Wednesday December 12, 2018

Baisakhi: A slice of Punjab on a foreign land!

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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.

 

 

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‘Peace Corridor’ Between India And Pakistan Open For Sikh Community

India blamed Pakistan for supporting a Sikh separatist movement several decades ago and allowing the remaining leadership of that movement to live in Pakistan.

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Pakistan, Sikh
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses during a ceremony in Kartarpur, Pakistan. VOA

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan led a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday for a new border crossing with arch rival India, days after New Delhi announced it would support a corridor to facilitate its minority Sikh community to visit one of their holiest sites across the border.

The fenced crossing dubbed a “corridor of peace” will link Indian border city Dera Baba Nanak, to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, the final resting place of Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak in Pakistani Punjab.

The Kartarpur corridor is supposed to be completed and opened well ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of the Sikh guru on November 23, 2019. It will provide year round visa-free access to Sikh pilgrims from India after more than seven decades.

In a speech after laying the foundation stone, Khan said Pakistan and India have both made mistakes in the past but they now need to work together to improve ties.

Sikh
Sikh pilgrim wait for food at the shrine of their spiritual leader Guru Nanak Dev in Kartarpur, Pakistan. VOA

“War is out of question between our two countries, which are equipped with nuclear weapons. It will be really crazy for both of them to even think about going to war,” the Pakistani leader warned. “Our countries must stop blame game. If France and Germany can leave their bloody past behind why can’t India and Pakistan break the shackles of the past.”

Khan assured Sikh visitors from India that they will find their worship place and surrounding complex a completely developed structure equipped with all facilities and comforts when they visit Pakistan for the 550th birthday celebration of the Sikh guru.

India’s and Pakistan’s independence from Britain in 1947 divided the Punjab province, where Sikhism was born.

The idea to open the corridor has been floated around since the 1980s, never coming to fruition due to the tumultuous relationship between the two nuclear armed South Asian neighbors.

The proposal received a fresh impetus in August when Pakistan’s army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, told Indian minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, who was in Pakistan to attend the oath taking ceremony of Khan, Islamabad would be willing to open the corridor.

General Bajwa was among the big gathering of guests at the groundbreaking ceremony, including diplomats, Indian journalists, Sikh devotees and a ministerial level delegation representing Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Last week, the Indian cabinet, chaired by Modi, approved the move.

On the Indian side

Indian Vice President Venkaiah Naidu performed the groundbreaking Monday on his side of the corridor at a ceremony just two kilometers from the Pakistani border.

Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj Wednesday played down expectations the corridor could lead to the revival of official talks between the two countries.

“The moment Pakistan stops terrorist activities in India, the dialogue can start but the dialogue is not connected with only the Kartarpur corridor,” Indian media quoted her as telling reporters in Hyderabad ahead of the groundbreaking on the Pakistani side.

India, Sikh
Indian VP Naidu (3L), Union ministers Nitin Gadkari (6L) and Hardeep Singh Puri (5R), Punjab Governor VP Singh Badnore (2L), and other officials stand for the national anthem during the foundation stone-laying ceremony for the planned Dera Baba Nanak-Kartarpur Sahib road corridor to the Pakistan border, at Dera Baba Nanak. VOA

The Indian external affairs minister had also been invited to attend the ceremony by her Pakistani counterpart, but she expressed her inability to undertake the visit due to prior commitments.

Swaraj also requested in a tweet that Islamabad “expedite construction of the corridor in order to ensure that our citizens can pay their respects at the Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib using the corridor as soon as possible.”

Previously, Indian pilgrims had to take a visa and arrive in the Pakistani border city Lahore before taking the 2-3 hour journey to the shrine. The new corridor, which is planned to remain open year round, will cut their journey to a mere 6 kilometers.

The temple is visible on clear days from a viewing stage on the Indian side, where religious devotees gather every day to have a glimpse of it.

Impetus for peace

Politicians on both sides have hailed the decision as an impetus for peace between the two countries that have fought several wars in their seventy-year existence. In the last few years, violence, including cross border shelling from both sides, has intensified in the disputed Kashmir region that both sides claim.

Sikh
A Sikh pilgrim visits the shrine of their spiritual leader Guru Nanak Dev in Kartarpur, Pakistan. VOA

Pakistan Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry called it a victory for the peace lobby in both countries.

However, other analysts were less optimistic.

“I don’t think it has any enduring significance apart from being stand alone. I see it as pure symbolism and I don’t see it as any change in either country’s basic positions,” said Ajai Sahni, the executive director of New Delhi based Institute for Conflict Management.

He said the move was an effort by the Indian government to please the Sikh community ahead of next year’s general elections.

“Everyone is looking for whatever they can do to get a few extra votes,” he said.

Days before the ground-breaking ceremony, India complained to Pakistan about not allowing officials from its High Commission access to Indian pilgrims visiting Pakistan for the Guru Nanak birth anniversary.

India Pakistan, Sikh
Indian Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu, third left, stands for the national anthem during the foundation stone-laying ceremony for the planned road corridor to the Pakistan border, at Dera Baba Nanak,. VOA

The Indian Foreign Minister released a statement expressing “grave concern at the reports of attempts being made during the ongoing visit of the Indian pilgrims to Pakistan, to incite communal disharmony and intolerance and promote secessionist tendencies with the objective of undermining India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal rejected the charges. “India is a habitual alleger and it has become its second nature to blame Pakistan for any negative development, without blinking an eye,” he asserted.

India blamed Pakistan for supporting a Sikh separatist movement several decades ago and allowing the remaining leadership of that movement to live in Pakistan.

Also Read: Vow To Hold Peace Talks With India: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan

The chief minister of Indian Punjab, Amarinder Singh, while welcoming the Kartarpur corridor opening, refused an invitation to attend the ground-breaking ceremony citing Pakistan’s support for terrorism in Indian Punjab.

“In the past 18 months we have smashed more than 15 terror modules. We have found Kashmiri terrorists in Punjab. How are we expected to tolerate all this?” he told Indian newspaper The Hindu. (VOA)