Hope you’re keeping well!
Wednesday 14th April marked the 316th birthday of the Khalsa – known as Vaisakhi. The Khalsa refers to those who collectively lead their lives as Sikhs in the image of Guru Gobind Singh Ji. I thought I’d share a little background about Vaisakhi and Sikhism as it’s such an important part of my life 🙂
What is Vaisakhi?
On the day of Vaisakhi 1699, Guru Gobind Singh Ji (the tenth Guru) created the order of the Khalsa baptising five volunteers from different walks of life in India that each came from different backgrounds. These five beloved ones became known as the ‘Panj Pyareh’ by our tenth Guru as a term of endearment for offering the ultimate sacrifice.
What happened on Vaisakhi?
It was these Panj Pyareh who amongst 80,000 people stood up and entered the tent where Guru Gobind Singh Ji asked for the head of his Beloved Sikhs. It was to everyone’s amazement that the Panj Pyareh came out of the tent alive and in magnificent attire dressed in the 5 Ks as they had the holy ceremony of Amrit Sanchar (to be baptised) performed by Guru Ji.
What are the 5Ks?
The 5 Ks which symbolise the Khalsa are:
• Kesh (uncut hair): Throughout history hair has been regarded as a symbol both of holiness and strength in the Sikh faith. Sikh men are distinctly recognisable by their crowns – their turbans worn to keep their uncut hair clean and tidy. Some Sikh women also wear turbans for the same reasons and radiate elegance. Many people have asked whether we will be keeping Arjun’s hair, and the answer is yes :).
• Kara (a steel bracelet): A kara, as worn on your wrist, acts as a reminder that a Sikh should not partake in anything that our Guru’s would not approve of. It also symbolises God having no beginning or end.
• Kanga (a wooden comb): A kanga symbolises a clean mind and body since it keeps the uncut hair neat and tidy. It symbolises the importance of looking after the body which God has created.
• Kachera (baggy cotton undergarment): This is a pair of shorts which was typically worn by Sikh warriors of the 18th and 19th centuries, being very suitable for warfare when riding a horse. It’s also a symbol of moral purity.
• Kirpan (steel sword): this draws on the spirit of being a ‘Saint Soldier’ as Guru Gobind Singh ji was. It’s meaning derives from the word ‘kirpa’ which means compassion. It therefore reminds us to be empathetic to those being wrongfully oppressed and defending them in a just manner.
Sikhs are also recognised by their middle/last name of Singh (for men) and Kaur (for women).
What are the basic teachings of Sikhism?
The fundamental teachings of Sikhism by Guru Nanak Dev Ji are:
• Kirat Karo: Work hard and honestly
• Naam Jappo: Always remember God throughout the day in your mind and soul.
• Wand Ke Chhako: Share what you have with the needy – this extends out to langar being offered at Gurdwaras (Sikh temple) for free – one of the most prominent traits of Sikhism. Everyone is welcome to come and eat. Sikhism also strongly emanates equality believing that there are no differences between men and women, races, religions or castes and everyone sits on the floor together and eats – King or beggar. Sikhism teaches service to others. The primary task in life should be to help the poor, needy, and oppressed. Sikhs have a long heritage of speaking out against injustice and for standing up for the defenceless.
All attributes which I hope will be instilled in Arjun as he grows up. Although I’m not a perfect example of a practising Sikh, my faith is something I turn to in my day to day life and has helped keep me balanced throughout my life. Without it, I don’t know where I would be.
The Sikh faith for me isn’t only my religion, it’s a beautiful way of life – if you strip out the religious element, I feel that the teachings are applicable to the human race for self betterment leading to peace, freedom and contentment.
What did we do on Vaisakhi?
For Vaisakhi we went to the Gurdwara with Arjun’s Nanaji (my dad) and listened to the Kirtan – Arjun always seems a lot calmer in the presence of Simran and Kirtan and it may be because I listened to a lot whilst I was pregnant. I’m glad. I hope he finds the same peace and calm that I do when I hear it.
After listening to the Kirtan, we had langar – Arjun’s favourite is dhal (lentils) mixed with dehi (yogurt) and roti (chapatti).
After the Gurdwara, Arjun made his first Vaisakhi craft – a handprint lion as he’s a little Singh 🙂
What is a Nagar Kirtan?
To celebrate Vaisakhi, Sikhs all over the world take part in a religious procession known as “Nagar Kirtan”
The Nagar Kirtan in Southall was on Sunday 12th April this year. It was Arjun’s first and I was determined to ensure we got there despite a very hectic Saturday.
The term “Nagar Kirtan” refers to the procession of Sikh sangat (congregation) through the town whilst singing hymns, offering langar to the sangat and doing sewa (selfless service). The procession in Southall starts at Singh Sabha Gurdwara Havelock Road and finishes at Singh Sabha Gurdwara Park Avenue and takes about 5 hours due to the slow and steady pace.
The Panj Pyareh usually lead the Nagar Kirtan procession followed by a float with Guru Granth Sahib Ji (the Sikh holy book and 11th living Guru) along with Gianis (priests) singing holy hymns known as Kirtan.
The Sangat walk behind Guru Ji and the Panj Pyareh singing shabads and enjoy the electric atmosphere. Food and drinks are served by volunteering sangat including cholleh bhattureh (chick peas and deep fried bread) and pakoreh as well as delicious Indian tea and jalebis. I always find the amount of sewa done by the sangat and their giving nature so endearing and overwhelming. Anyone and everyone is welcome to join the procession and have food for free. There are over 5,000 people that usually attend the Nagar Kirtan – young and old, Sikh and non-Sikh that follow the Nagar Kirtan route, or stand on the sides and freely distribute refreshments to all.
Out of respect there are many sewadars who selflessly clean the roads before the Panj Pyareh and Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Many people do not wear shoes irrespective of weather conditions – this is due to the respect they show to our holy scripture, the sacred Guru Granth Sahib.
Although it can be quite difficult to do so due to the sheer volume of people, I managed to pay my respects to Guru Granth Sahib and felt a wave of calm and contentment as I did so. I felt so balanced instantly.
Arjun really enjoyed the procession although at first found the sea of people overwhelming. He enjoyed some vesan bread and bhattureh!
I remember living at my parents house before I got married, Singh Sabha Gurdwara Havelock Road where the Nagar Kirtan starts from is right behind my parents house and my sisters and I would huddle by my bedroom window to listen to the Ardas (prayers) that would start the procession off before rushing to get ready to go join in. I miss those days so much. Had I known they’d become a distant memory so soon, I would have cherished them a lot more than I did at the time.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’d try and attend most years and every year it makes me feel so proud to be part of this unique culture and religion where there is so much giving and open heartedness. It’s not something that can be described in words, it’s a beautiful feeling that you have when you’re there – a feeling of wholeness and I’m often left bursting with pride. Being a part of the Nagar Kirtan from as far back as I can remember to now being a part of it with my baby boy years on is a magnificent feeling!
I feel really lucky to have grown up in an environment where my religion has nurtured my heart and mind and I can hope to provide the grace of what Sikhism means to me and what it has taught me and continues to teach me, to Arjun.
Thanks for reading x