Baisakhi: A slice of Punjab on a foreign land!



By Shilpika Srivastava

For centuries, Baisakhi has marked the time when farmers get ready to put their sickles to harvest and celebrate a new year with much enthusiasm and vigor.

However, given the diversity of India, the festival is celebrated almost all over the nation by people from all walks of life.  It is fêted as ‘Vaishaka’ in Bihar, ‘Rongali Bihu’ in Assam, ‘Puthandu’ in Tamil Nadu, ‘Nobo Barsha’ in Bengal, ‘Pooram Vishu’ in the state of Kerala.

Celebrated on April 13th of each year and on April 14th once in 36 years, Baisakhi enjoys a special place in the land of Punjab because it marks the establishment of Khalsa Panth by the 10th Guru GobindSingh ji on April 13th 1699.  Astrologically, the festival’s date is also of great significance because the Sun marks entry into Mesh Rashi (Aries) on the day, thus the festival is also known as Mesha Sankranti.

With around 1,000 Punjabi speaking people, the city of Prince George in British Columbia (B.C.), Canada, remains quiet and dull throughout the year, but gets transformed into a lively party during the annual Sikh festival of Baisakhi.

“It’s cold here on Baisakhi, but it doesn’t dim my excitement. Visiting my neighboring Gurudwara kick starts my Baisakhi day for sure,” Rashmeet Kaur Dhillon, a resident of Prince Georgia told NewsGram.

A cheerful shout of “Jatta aai Baisakhi”, enlivens the atmosphere as the crowd breaks into the Bhangra and Gidda dance to express their joy. Energetic movements of the body accompanied by ballads and dhol music beautifully expresses the everyday farming scenes of sowing, harvesting, winnowing and gathering of crops – that’s a lively scene from Southall, the heart of Sikh community in London.

The Southall procession, called Nagar Kirtan, is led by five ‘panj pyare,’ who are dressed in traditional yellow attire along with turbans of the same color, represent the first five members of the Khalsa.

“I wait entire year for Baisakhi just to attend the Nagar Kirtan. It’s this time of the year, which gives me a chance to experience the nostalgia of being at home once a year. My relatives and friends who live in remote areas and are not able to attend a Gurudwara regularly drive for hours to celebrate Baisakhi at Southall. It feels like home here at this time of year,” said Ramandeep Singh excitedly to NewsGram.

From Southall, NewsGram went to Surrey, B.C., the most western province of Canada. Ramina Kaur, a resident told us about the significance of Baisakhi. “For us, it is the one event we anticipate for the entire year. In Surrey, there is an annual Nagar Kirtan where thousands of Sikhs gather to celebrate this auspicious occasion. It’s very dear to the hearts of us all because it reminds us of our roots and the most important staples of our faith and identity as Sikhs. Baisakhi reminds us that we have a unique life purpose to serve the world, remain humble, have faith and be fearless.”

In Fairfax, Virginia, USA, the parking lot of the new suburban Gurdwara gets jam-packed in the evening for the celebration of Baisakhi. Men come dressed in their best attires and turbans, and women make sure to get dressed in the silk salvar with the colorful and vibrant silk print kamiz coupled with beautiful transparent long scarves draped over their heads.

Also called as the festival of harvest, Baisakhi paves way for delicious food items – all homemade and cooked with love. Ramina adds, “We typically distribute sweets and set up different stalls on the day of the parade to give out samosas, bread pakoras. Food items range from curry chawal, chaat papri to pizzas – all for free – and everybody over eats.”

The streets of Surrey transforms into colorful Punjab with members of the Sikh motorcycle club moving ahead of ‘panj pyare.’ The procession includes various floats where one carries the Guru Granth Sahib. Till the time parade ends, dadhis (minstrel or bard) sing Punjabi folk songs and teenagers perform Bhangra and Gidda. The lively parade is performed at such a big level that even the local Mayor and Indo-Canadian MPs also mingle with the revellers.

When NewsGram asked if the natives are really ‘cool’ about the parade, Ramina responded, “Some of the residents can become racist and feel angry as the routes get blocked resulting in traffic due to Nagar Kirtan. Also, there are lots of waste and garbage; however, now we have teams to keep the event environmentally friendly.”

On the other hand, Pakistan’s Gurudwara Panja Sahib in Hassanabdal, some 45 kilometers away from Islamabad, attracts thousands of believers from all over the world, especially India, to celebrate the festival and show their gratitude towards Baba Guru Nanak, the first of the Sikh Gurus.

“Being a follower of Sikhism, it was my dream to visit the Panja Sahib at least once in my life. I’ll pray that the two countries resolve their issues soon and allow their people to visit each other without any visa restrictions,” expressed Badal Singh Kohli, a New Delhi resident, who reached Pakistan to visit the Panja Sahib.

While Ramina from Surrey went nostalgic when NewsGram enquired how much she misses India especially on Baisakhi. “Sometimes I do miss Anandpur Sahib where the actual events happened in 1699. However, at the same time, since we have such a large celebration here, it really satisfies that longing and helps us feel that we brought a bit of Punjab into a foreign land,” she proudly adds.

No doubt, from Canada to Pakistan, the festival of Baisakhi revives the Desi community. Indeed, the day brings to life a scene from the original Punjab on the foreign land. NewsGram wishes all its readers a very happy and joyous Baisakhi.