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A New Year festival with vibrant hues The harvest festival of Baisakhi, celebrated on April 13 every year, is a time for renewed faith and energy. People of north India, specially in the villages of Punjab, swing to the beats of drums and celebrate the day with religious fervour Dipti Srivastava

Known as 'Khalsa ka Sirjana Diwas' (the birth of Khalsa), Baisakhi today is celebrated not only by Sikhs and Punjabis, but by all communities with equal enthusiasm.

Many Punjabis and Sikhs of the city may miss observing the rituals of this harvest festival practiced in the villages, city folks celebrate Baisakhi every year in their own way. Celebrated when the Rabi crop ripens, Baisakhi is not confined to villages and fields only, but now has an urban presence.

"On this day the gurudwaras are illuminated and there is a 48-hour akhand path and bhog. The day is usually marked with kirtan, kadah prashad and langar. Womenfolk prefer to dress up in white suit with orange dupatta on this day while going to the g u r u d - wara," inf o r m s Prabhjot K a u r, who stays in Hargobind Enclave. "The real action is in the villages of Punjab when the crop is harvested. In Anandpur Sahib (the birth place of Khalsa)

Baisakhi melas are organised. But in the city, we celebrate by visiting a gurudwara with the family," she adds. Not only Sikhs, but people of other communities also visit the gurudwaras with their families and friends to take a holy dip and savour the langar and kadah prashad.

"On this day the main ritual is to go to the gurudwara, do sewa there and have langar. B e s i d e s that there is no fixed r i t u a l . People try to wear n ew cl o t h e s as it is an a u s p i - c i o u s day and w e m a ke food as per the kids' liking. As it is a farming festival, the rituals are also very simple. Usually kheer and kada prashad are made in homes also," explains Anupreet Jhajj of Vasundhara Enclave.

For Sikhs it holds special significance, as on this very day their 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh, organised the order of Khalsa and gave a new impetus to the teachings of the earlier nine gurus. "As this is an auspicious day many people go for baptism in g u r u d - waras all over India. As far as the tradition is concerned it varies from family to family. At my parents' place there is a path on this day and bhog. After that there is distribution of kadah prashad," says Kanwaljot Kaur of Gurgaon.

As normally it is a holiday people like to meet each other and enjoy the festivity. "This is basically a rural festival, celebrated specially by farmers. They rejoice over the harvest of a good crop and pray for prosperity in the coming year. In urban areas it's time for feasting for the entire community. The whole family meets for lunch or dinner and we enjoy the meal together, no matter what has been cooked," says Mandeep Kaur of Noida.

In cities due to fast-paced life and paucity of time, there are some variations in culture and traditions also. But no matter what, be it Poila Baisakh of Bengal, Baisakhi of Punjab, Bihu of Assam or Vishu of Tamil Nadu, the festive season is in full swing with diverse communities in the city celebrating their New Year all at the same time in their own different ways. And the legend goes…

The story of Baisakhi festival began with the martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur, the ninth Sikh Guru who was publicly beheaded by Aurungzeb, the Mughal ruler. Aurungzeb wanted to spread Islam in India and Guru Tegh Bahadur stood up for the rights of Hindus and Sikhs and the Mughals therefore saw him as a threat.

After the death of Guru Teg Bahadur, his son, Guru Gobind Singh became the next Guru of the Sikhs. Guru Gobind Singh wished to instill courage and strength to sacrifice among his fellow men. To fulfill his dream, Guru Gobind Singh called on the historic Baisakhi Day congregation of Sikhs at Keshgarh Sahib near Anandpur on March 30, 1699.

When thousands of people assembled for Guru's blessing, Guru Gobind Singh came out of the tent carrying an unsheathed sword. He gave a powerful speech to infuse courage amongst fellowmen. At the end of the speech he said that every great deed was preceded by equally great sacrifice and demanded that anyone prepared to give his life come forward. On the Guru's third call, a young man offered himself. The Guru took the man inside a tent and reappeared alone with a bloodied sword. Guru Gobind Singh asked for another volunteer. This was repeated another four times until a total of five Sikhs had gone into the tent with the Guru. Everyone present was worried and though that Guru Gobind Singh has killed five Sikhs. At this point Guru presented all the five men before the people. Every one present was surprised to see all five men alive and wearing turbans and saffron-coloured garments.

These five men were called Panj Piara or 'Beloved Five' by the Guru. The Guru blessed them with a Pahul ceremony. In an iron vessel, the Guru stirred with a sword called Khanda Sahib, the batasha that his wife, Mata Sundari Ji had put into water. The congregation recited verses from scriptures as the Guru performed the sacred ceremony. The water was now considered the sacred nectar of immortality called amrit. It was first given to the five volunteers, then drunk by the guru and later distributed amongst the crowd. With this ceremony, all those present, irrespective of caste or creed, became members of the Khalsa Pantha (the order of the Pure Ones).

The Guru regarded the Panch Piaras as the first members of the Khalsa and the embodiment of the Guru himself. With the constitution of the Panj Pyare the high and low castes were amalgamated into one as among the original Panj Pyare, there was one Khatri, shopkeeper; one Jat, farmer; one Chhimba, calico printer; one Ghumar, water-carrier; and one Nai, a barber. The Guru gave the surname of Singh (Lion) to every Sikh and also took the name for himself. From Guru Gobind Rai he became Guru Gobind Singh. This was seen as a great step in national integration because society at that time was divided on the basis of religion, caste and social status.

Guru Gobind Singh also bestowed on Khalsa, the unique Sikh identity. He directed Sikhs to wear five K's: Kesh or long hair, Kangha or comb, Kripan or dagger, Kachha or shorts and a Kara or bracelet. Guru Gobind Singh also discontinued the tradition of Gurus and asked all Sikhs to accept the Grantha Sahib as their eternal guide. He urged them to come to him with their hair and beard unshorn to get baptized by the sword.

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