Vaisakhi celebrates the birth of Sikhism and the foundation of its community in 1699. Taran Ruprai, our Diversity, Inclusion and Engagement Associate, shares with us how she celebrates and the significance the festival holds for her.
The traditional Vaisakhi ceremony begins before midday at the Gurdwara, the Sikh place of worship, which I visit with my family in our traditional Indian wear. We spend fifteen minutes paying our respects in front of the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book, before going outside to the Nishan Sahib. The Nishan Sahib is an orange flag with the Khanda symbol which is found outside Sikh temples; as Vaisakhi celebrates the birth of the Sikh religion, we take the flag down, wash the flag pole, and put a brand new flag up in its place.
After, we have a parade called a Nagar Kirtan; Kirtan means ‘singing’ or ‘songs’. In Birmingham, the council allows a complete route to be blocked off from Smethwick to Handsworth, and we walk behind the Guru Granth Sahib as the priest reads out the prayers. Everyone has their traditional wear on and we have our heads covered out of respect. During the course of the parade, we give out Langar – which is blessed food from the temple – to anyone taking part in the parade or just anyone that’s walking past! It’s part of how we serve the community. It’s a really eventful day, and at the end we return to the Gurdwara.
As Sikhism is a fairly new religion, it’s great to be a part of celebrating its birth, and I love being a member of the Sikh community both locally and on a global scale. Vaisakhi is classed as a harvest festival in some parts of the world; if you were to look at how it’s celebrated in Punjab, it’s a little bit different from Birmingham, because it’s about the farming community that lives there. They pay tribute and give thanks for their harvest and future success.
I particularly enjoy the feeling of unity and being involved in community service, which is called Seva. Sikhi is all about spreading the message of God and promoting equality at all levels, that’s why we hold the parade. There are not only Sikhs, but people there from all backgrounds, and it’s a very wholesome way to celebrate. The last time I went, I had the joy of volunteering as one of the stewards, so I managed the crowd and was also able to give out our Langar – that was a real highlight for me. It was a privilege to play such an active part in the Nagar Kirtan.
The work of service that Sikhs do has given us a reputation as generous and giving among the community. Midlands Langar Seva, a Sikh charity, put on a massive Christmas party for the homeless at Grand Central, and the amazing work they did was all over the news. Langar is embedded into our place of worship, and anyone can walk in and take part; you don’t have to be Sikh just to enter the Gurdwara, it’s open to everyone. It’s a joy to be part of a celebration that embodies the values of community and giving which are at the heart of the Sikh faith.
Happy Vaisakhi to everyone taking part. We hope it is a time of joy and celebration for you and your communities.