Guide to the Baisakhi Festival in Punjab

A Great Harvest Festival and Celebration of the Sikh Religion

Harvest Dance in Punjab, India

Jenner Zimmermann / Getty Images

In the Indian state of Punjab, Baisakhi—also written as Vaisakhi—is celebrated as a spring harvest festival, a solar new year festival, and commemoration of the founding of the Khalsa (Sikh religion brotherhood) all rolled into one occasion. While the holiday of Baisakhi is celebrated by Sikhs and Hindus in different ways throughout India, this guide dives into the Sikh festivities in the Punjab region of Northern India.

History

In 1699, Guru Gobind Singh (the 10th Sikh Guru) decided to discontinue the tradition of gurus in Sikhism. He proclaimed the Granth Sahib (Holy Scripture) to be the eternal Sikh Guru. He then formed the order of the Khalsa by selecting five fearless leaders of his followers, who were prepared to lay down their lives to save others. This took place at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab and effectively created Sikhism as it exists today. The reason was to instill courage and confidence in people, so as to defend religious freedom during the period of Mughal rule in India.

All Sikhs were instructed to wear five distinctive symbols of their new identity: kesh (uncut hair as respect for what God created), kanga (a small comb for cleanliness), kara (a steel bracelet as a reminder of God), kirpan (a sword for self-protection), and kachera (modest cotton undershorts). They were also all given the same surname—Singh—to reflect the belief that all human beings are equal.

When Is Baisakhi Celebrated?

Baisakhi marks the first day of the month of Vaisakha in the Hindu calendar, and it always falls in mid-April, usually April 13 or 14 in the Gregorian calendar. The Hindu calendar is a lunisolar calendar, meaning it contains elements that are based on the moon cycles and others based on the sun. The date of Baisakhi depends on the sun, so the date doesn't move around as drastically as with the lunar festivals.

Where Is It Celebrated?

Baisakhi is celebrated in many parts of India in different ways, but the Sikh celebration is concentrated in the Punjab state in Northern India near the border with Pakistan, especially in and around the historical city of Amritsar. Expect lots of bhangra dancing in the streets and folk music performances, especially in the Old Part of the city around the Golden Temple. The lively bazaars that surround the temple are extra exuberant during Baisakhi, becoming carnival-like.

The Baisakhi fairs are organized all over Punjab and are a festival highlight for many people. Locals dress up in their finest clothes, sing, and dance. There are races, wrestling bouts, mock fights with Sikh kirpans (swords), acrobatics, and folk music. Numerous stalls selling trinkets, handicrafts, and local cuisine add to the vibrancy.

One of the most popular fairs is the Baisakhi Mela at 17th-century Pinjore Gardens in Pinjore City. In addition, a Baisakhi Mela usually takes place in the lead-up to the festival at Dilii Haat in Delhi.

What Rituals Are Performed During Baisakhi?

In the morning, Sikhs visit the gurudwara (temple) to attend special payers. Most Sikhs strive to visit the revered Golden Temple in Amritsar or Anandpur Sahib, where the Khalsa was pronounced. The Granth Sahib, or Holy Scripture, is bathed with milk and water, placed on a throne, and read. Karah prasad (sacred pudding made from butter, sugar and flour) is distributed.

In the afternoon, the Granth Sahib is taken out during a procession, accompanied by music, singing, chanting, and performances. Sikhs also offer also kar serva by helping in the daily chores of the gurudwaras. This is a traditional symbol of humanity for all Sikhs.

Experience Baisakhi at a Homestay

One of the best ways to get into the community spirit of the festival is to stay at a homestay and join in the celebrations with your hosts.

In Amritsar, top homestays include Mrs. Bhandari's Guesthouse and Amritsar Bed & Breakfast. Rajjitvilas is a luxury-concept homestay with a cultural focus. Just outside the city, with a peaceful rural feel Virasat Haveli and Farmer's Villa are recommended. Elsewhere in Punjab, try luxurious Citrus County Farmstay.

Other Baisakhi Tours

City on Pedals conducts tours to local villages from Amritsar for Baisakh, which is an ideal way to experience the festival with locals in a rural farming environment. Backpacker hostels such as Go Stops also offer special Baisakhi festival experiences.

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