By Balvinder Kaur.
If there is the most perfect day of spring then it is the first day of month of Vaisakh.
The month of April, known as Vaisakh or Baisakh in the Indian calendar provides us with a miraculous experience. In this month we have just passed the day of the spring equinox and are in the middle of spring time when everything comes to life after the winter in which things were dormant. New vegetation brings colour and fragrance and the air is filled with green energy – the energy of opportunities. It provides us with an opportunity to rebirth, like the daffodil bulbs that come to life with the warm sunshine. The daffodils make nutritious food through their green leaves in the summer and store it for re-birthing with a sunny smile in the spring, a smile that spreads happiness to the universe. So we nurture our souls with conscious acts and burst forth with happiness.
It is on the first day of the month of Vaisakh that Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Guru of the Sikhs gave a miraculous experience to the people of Punjab in India by guiding them to the route of re-birthing into Khalsa. Guru Gobind Singh tested his followers by asking them to give him their heads. Five voulunteers came forward and Guru Ji initiated them into ‘Panj Piyare’ or ‘Beloved Five’ by baptising them with a specially prepared Amrit (sweet nectar). The five beloved ones came from different castes of the community and therefore the ceremony signifies equality of all and the birth of a casteless community. Guru Ji then asked the five beloved ones to baptise him and established a unique Master student relationship – He himself is the Master and Disciple too. The custom of initiating by taking Amrit and rebirthing into a spiritual saint-warrior is continuing to this day. Some get inspired on this day of Vaisakhi into taking Amrit and a great many people celebrate this day by going to the Gurdwara and listening to the ‘Shabad Keertan’.
It is on the first day of the month of Vaisakh that the farming community in Punjab celebrates the harvesting of the first crop of the year. The yellow flowers of mustard leaves present a pretty landscape in Punjab, mixed with joy of harvesting the crops. The naturally exuberant farmers of Punjab burst into singing and dancing Bhangra to the beat of dhol (Indian drum). Men and women wear bright clothes, usually yellow or saffron and go to the nearest mela (fair) in their town or village. The festival of Vaisakh used to exist long before the initiation of the Khalsa, but Guru Gobind Singh’s initiation of the Khalsa has added a spiritual dimension to it which is unmatched in history.
The festival of Vaisakhi as it is celebrated today is an integration of the spiritual and cultural community based events. It brings together people of shared values and the individual consciousness merges with the community consciousness. The merging of consciousness is best experienced in the Nagar Keertans organised by the Gurdwaras in many towns in India, UK and other parts of the world. Nagar Keertan literally means keertan sung in the town and it consists of a procession headed by Siri Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy scriptures), followed by other floats in which shabad Keertan is sung. Pedestrians join the procession in huge numbers and chant shabads. The streets become a sea of people dressed in bright colours interspersed by floats and displays of Gatka. The sound current of shabad penetrates your soul and you stand by bedazzled with the scene, a very heady mixture of spiritual and temporal.
I go to such a Nagar Keertan in Southall in West London which has never failed to inspire me to move along with the procession and chanting shabads. The generosity of the shopkeepers and restaurants in Southall is very impressive. They hold stalls of delicious Indian food and serve it free to the community throughout the day. It is no small feast when you think that the numbers attending the Nagar Keertan last year were around 10,000! Near the end of the day young Punjabis burst into Bhangra dance on the streets. It is certainly an event not to be missed. This year’s Nagar Keertan of Southall will take place on 12 April. Wherever you are in the world there is bound to be a Nagar Keertan near you.
Celebrating a community centred event such as Vaisakhi festival gives me the experience of extreme joy from the depth of soul – a joy that I want to share not only with my family but with the whole community and I want to shout ‘I am happy and I want you to be happy with me’. It is a time I want to be in sadh sangat (holy congregation in Gurdwara) and merge with the collective consciousness of the holy congregation. Guru Arjan says in the composition ‘Twelve Months’ – “Vaisakh only feels pleasant when one meets the Godly liberated saint.” (sggs, page 134).
Balvinder Kaur is the Chair of Guru Ram Das Project. She is a mother, runs a business and is also a KRI qualified Kundalini Yoga teacher. She teaches yoga in a community centre in Hounslow and teaches Gurmukhi whenever approached.