Vaisakhi, Khalsa Sirjana Diwas: Epitome Of Universal Brotherhood – OpEd


Vaisakhi is a very important day for Sikhs and one of the most colourful occasions in the Sikh calendar. It occurs during mid-April every year (the Sangrand of vaisakh month as per the Nanakshahi calendar. Historically, Vaisakhi consents in Punjab with the first yearly harvesting    of golden grain. The completion has been a joyous event and is a time for celebration. In 1699, it becomes a significant religious event for Sikhs due to the invocation of the Khalsa Panth. The Khalsa tradition commenced on Vaisakhi in 1699 when the tenth Guru of Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh Sahib laid down the foundation of the Khalsa Panth which is the order of the pure Ones, by Initiating Sikhs to become “Saint — Soldiers”. This gave rise to the Vaisakhi or Baisakhi festival as a celebration of Khalsa Panth referred to as Khalsa Sirjana Divas or Khalsa Sajna Divas.

Khalsa mero roop hai khaas
Khalse maih hau karo nivaas
Khalsa is my true form, within the Khalsa, I abide.

Historically, Baisakhi is associated with the formation of the Khalsa – a military order of Sikh warriors, by Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru of Sikhism, in 1699. On this day, Guru Gobind Singh organized a special ceremony called the Khalsa Initiation, where he baptized his followers and formed the Khalsa Panth (community of initiated Sikhs). Khalsa in Punjabi means “the pure.” It is the purified and evolved Sikh community created by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699. Sikhism is a religion developed in the Punjabi region of India at the end of the 15th century. The Sikhs believe that one knowledgeable and loving spirit has embodied ten Gurus.    

Baisakhi marks the first day of the month of Vaisakha in the Hindu calendar, and it always falls in mid-April, usually April 13 or 14 in the Gregorian calendar. The Hindu calendar is a lunisolar calendar, meaning it contains elements that are based on the moon cycles and others based on the sun. The date of Baisakhi depends on the sun, so the date doesn’t move around as drastically as with the lunar festivals on April 13th every year, except for a few occasions on April 14th – once every 36 years. This variation is due to the festival being observed as per the Indian solar calendar.

 Vaisakhi is a joyous festival celebrated during mid-April on the Sangrand of Vaisakh month as per the Nanakshahi calendar which in turn is derived from the name of a Nakshatra known as Vishakha. Sangrand is the time when the sun passes from one constellation of stars to the next. “Sangrand” is a term derived from the Sanskrit word “sankrant.” The first part, “san” means “in a positive way.” The second part, “krant” means “change.” Hence, Sangrand is the day of moving forward to the next month. 

On the day of Baisakhi, people wake up early morning and visit Gurudwaras (Sikh temples) for prayers and participate in religious processions called Nagar Kirtan in the afternoon. The processions include singing hymns, chanting religious slogans, and showcasing traditional martial arts known as Gatka. The holy scripture of Sikhism, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, is also carried in a beautifully decorated palanquin (palaki) during the processions. After the religious ceremonies, people gather to celebrate with joy and enthusiasm. They engage in traditional folk dances, such as Bhangra and Giddha, which are performed to the beats of drums (dhol) and other traditional instruments. People dress up in vibrant traditional attire, and the entire atmosphere is filled with music, dance, and jubilation.

India is a land of diverse cultures, cuisines and festivals with hundreds of festivals celebrated across the country each year. However, spring harvest is an important time in the country with people in various parts of the country praying to the Almighty God for a better harvest in the coming year. The spring harvesting festival also coincides with the New Year in certain states and religions. Baisakhi is not only significant for religious reasons but it is also celebrated as a harvest festival in North India, particularly in the Punjab region. The festival signifies the end of the winter crop season and the start of the summer crop season. It is worth noting that apart from the Sikh community, Baisakhi is celebrated by other communities in different parts of the country. The following is a list of New Year festivals:

  • Bohag Bihu in Assam, India
  • Pohela Boishakh in West Bengal, India and Bangladesh
  • Pana Sankranti (Maha Vishuba Sankranti) in Odisha, India
  • Jur Sital in Mithila (Bihar, India and parts of Nepal)
  • Bwisagu in Bodoland region of Assam, India
  • Bisu in Tulu Nadu region of Karnataka, India
  • Puthandu in Tamil Nadu, India and parts of Sri Lanka
  • Vishu in Kerala, India

Creation of Khalsa:

The creation of the Khalsa marked the culmination of about 240 years of training given by the ten Gurus to their Sikhs. The Guru wanted to create an ideal person who should be perfect in all respects, that is a combination of devotion (Sant-Bhakti) and strength (Spy-Shakti). He combined charity (Deg) with the sword (Tegh) in the image of his Sikh.

The Khalsa was to be a saint, a soldier and a scholar, with high morals and excellent character. He or she would be strong, courageous, learned and wise. To mould his personality the Guru inculcated in him the five virtues – sacrifice, cleanliness, honesty, charity and courage, and prescribed a Rehat – the Sikh code of discipline. His character would be strengthened by the spirit of God revealed in the Guru’s hymns. For this purpose, he was asked to recite the five sacred Banis compositions, namely, Japji, Jaap Sahib, Savaiyye, Benti Chaupai and Anand Sahib daily.

The history of Baisakhi begins when Guru Teg Bahadur, father of Guru Gobind Singh was killed by the Aurangzeb, a Mughal emperor. After his father’s death, Gobind Singh was made the next Sikh Guru. The life of the people was miserable under the rule of Aurangzeb.  The rulers of the land were very cruel to the people. They wanted everyone to join the same religion as them. They even took the life of his father, Guru Teg Bahadur.  A feeling of darkness and unhappiness spread through the land. The time had come for the Guru to show how to bring. The Light! I will turn my Sikhs from sparrows to Hawks!

Chirian Te Mein Baaz Tudaun,
Gidran To Mein Sher Banaun,
Sawa Lakh Se Ek Ladaun,
Tabe Gobind Singh Naam Kahaun!!

Guru Gobind Rai in the spring of 1699 (March 30, 1699) called for all the colourful and different Sikh communities to gather near his home in Anandpur on the day of Vaisakhi – the yearly harvest celebration. A humongous group of people had gathered! Some were farmers, some were shopkeepers, some were half-naked yogis, some were Hindus, some were Muslims, some were singers, some were warriors, some were mothers and some were children. Along with all the people, many different beings from the unseen worlds also came to witness the event. Of all the beings there, some were average and some were fearless, perhaps even as fearless as Guru Gobind Rai himself!

One day before Vaisakhi Guru Gobind Rai instructed Bhai Mani Ram (Bhai Mani Singh) and Bhai Chaupat Rai (Bhai Chaupa Singh) to make the important medications. Guru stood on a hill and revealed himself to the huge sangat. He looked perfectly radiant. People always felt good in his presence.Guru Gobind Rai was preparing a great test for his Beloveds. He knew that the darkness in the world needed to be healed by pure people who were unbreakable. He knew that for us to be unbreakable we have to be fearless of death.

Guru Gobind Rai addressed the audience from the entry of a tent set up on a hill (now referred to Takaht Sri Kesgarh Sahib). After his inspirational discourse, Guru Gobind Rai flashed his unsheathed sword and said that every great deed was preceded by equally great sacrifice. Though he was still merged in bliss, Guru made himself appear very stern. Guru Gobind Rai with an unsheathed sword in his hand roared! “Is there any loyal Sikh who will give the gift of his head??!”

At first, most people didn’t know what to think. Again Guru Gobind Rai roared, Who will give the gift of hisr head!!??” When people heard his call, they were taken aback. Some of the wavering followers left the congregation, while others began to look at one another in amazement.Guru repeated the call three times. Bhai Daya Ram a Sobati Khetri from Sialkot stood and sacrificed his head with an apology for the postponement in presenting himself. Guru gripped Bhai Daya Ram by his right arm and took him into the tent pitched close by. Soon the people heard the sound of a slashing sword ascertained with a drop sound accompanied by a trail of blood flowing from the tent. After some time, Guru came out with a blood-dripping sword. The Sikhs thought Daya Ram had been slain.

The Guru repeated his demand calling for another Sikh who was prepared to die at his command. At this second call, even more people were shocked and some were frightened. A few more of the wavering followers discreetly began to filter out of the congregation.

However, to the shock of many, another person stood up. The second Sikh who offered himself was Dharam Das – a Jatt from Hastinapur (Meerut). This amazing episode did not end there. The same was repeated another three times and soon three more, Himmat Chand Mehra from Jagannath; Mohkam Chand Chipa from Dwarka; and Sahib Chand Nayi from Bidar offered their heads to the Guru. Each Sikh was taken into the tent and some thought that they could now hear a ‘thud’ sound – as if the sword was falling on the neck of the Sikh.

Now the five Sikhs were missing with the Guru in the tent. It was a nerve-racking time for the Sangat (congregation). There was a pin-drop silence as all focussed intensely on the tent opening. After what seemed an eternity, the tent opening moved and the Guru came out of the tent. No naked sword this time! 

 Surprisingly, all five emerged from the tent unharmed and was ordered to have both hair and body bath. Five Kakkars have been laid down and the heads of all five beloved Ones (PanjPyare) were embellished with turbans. Guru came back and the five Sikhs were presented alive to the congregation wearing brand-new decorated robes. They constituted the Panj Pyarethe Five Beloved Ones, who were baptized as the Khalsa or the Pure Ones with the administration of Amrit. The Guru declared: 

“From now on, the Khalsa shall be baptized with Amrit created with water stirred with a double-edged sword – Khanda while the words of Gurbani are uttered.”

A large bowl (iron vessel) was brought out and water from the Sattu River was poured into it. The Guru put his double-edged sword (Khanda) in the bowl and started stirring.  Guru stirred while singing in his warm and heartfelt voice: 

Ik ongkar, satinam, karta purkh, nirbao, nirvair, akal murat,
ajooni, saibhang, gurprasad, jap, aad sach, jugad sach, hai bhi sach,
nanak hosi bhi sach….”

Guru recited the whole Jap ji so that we never have to be too sad and we can have many other gifts from the heavens. Then Guru recited another Bani,  

“chakr chihn ar baran jaap, ar paat nahin jih…”

Guru recited Jaap Sahib so that we can have grace and dignity. Then the next Bani

“sravag sudh samuuh sidhan ke dekh phirio ghar jog jatee ke…”

Guru Gobind Rai recited Tav Prasaad Savaye so that we won’t be unsatisfied or misled by our minds and so that we may always be loving! Then Guru recited his prayer:  

“humree karo hath de raccha, pooran hoee chit ki ichha….”  

It is known as ChoupeiSahib! 

“kripa karee hum par jag mata…”

It is a most powerful prayer of victory! The heavens were in awe; Guru gave humanity a great victory call: 

“…dukh darad bhou nikat na tin nar ke rahai, 
ho jo yakiik baar choupei ko kahai!”

The heavens erupted in cheers at this incredible gift to us.  

Mata Jito( Mata Ajit Kaur) – Guru’s wife immediately gathered Patase in a cloth. She came to the Darbar Sahib and placed the sugar into the cauldron – the bowl of water. She put in the sugar because she knew that whoever drank it would be so powerful that they would never forget their sweetness! That is the love and wisdom of our mother! Finally, Guru recited the song of Bliss, Anand Sahib:  

anand bha-i-aa mayree maa-ay satguroo mai paa-i-aa.

Upon completion of the five Bani, Guru stood and performed an Ardaas. The panj pyare were then asked to sit in warrior posture to partake Amrit. The following was repeated for five times each; drinking with their cupped hands; sprinkled on the face while eyes are widely open looking at the Guru and lastly, poured on the head. Thus founding the khanda ka paul (baptism ceremony) of the Khalsa — a warrior community. Infused with the vibrations of the Banis, the water turned into Amrit (Nectar of Immortality). Nectar mixed with the Guru’s sword in the iron bowl and was blessed with the loving sweetness of The Mother. The nectar, the Amrit, includes the blessings of heaven and earth! The nectar thus obtained was called “Khanday-da-Amrit” or simply just “Amrit”. This implied that the new Khalsa brotherhood would not only be full of courage and heroism but also filled with humility.

Daya was the first to give his head. Guru came over to him and sprinkled the Amrit on his head and into his mouth. Guru advised Daya to speak: 

“Waheguru ji ka khalsa, waheguru ji ki fateh!”

The body of Daya rose up! and roared!!

“waheguru ji ka khalsa, waheguru ji ki fateh!”

Everyone became silent. Everyone was completely enchanted by this miracle. One by one, Guru gave the nectar to each of the five Beloved Ones. Reverently, he sprinkled the water on the top of their heads. We call it the 10th gate, a sacred place on the human body. It’s on the top of the head right where babies have a soft spot. After blessing their divine 10th gate and blessing their mouths and eyes, he gave the Khalsa invocation to all the bodies one by one.

Waheguru ji ka Khalsa Waheguru ji ki Fateh!”

One by one, they all got up and answered.

Waheguru ji ka Khalsa Waheguru ji ki Fateh!”

The Guru gave them a new surname “Singh” which means lion and Sikh females carry the name Kaur which means lioness/ princess. From that day on, these five beloved ones are honoured as being royalty. They are called kings, they are called lions… They are Singhs! ( Daya Singh; Dharam Singh; Himmat Singh; Mokam Singh and Sahib Singh). The five beloved ones manifest the full glory of being human! They realized the great experience of living while liberated. They became masters. The house of Nanak now carries on in the Khalsa. The Khalsa are the fearless Sikhs who love the Guru so much, they merge with the Guru and become like the Guru.

Then, believe it or not, another amazing thing happened. Like a mountain transforming into a swan, Guru Gobind Rai knelt down on one knee, and asked them to honour him, so he too could receive the Amrit from their hands. The Guru said that there should not be any difference between a Guru and a follower. As there was no distance between him and his father- Guru Tegh Bahadur, similarly there should not be any distance between him and the five beloved ones. Although the Khalsa was designed by the Guru himself, he was as charmed by the look of his own creation that he saluted it as his ideal and the master was thought fit enough to administer Amrit of the new order to the Guru and was consecrated as Guru Incarnates. That is why Bhai Gurdas had written:

Guru Sangat Keeni Khalsa, Man Mukhi Duhela
Waho Waho Gobind Singh Aaph Guru Chela
Wonderful Gobind Singh who is Guru and the disciple both”

It was wonderful indeed to behold the master clasping his hands in supplication before his own Sikhs and requesting them to initiate him as one equal with them in the ranks of the Khalsa. It meant that the Khalsa was the Guru elect that after Guru Gobind Singh, his Sikhs would occupy his position.  Such was his confidence in the strength of the righteous cause that each Sikh called himself a unit of one lakh and a quarter.

Sawa Lakh Se Ek Laraon
Tabhi Gobind Singh Naam Kahaoon

The Five Beloved Ones had sacrificed their heads; they had offered their lives to receive this gift. Bhai Daya Singh asked the Guru: “What do you give as an offering to receive Amrit?”

Guru Gobind Rai replied, “Oh great Khalsa, I would sacrifice my parents and my children for your sake.” The five beloveds were convinced of this truth and agreed to give him Amrit. They sprinkled the water on him, just as he had done for them. From this day on Guru Gobind Rai was now Guru Gobind Singh. 

Guru Gobind Singh named this new ceremony, Khande di Pahul, namely the baptism of the double-edged sword, which is also known as Amrit-Sanchar. Rarely does one person pass the crucial test of faith and take the opportunity to give their life. On this day five men gave up all fears and became their true selves. They became divine humans. They were born into a new life of light; free from fear of death. They would no longer be convinced of anything but the Truth. They will always be awake as pure spirits, in a physical body or beyond it. 

Those who participated and partook of Khanda–Battae-di-Pahuul were commandeered by Guru to have the Panj Kakaar’s each one of which begins with the letter “k” in Punjabi on their person. There were no exceptions; anyone who claimed to be Guru’s Sikh would have a distinct identity and be forever recognised for they would stand out both for their conduct and their appearance. Guru has provided us with special identification by providing Five Kakaar (i.e Kesh(Untrimmed Hair), Kara (iron Bracelet), Kachhehra(Drawers like garment), Kanga (Comb) and Kirpan(Sword). Sikhs believe that God is a perfect Creator. Whatever he creates is perfect. The keeping of uncut hair is therefore recognition of God’s perfection and submission of a Sikh to the Will of God. Moreover, most of the world’s Prophets and Saints have kept their hair uncut. 

Hair on our head protects the skull and brain. Hair helps to absorb and synthesize Vitamin D from sunlight and helps the pituitary gland (located in the  head) to produce Phosphorous. Hair on our body regulates our body temperature. Eye lashes, Hair in Nostrils and Ears help to keep out dust particles and airborne bacteria.  Hair under our armpits prevents friction and irritation when we move our arms.

Kara symbolises restraint from evil deeds. It is worn on the right hand and anything which may bring shame or disgrace. Kara is made of Steel (an alloy of metal and other elements). Medically, metal worn next to the skin can influence the blood and its flow through the body in a positive manner due to electromagnetic properties. It acts as a conductor of Ionic forces which alter blood flow and energy levels.

Kachhehra reminds Sikh to uphold high moral character and also to control his\her desires. Also considering that Sikhs had to regularly fight battles, Kachhehra was made compulsory for making them convenient while engaging in combat. Some studies have suggested that tight undergarments and high temperature is not optimally conductive for sperm production. The testicles are outside the body for cooling because they operate for sperm production at a slightly lower temperature than the rest of the body. Whereas, the Kachhehra which are not so tight from the below allow testicles to operate within the required temperature range.

The possession of Kanga ensures that every Sikh has the means to keep his/her long hair in a good and clean condition. Combing the hair with Kanga massages the scalp which results in the reduction of mental stress and helps to stimulate blood circulation to the scalp promoting hair growth.

Kirpan is used for self-defence or to protect a person in need when other peaceful means have failed. According to Human Psychology, by making Kirpan sacred for Sikhs, one is sure that it will be never misused or disgraced.  We all know no sensible human will dare to misuse or disgrace any sacred thing.

Briefly, the Khalsa concept has been captured by G.C. Narang in Transformation of Sikhism:

“Abolition of prejudice, equality of privilege amongst one another and with the Guru, common worship, a commonplace of pilgrimage, common baptism for all classes and lastly, common external appearance – these were the means besides common leadership and the community of aspiration which Gobind Singh employed to bring unity among his followers and by which he bound them together into a compact mass.”

Every soul there beamed with light. It was such a beautiful scene that even the angels longed to receive the holy Amrit. After this incredible miracle, the sangat started coming forward to receive the life-giving Amrit. On that day, thousands of men became royal lions and thousands of women became graceful princesses. The combination of virtue and courage is the strength of the Khalsa. This is an assurance against the ruthless exploitation of masses by their masters and a device for overcoming hurdles that lie in the practice of holiness and spiritualism in daily life. Guru Gobind Singh commanded the Khalsa to use the sword only in times of emergency, that is when peaceful methods failed and only for self-defence and the protection of the oppressed. Blessed is the Khalsa who bring the heavens to the earth. Great is the physical crown of bana and the disciplined lifestyle the Guru has blessed us with. Great is the spiritual crown of Bani and the light the Guru blessed us with. May we always be in rising spirits! May we all become perfect! The Khalsa has given itself to the Guru and the Guru has given himself to the Khalsa.

Guru Gobind Singh said:

Jab lug Khalsa rahe ne-aara While the Khalsa stays true,
Tab lug tej diyo mai sara I will offer my full support
Jab eih gg-hay bip-run kee reeth When they follow the ways of others,
Mai n karon ein kee par-te-eet I will withdraw my assistance from them.
Khalsa mero roop hai khaas. Khalsa is my true form
Khalse maih hau karo nivaas. Within the Khalsa, I abide
Khalsa mero mukh hai ang-aa. Khalsa is my main support
Khalse ke hau sadh sadh sung-aa. I am always with the Khalsa
Khalsa mero eisha su-hir-adh. My Khalsa is dear and sincere
Khalse mero keh-ee-ath bir-adh My Khalsa is renowned and has fame
Khalsa mero pash ar paa-thaa, Khalsa is my ancestry and my future
Khalsa mero sukh ahi-laa-dha Khalsa brings joy and happiness
Khalsa mero mitur sakhaa-ee. Khalsa is my real friend
Khalsa maat pitaa sukhdaa-ee Khalsa is mother, father and giver of pleasure
Khalsa meri sobhaa see-laa. Khalsa is my true beauty
Khalsa bandh Sakha sadh ddee-laa Khalsa is an unwavering and close partner
Khalsa meri jaat ar pat. Khalsa is my caste & creed
Khalsa so maa ko utha-pat. Because of the Khalsa, I was born
Khalsa mero bhavan bhand-aa-raa Khalsa is my world treasure
Khalse kar mero sat-kaa-raa. Because of the Khalsa, I have respect
Khalsa mero Sva-jan pur-va-raa Khalsa is my close family
Khalse mero karath ou-dhaa-raa Khalsa grants me favours
Khalsa mero pind pa-ra-an Khalsa is my body and soul
Khalsa meri jaan ki jaan. Khalsa is the breath of my life
Jab lug Khalsa rahe ne-aara While the Khalsa stays true,
Tab lug tej diyo mai sara I will offer my full support
Jab eih gg-hay bip-run kee reeth When they follow the ways of others,
Mai n karon ein kee par-te-eet I will withdraw my assistance from them.

The Khalsa is my great treasure; the Khalsa gave birth to me. I live in the Khalsa, the Khalsa is my body. The Khalsa is my breath; the Khalsa is the life of my life. It is because of the Khalsa that I am respected, otherwise, there are millions of people like me”

In the following swaiyya, Guru explains us the characteristics of an ideal person; a Khalsa of his perception. 

Jagat Jot(i) japai nis basur
ek bina man naik n anai.
Puran prem pratit sajai,
bart, gor, marhi, matt bhul n manai.
Tirath dan daya tap sanjam,
ek bina neh ek pachhanai.
Puran jot(i) jagai ghat mai(n),
tab khalas tahey nkhalas janai.

He is the true Khalsa (Sikh), who remembers the ever-awakened Light throughout night and day and does not bring anyone else in the mind. He practices his vow with whole heated affection and does not believe in even by oversight, the graves, Hindu monuments and monasteries. He does not recognize anyone else except One Lord, not even the bestowal of charities. Performance of merciful acts, austerities and restraint on pilgrim-stations the perfect light of the Lord illuminates his heart, then consider him as the immaculate Khalsa.1.

 One of the most notable aspects of the Baisakhi celebration today is the Nagar Kirtan, a religious procession taken out on the streets. The procession is led by the Panj Pyare, dressed in traditional attire, and carrying the Sikh flag. The procession features chanting, drumming, and the distribution of prasad or blessed sweets. The procession culminates at the Gurdwara, where langar, or a communal meal, is served to all. 

Festival of Harvest:

Vaisakhi marks the growing of the rabi crop (golden grains) In Punjab, this day is referred to as a thanksgiving day by farmers where farmers pay their tribute, thanking divinity for the abundant crop and also appealing for upcoming success. The harvest festival is mainly celebrated by Hindus and Sikhs, within the Punjab. Traditionally, during the early twentieth century, Vaisakhi turned into a holy day for Hindus and Sikhs and a secular celebration for all Muslims and Christians. Nowadays, Christians in Punjab also take part in Baisakhi celebrations together with Hindus and Sikhs. The crop festival is likewise characterised by the folk dance (Bhangra). Aawat pauni is a tradition related to harvesting within the Punjab, which includes people getting together to reap the wheat. Cans are played whilst people work. At the end of the day, people sing dohay (Couplets) to the melodies of the drum.

Kanakan Di Muk Gai Rakhi O Jatta Aye Vaisakhi
The Protection of wheat has ended. O Jatta Its Baisakhi

Dr. Gursharan Singh Kainth

Dr. Gursharan Singh Kainth is Founder–Director of Guru Arjan Dev Institute of Development Studies

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