun, frolic and dancing begins. One can enjoy the bhangra and gidda, the traditional dance forms of Punjab. In fact, the dancers and drummers challenge each other to continue the dance. The scenes of sowing, harvesting, winnowing and gathering of crops are expressed through energetic movements of the body to the accompaniment of full-throated singing of ballads.

Baisakhi, especially in Punjab and Haryana, also involves a lot of socializing. Friends and relatives are invited for dinner or lunch where a lavish spread greets the guests. Alcohol and non-vegetarian foods are also served and people have a great time at home. However, there is no particular puja. Lots of fruits like ber and louquat and mithais are sent to the houses of the daughters as gifts for the entire family. Visitors are welcomed and offered lassi and mithai. And the New Year begins amidst lots of fun and frolic and loads of good food.

 

Sare nu Baishakhi Di Laakh Laakh Vadhiyaan!! 

It’s a special day for Sikhs

Baisakhi has a special significance for the Sikhs. In 1699, it was on this day that their tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, organized the order of the Khalsa. He discontinued the tradition of Gurus in Sikhism by declaring the “Granth Sahib” as the eternal Guru of all Sikhs.

The history goes like this – in 1657, Aurangzeb became the Mughal Emperor after annihilating almost all opposition within his own family. He then consolidated his position by setting up the process of Islamism in India. The Brahmins were his prime targets. He levied unethical religious taxes against Hindus and shut down their temples and places of learning. He had been convinced by his clerics that once the Brahmins accepted Islam, the others would follow suit.

The Brahmins, particularly the inhabitants of Kashmir, looking for some dynamic leadership to fight this subversion, approached Guru Tegh Bahadur (1621-1675), the ninth in the line of Sikh Gurus. Heeding their pleas, he entrusted his leadership to Gobind Rai, his young son, and proceeded towards Delhi, the seat of the Mughal Empire.

The Guru and his loyal attendants were immediately imprisoned by Aurangzeb. Guru Tegh Bahadur offered his life for the freedom of conscience and conviction of anyone belonging to a faith other than his own. Though hundreds of people had gathered around the place where he was martyred in Delhi, no one, not even his ardent followers, came forward openly to claim the body to perform religious rites. Taking advantage of the stormy weather that followed the execution, two persons covertly took the body of Guru Tegh Bahadur for cremation.

This cowardly act raised an urge in Gobind Rai to instill among his Sikhs a distinct identity and discipline. And he decided to uplift the people’s morale to combat the evil forces of injustice, tyranny and oppression. In early 1699, Gobind Rai asked the men and women not to cut their hair. They had to come with unshorn hair under their turbans and chunnis. The men also had to come with full beards. Gobind Rai addressed the congregants with a most stirring oration on his divine mission of restoring their faith and preserving the Sikh religion.

For the formation of the Khalsa Panth, he asked his followers to be ready to lay down their lives to save others. He baptized five people – one Khatri (shopkeeper), one Jat (farmer), one Chhimba (washer-man), one Ghumar (water-carrier) and one Nai (barber) – who were the perfect examples of amalgamation of high and low castes. He then proclaimed them as Panj Pyare – the Five Beloved Ones – who would be the embodiment of the Guru himself: “Where there are Panj Pyare, there am I. When the Five meet, they are the holiest of the holy. All those who receive Amrit from five baptized Sikhs will be infused with the spirit of courage and strength to sacrifice.” Thus, with these principles he established Panth Khalsa, the Order of the Pure Ones.

At the same time, the Guru gave this new Khalsa a unique, indisputable and distinct identity. The Guru gave the gift of bana, the distinctive Sikh clothing and headwear. He also offered five emblems of purity and courage. These symbols, worn by all baptized Sikhs of both sexes, are popularly known today as Five Ks: kesh (unshorn hair), kangha (the wooden comb), karra (the iron or steel bracelet), kirpan (the sword) and kachcha (the underwear). By being identifiable, no Sikh could ever hide behind cowardice again.

The Guru also gave the surname Singh (Lion) to every male Sikh and also took the name for himself. Thus, Guru Gobind Rai became Guru Gobind Singh. He also pronounced that all Sikh women embody royalty and gave them the surname Kaur (Princess). With the distinct Khalsa identity and consciousness of purity, Guru Gobind Singh gave all Sikhs the opportunity to live a life filled with courage, sacrifice and equality. Every year at the time of Baisakhi, thousands of devotees would come to Anandpur to pay their obeisance and seek the Guru’s blessings.

Other significant events that took place on this day:

According to history, this is also the day when Guru Arjan Dev was martyred by Muslim rulers who, in barbaric cruelty, threw him alive into a cauldron of boiling oil.

Again, on this day in 1875, Swami Dayanand Saraswati founded the Arya Samaj – a reformed sect of Hindus who are devoted to the Vedas for spiritual guidance and have discarded idol worship.

This day is also of immense religious importance to the Buddhists because Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment or Nirvana under the Mahabodhi tree in the town of Gaya on this very day. 

A day of worship and joy

Baisakhi begins with a big nahan (ceremonial bath), in the morning, at all the rivers and tanks. Dressed in festive attire, people go to Gurudwaras with mithai and money (which is supposed to be one tenth of the total produce or whatever they are capable of donating). They thank God for their good fortune and also pray for a better crop the next year.

The Sikhs celebrate this day by distributing kada prashad in Gurudwaras. Processions led by the Panj Pyaras or the five religious men are taken out. Kirtans and recital of passages from the Granth Sahib are also organized in gurudwaras, where people line up to receive the delicious prashad and perform kar sewa - that is, offering their help in the daily chores of the Gurudwara.

One of the most sacred pilgrim centers for the Punjabis, especially for the Sikhs, is Harmandir Sahib or the Golden Temple in Amritsar. It has a huge tank – a sarovar - all around the temple and it is popularly believed that anyone bathing in it is purified and his/her sins are washed away. On Baisakhi day, water, from all the sacred rivers of India, is brought and poured into this sarovar.

Fairs are organized at various places in Punjab, where, besides other recreational activities, wrestling bouts are also held. The occasion is celebrated with great gusto at Talwandi Sabo, where Guru Gobind Singh stayed for nine months and completed the recompilation of the Guru Granth Sahib.

Anand melas are also organized in every town and village. Here the old and the young in colourful clothes and turbans come to enjoy the mela. The giant wheels and merry-go-rounds provide great entertainment and joy. Eating is the order of the day and chaats, ice creams, flossy sugar lollipops and other delicacies are in great demand. Balloons and all varieties of wooden and clay toys are displayed for sale. People take other household or daily articles like pots and pans to sell and buy and the hustle and bustle attracts almost everyone to the fair. 

Generally, these festivities are held on the banks of the five rivers Beas, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej and Jhelum flowing through Punjab. These have sacred importance with myths and legends woven around their origin and names. Sweets are distributed, old enmities are forgiven and life is filled with joy and merriment.

Celebrations vary from state to state

This special day is not only a celebration for Sikhs, but being a harvest festival it is also celebrated everywhere with different rituals and different names.

# In the plains of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh:
It is harvest time of the winter crop of wheat in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and is thus an occasion to celebrate. Homes are spruced up and doorways are adorned with strings of marigold flowers and mango leaves. The day begins with a ceremonial bath, and is followed by prayers. Thereafter, the first ripe ears of wheat are gathered and brought home to be offered to the family deities and to invoke their blessings. Evening sees a mela (fair) complete with stalls selling goodies and some also offering fun and games. Every household teaches its children to give daan on Baisakhi day, which is also the first day of the solar calendar, so that throughout the year the feeling of charity remains in their heart.

# In the hilly state of Himachal Pradesh:
Though states like Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh celebrate Baisakhi on April 13th, the festival is celebrated in other states on April 14th. In Himachal Pradesh, Baisakhi ushers in torrents of peach blossoms, with carpets of white dog roses covering the hillsides, sparked by the flamboyant red of the rhododendrons. Spring is here and how! People flock to the temple dedicated to Goddess Jwalamukhi and take a holy dip in the neighbouring hot springs.

# New Year for Bengalis:
Baisakhi is celebrated as the Nobo Borsho (New Year) in Bengal. On April 14, the people take a ritual bath in the Ganga. They draw beautiful alpanas (rangolis) at the entrance of their homes with rice powder paste.

# In Bihar – it is obeisance to the Sun God
Bihar celebrates a festival in Vaishakha (April) and Kartika (November) in honour of the Sun God, Surya, at a place called Surajpur-Baragaon. This is essentially a village where, according to an ancient practice, people bathe in the temple tank and pay obeisance to the Sun God, and offer flowers and water from the sacred river Ganga.

#Ceremonies in Assam and Kashmir:
In Kashmir, Baisakhi is marked by a ceremonial bath and general festivity. In Assam, it coincides with the Goru Bihu or the cattle festival when cattle are bathed, anointed with turmeric paste and decorated with flowers, before being treated to a repast of jaggery and brinjal.

#A special day for South Indians too:
It is also New Year in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The Kerala New Year is called Vishu when the people exchange gifts and give away alms. In Tamil Nadu, the day is called Puthandu when ceremonial processions are carried out, with richly caparisoned elephants swinging along to the beat of drums.

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