By Ninder Kaur
Thousands turned out in Bradford last weekend to mark the annual Sikh celebration of Vaisakhi, transforming the streets into a vibrant and colourful procession.
Each year the Vaisakhi celebrations involves a Nagar Kirtan – a Khalsa Parade involving the processional singing of holy hymns to six Sikh temples in the city of Bradford.
The Nagar Kirtan, which started at Ramgarhia Gurdwara on Bolton Road, saw a parade of people walking from Gurdwara to Gurdwara, stopping along the way for blessings, free food and drink.
Rajveer Randhawa, who was in the congregation at Wakefield Road’s Gurdwara Guru Nanak Dev Ji said:
“The turnout has been quite good but we would have liked to have seen more people show up. It’s an annual event and a time for celebration and with so many Sikhs living here in Bradford it would have been nice to show how much of a united community we are.”
With Rajveer’s comments it made me question whether people had used the excuse of not turning up because of the rainy weather or that perhaps people had become too busy with their own lives to focus on the celebration of their religion.
I thought to myself, that the excuse of a bit of wind and rain shouldn’t dampen on their spirits considering the sacrifice Sikhs made for our religion thousands of years ago. Plus this wouldn’t be an excuse you would see in other religions.
So why is it that modern Sikhs have treated this day as just another day in their calendar?
What is Vaisakhi?
Vaisakhi is a Sikh holy day that falls around April 13 or 14. The festival marks several important dates, including the spring harvest festival, the Punjabi New Year in the Nanakshahi calendar, and creation of the Khalsa when Guru Gobind Singh Ji baptised five Sikhs and bound them to a strict code of conduct in 1699.
During Vaisakhi, a Nagar Kirtan would be held as a way of bringing the message of God to the doorstep of the community. The procession would make their way along the streets singing hymns from the sacred book of worship known as Guru Granth Sahib.
How Vaisakhi was celebrated during my childhood
When I was growing up, I remember waking up on the morning of Vaisakhi day and wishing all my family members a ‘Happy Vaisakhi’.
I can admit that I never felt as strongly about its significance while growing up. During school we never learnt about Vaisakhi so in a way, it was never made easy to talk about it with my friends. My parents did a great job and engaging my brother and I in our religion when we were younger without being overly forceful.
In fact, during the build up to Vaisakhi my brother and cousins would go to Punjabi school (held at my local Gurdwara) to learn about the history and traditions. We would be so excited to tell our proud parents about what we had learnt.
Everyone in the class would then practice for a special presentation that would include a prayer recital in front of the Gurdwara’s congregation.
On the actual day we would go to the Gurdwara and pray. Everyone would be in high spirits gushing to greet you. Then, everyone would take the time to do sewa (selfless service of others), because in our religion it is important to give up our time, talents and energy to help others.
That same evening we would then go our relative’s house and greet them with mithai.
On the Sunday closest to Vaisakhi day, Bradford would hold the Nagar Kirtan procession through the city. This would unite thousands of Sikhs and non-Sikhs to celebrate this holy day.
Every year I would march with the procession and join with my community and share in an open and inclusive expression of my faith. Whilst doing the march, I would feel spiritually recharged and united with my community during this joyous occasion.
Crowds of people would be wearing blue and orange because in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh decreed that we should wear orange to brighten the world with a joyful colour.
I think this integral part of celebrating our religion has now been lost as many young people and adults don’t seem to attend the Gurdwara as much as they used to. This then leaves the next generation unaware of what our religion represents and thus they will not be able to impart their knowledge onto their own children.
With Vaisakhi being the equivalent to Christmas, I think that it should be a day that Sikhs should take as a holiday. Despite being religious or not, it should be a time to reflect on their religion. It should be a day of spiritualism and celebration with the community.
Nowadays, it seems that people are even too busy to go to Gurdwara on Vaisakhi day, which is a real shame. Only a handful of people turned up to my Gurdwara on Tuesday (Vaisakhi Day). Going back a few years, it would be filled with floods of people rejoicing in high spirits and doing sewa.
I feel the Nagar Kirtan sometimes overshadows the true significance of this date. People attend the walk for the free food or for a catch up with their friends.
Instead, the free food and the volunteering help of others should act as a reminder to be selfless and charitable towards all.
When growing up, Vaisakhi was probably the most significant celebration of the year for our family. Vaisakhi day resonates with me on a personal level because I feel the values of Vaisakhi are universal values that we can all share.
Years ago, Vaisakhi was more than a celebration of the Khalsa movement, it was a celebration of community, friendship and generosity. I hope that if people put aside their ‘so-called’ busy schedules for just one day it can be a celebration to restore all things mentioned above.