Sikhs across the world and across Canada are gathering to mark Vaisakhi or the founding of the Khalsa. Many Canadians may be familiar with the sight of colourful Khalsa Day Parades to mark Vaisakhi but perhaps not so familiar with the significance and history behind the holiday. We’ll try to provide some background information here.
Although Vaisakhi has traditionally been a harvest festival in Punjab and across South Asia for centuries, the day has a very special significance for Sikhs. On Vaisakhi Day in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh created the order of the Khalsa. The Khalsa are those Sikhs who have accepted the Sikh initiation or “khande kee paahul” and commit to live their lives in the spirit of service to all, equality and compassion. The founding of the Khalsa was a seminal event in Sikh history which gave the Sikh faith its final form.
It was also on Vaisakhi day in 1699 that Guru Gobind Singh asked the Sikhs to adorn themselves with the Sikh articles of faith:
● Kes – unshorn hair covered with a turban (Keski or Dastaar): Uncut hair represents the inviolability of the human body” and must be covered with a turban or Keski (or in the case of Sikh women, a turban or head scarf). The turban represents humility, and belief in the equality of men and women, before a universal and omnipresent God.
● Kangha – wooden comb: This is to be worn in the hair at all times, and is to be used for combing of one’s hair, it represents hygiene […] ridding oneself of impurities and what is morally undesirable.
● Kara – an iron bracelet: The circular design of the kara signifies the oneness and eternity of God and “…is the symbol of perfection […] a reminder of the wearer to be mindful of his role as spiritual aspirant and useful citizen […] the kara is also on the right hand which is the hand [with which] most people perform their deeds [and] is a constant reminder to perform good deeds.”
● Kachhera – cotton breeches: They resemble boxer shorts with a drawstring. They are a “…symbol of restraint of passion, of chastity, and a constant reminder of the prohibition of adultery, both in lusting and indeed.”
● Kirpan – most closely resembles a sword in a wooden or metal sheath, and wrapped in a fabric holster (gatra). The word itself means “mercy, grace, or magnanimity.” It “speaks of law and morality, justice and order and has become ‘an instrument of the divine itself”.” It represents spiritual power and is never to be used as a weapon.
The Sikh articles of faith make Sikhs easily identifiable wherever they are found and are a reminder of the spiritual commitment each Sikh makes to the principles of the faith.
Vaisakhi is marked with prayers and celebrations in various local Gurdwaras but Sikhs in Canada also gather to mark Vaisakhi with colourful parades or “nagar kirtans” in all major cities.
The parades are led by tBC Nagar Kirtan, 1918he “Punj Pyaaray” or the five beloved who represent the first five Sikhs to have become members of the Khalsa. They are followed by a decorated float carrying the Sikh scripture Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Sikhs follow in procession behind the float singing hymns, displaying the Sikh martial art of gatka and distributing free food to Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike.
Orange is a colour traditionally associated with Vaisakhi and is worn by many of the participants who take part in celebrations.
For Canadian Sikhs, Vaisakhi is a special time to celebrate and share their faith with their friends and neighbours. It's a time to celebrate the well over a century of Sikh history here in Canada and the accomplishments of Sikh Canadians in every facet of society.
Although Nagar Kirtans have been held in Canada since the early 1900s, in recent years in many cities they have become a massive event drawing tens of thousands of participants. Everyone is welcome to attend Khalsa Day Parades and the celebrations attract Canadians from every religious and cultural background. Feel free to ask questions and enjoy the festivities.
On behalf of the WSO team, we wish everyone a very happy and joyous Vaisakhi.