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 is celebrated as a harvest festival, a solar new year festival, and commemoration of the founding of the Khalsa (Sikh religion brotherhood) all rolled into one occasion.

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).

When is Baisakhi Celebrated?

April 13 or 14 every year. In 2019, it falls on April 14.

Where is it Celebrated?

Throughout the state of Punjab, particularly in Amritsar.

How is it Celebrated?

Baisakhi is celebrated with a great deal of feasting, bhangra dancing, folk music, and fairs. The area surrounding the Golden Temple in Amritsar becomes 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, and 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.

In addition, a Baisakhi Mela is usually held 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 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 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 stay with a cultural focus. Jugaadus Eco Hostel also has some affiliated homestays (or, alternatively, stay in one of their fun dorm rooms if you're a backpacker). The hostel organizes tours, including village visits.

Just outside the city, with a peaceful rural feel, Windsong Boutique B&B, Virasat Haveli, and Farmer's Villa are recommended.

Elsewhere in Punjab, try luxurious Citrus County Farmstay.