The people of Punjab, one of the
richest states in India, get into a different mood during the festival
of Baisakhi. Sikhism as a religion originated from this northern state
that is home to some of the most sturdy and fun-loving people in this
country. Baisakhi is celebrated at the end of months of hard labour
that have gone into the production of the rabi crop, the first harvest
of the year. The festival comes as a welcome relief to farmers after
the crop has been harvested and sold off in the markets, leaving them
free to join in the revelries. According to the solar calendar,
Baisakhi, which normally falls on 14th April every year,
marks the beginning of the New Year. Some of the other parts of India,
notably the northern and eastern states, also celebrate their New Year
around this time of the year.
are grateful to the Almighty for his benevolence, a good harvest and
general prosperity. As the first rays of light gently caress the
landscape of Punjab, people get ready to celebrate the day of
Baisakhi. A refreshing bath in the rivers and tanks is the order of
the day, though life is not as interesting for city people because
they have to make do with the bathrooms in their homes. The morning of
the big day is abuzz with activities. Keeping in mind the purpose of
the festival, a visit to a temple or gurudwara (place of worship of
the Sikhs) is an important feature of the day. So if you are in the
neighbourhood of a temple or gurudwara in Punjab or in other parts of
India, dont be surprised to see people dressed in their Sunday
best making a beeline for these places. People visit these places of
worship with mithai (sweets) and money equivalent to one-tenth of
their total produce or whatever a person is capable of giving.
A number of fairs, or melas are organised at this time of the year.
The otherwise sleepy villages wear a festive look at this time, with
cattle fairs being held all over the place. Dont forget to taste
the mouth-watering delicacies like ice cream, flossy sugar lollipops
and chaat (a spicy concoction), consumed in large quantities by the
young and old alike with great relish. Quaint wooden and clay toys vie
with exquisite handicrafts and mundane household goods for shelf
space. People come from far and wide to attend these annual fairs and
join in the general hustle and bustle of the day.
As a festival, Baisakhi is of great religious significance for the
Sikhs. The panch piyara (the five loved ones) of the Sikh religion
were inititiated by Guru Gobind Singh (the tenth and last Sikh guru)
on Baisakhi. At Anandpur Sahib near Chandigarh, the khalsa, which
means pure, and also designates the Sikh army, was
established/decorated (khalsa sajaya) on this auspicious day. The five
loved ones were chosen from among men who were grossly mistreated
because they belonged to the lowest rung of the Hindu caste hierarchy.
They came from different places like Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra
Pradesh and Bihar. The first lesson on how to be a true Sikh was
imparted to these people by Guru Gobind Singh, who asked them not to
cut their hair or beard (kesh), to always carry a comb (kangha), a
sword (kirpan) so that
they would be always ready for battle, to wear an underwear (kachcha)
and an iron bangle (kada). These are popularly known as the five Ks
and are mandatory for every Sikh.
The Hindu custom of taking a dip in the holy Ganga to wash away ones
sins corresponds to the Sikh ritual of bathing in the sarovar (lake)
to purify the body and soul on the day of Baisakhi. The sarovar is a
huge tank surrounding the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the most sacred
pilgrimage centre for the Sikhs. The tank is filled to the brim with
water that is collected from all the holy rivers of India.
Charity begins at home this well-used cliché is not
just a trite phrase in Punjabi homes on Baisakhi day. Children are
taught to perform acts of charity on this auspicious occasion and are
expected to continue to do so all through the year.
Though a community festival, Baisakhi is a private affair celebrated
in individual homes. As is the custom in India, houses look spanking
clean on the big day. Meeting with friends and relatives is an
integral part of the festival. People invite each other over for a
meal. No puja (worship) is performed at home on this day. Meat and
alcohol are part of the days fare. For a change, dietary
precautions are thrown to the winds and the taste buds are pampered.
Fathers and brothers share their good fortune with married daughters
and sisters by sending their families baskets full of fruits like the
ber (a kind of berry) and lookat (a small, yellow, plum-like fruit)
and boxes of mithai (sweets). On this day, the accent is on spreading
the spirit of bonhomie and good cheer throughout the community. So if
you are lucky enough to have some Punjabi friends, dont forget
to pay them a visit on this day, as you would be stuffed with lassi
(curd shaken with water and sugar), mithai and other delicacies.
Dancing and singing go hand in hand with the spirit of Baisakhi.