Blog: What is Vaisakhi?

Written by Gurpreet Toor 

As an international student studying law in the UK, finding a sense of community is essential. Luckily, I belong to a global community as part of the Sikh faith. April is a key month for our faith as we celebrate Vaisakhi, one of the most important dates in the Sikh calendar. In this blog, I’ll explain the significance of Vaisakhi and how it’s celebrated.  

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History of Vaisakhi 

Vaisakhi was, even before the birth of the Sikh faith, celebrated in the Punjab region of India as a harvest festival. However, the event garnered a profound spiritual significance in the year 1699. This was when the tenth Guru, Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji, chose to declare the founding of the Khalsa (collective of initiated Sikhs). Thereafter Vaisakhi has also been referred to as ‘Khalsa Sajna Diwas’ (the day of the Khalsa’s creation) within the community.  

In mid-April 1699, Guru Gobind Singh Ji gathered the Sikh congregation from across the world. Vaisakhi was traditionally a time to come together to celebrate through meditation and service, but the community was facing oppression, tyranny and injustices. It was here that Guru Gobind Singh Ji initiated a force of saint soldiers who could stand up to these injustices and religious persecution.  

The Panj Pyare (the five beloved) 

Carrying a sword, Guru Gobind Singh Ji tested the commitment of the congregation and asked for five volunteers to step forward and sacrifice themselves for their faith. Five men stepped forward, passing the Guru Ji’s test.  

Because these five were willing to submit themselves to the Guru's will, they were, in turn, blessed by liberation from the cycle of life and death (while still living and serving in the world). These five became known in the Sikh tradition as the Panj Pyare (five beloved ones).  

They were from all around the Indian subcontinent and came from all walks of life (a farmer, a watercarrier, a barber, a merchant, and a clothing maker). Their backgrounds signify the universality of the Sikh faith. Everyone has equal standing before the Universal Creator. To further reinforce this, all Sikh men would be given the surname of Singh (which means lion) and Sikh women would be given the surname of Kaur (which means princess).  

The five Ks  

The Panj Pyare were the first initiates into the Khalsa Panth by taking ‘Amrit sanskar’ (baptism).  

Today, this community has spread around the globe. How do Sikhs celebrate Vaisakhi worldwide today? Many Sikhs choose Vaisakhi as the time to become baptised and initiate themselves. 

After 1699, Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji required all initiated Sikhs to show their faith by wearing five special items at all times called the ‘panj kakaars’, also known as the five Ks.   

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Photo Caption: Gurpreet’s father wearing the five K’s after his initiation during Vaisakhi 2022 
  1. Kesh – uncut hair. Sikhs believe that hair is a sign of holiness and strength. A person's hair is part of God's creation, so Sikhs do not cut hair or beards. Although it’s not one of the five Ks, initiated Sikhs are also required to cover their heads. Many Sikhs wear a turban (dastaar or keski) and women may also wear a headscarf. This was designed by Guru Sahib Ji to give Sikhs a distinct look, so that they would stand out from the crowd, and become instantly recognisable. 

  1. Kanga – comb. Kept with the hair, the small wooden comb keeps the uncut hair (kesh) neat and tidy. It symbolises discipline and orderliness.  

  1. Kara – iron bracelet. In the shape of a circle, it’s a reminder that God has no beginning and no end. It also acts as a reminder that a Sikh should think twice before doing anything with their hands which the Guru would not approve of. The Kara also had a historic martial purpose, being worn in large numbers on the arm to deflect sword blows. 

  1. Kachera – cotton shorts. Designed for comfort and freedom, the kachera is a symbol of a Sikh soldier's willingness to be ready at a moment's notice for battle or for defence. It also signifies self-control and restraint.  

  1. Kirpan – a small ceremonial sword. The Kirpan is a symbol of dignity, power, and courage. It reminds Sikhs to always fight for justice and to protect the weak.  

Celebrating Vaisakhi   

As was the tradition back then, this is a time for the congregation to assemble either at a Gurdwara (a Sikh place of worship) or at home, and practice their faith through singing, meditation, and selfless service. Many communities choose to hold "Nagar kirtans" (Nagar means town; kirtan means the signing of hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy scripture which is treated as a living Guru). A Nagar kirtan is a procession led by five initiated Sikhs through a city's or town's streets where Guru Granth Sahib's hymns are recited while langar (free food) is served to those taking part and passers by. 

My hometown of Surrey, B.C. in Canada has held a large Nagar kirtan for Vaisakhi, attracting an estimated half a million attendees yearly! This is an optimistic time of the year when the community comes together to celebrate our Sikh identity. The celebrations often attract non-Sikh residents who are drawn out of curiosity and report being moved by the community's sense of hospitality.  

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Photo Caption: Vaisakhi celebrations outside Guru Nanak Gurdwara Smethwick on Smethwick High Street 

While living in Birmingham, I was honoured to have experienced the Vaisakhi festivities at the Guru Nanak Gurdwara Smethwick on Smethwick High Street. Birmingham's Vaisakhi brought a sense of joy and comfort stemming from a familiar sense of community. I recommend that anyone who wants to learn more about the faith and experience this sense of community attend for themselves.  

If you’d like to find out more about Vaisakhi or the Sikh faith, then get in touch with UoB’s Sikh Society. The Society aims to educate both Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike, as well as provide sociable opportunities to meet new people. Alongside social and sports activities, the Sikh Society also arranges Gurdwara visits, ideal if you’re new to the area or want to learn more about how can pray and meditate during your time as a UoB student.  

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about Vaisakhi. To everyone celebrating this weekend and throughout the month, I wish you a Happy Vaisakhi.  


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