Guru Nanak Jayanti
Guru Nanak Dev, the first Sikh guru and the founder of the Sikh religion, was born on the full moon day in the month of Kartik as per the Hindu calendar. Hence, his birthday is celebrated as Guru Nanak Jayanti. The date falls in October or November in the Gregorian calendar. Guru Nanak was born in 1469 A.D. at Rai-Bhoi-di Talwandi, some 30 miles from Lahore, in the present Pakistan.
The Sikhs visit Gurdwaras where special programs are arranged and kirtans ( religious songs ) are sung. Houses and Gurdwaras are decorated and lit up to add to the festivities. Guru Nanak Jayanti marks the culmination of the Prabhat Pheris, the early morning processions that start from the Gurdwaras ( Sikh temples ) and then proceeds around the localities singing ‘shabads’ ( hymns ). The celebration also includes the three-day Akhand path, during which the holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib is read continuously, from beginning to end without a break.
On the day of the festival, the Guru Granth Sahib is also carried in a procession on a float, decorated with flowers, throughout the village or city. Five armed guards, who represent the Panj Pyaras, head the procession carrying the Nishan Sahib ( the Sikh flag ). Local bands playing religious music form a special part of the procession.Free sweets and community lunches, or langar, are offered to everyone irrespective of religious faith. Men, women, and children, participate in this karseva as service to the community by cooking food and distributing it in the ‘Guru ka Langar’, with the traditional ‘Karah Prasad’.
Guru Nanak Dev’s life served as a beacon light for his age. He was a great seer, saint and mystic. He was a prolific poet and a unique singer of God’s laudation. A prophet of peace, love, truth and renaissance, he was centuries ahead of his times. His universal message is as fresh and true even today as it was in the past and Sikhs all over the world – practice what Guru Nanak Dev preached, to reaffirm your beliefs in the teachings of your founder.
Holla Mohalla Sikh Festivals
Holla Mohalla is an annual Sikh martial festival and is celebrated in the month of Phalguna ( March ), a day after Holi. Mock martial are organized on this day. Holla Mohalla serves as an occassion to reaffirm their commitment to the Khalsa Panth. Holla Mohalla, or Hola Mohalla, is the festival of Punjab. Celebrated over three days, the festival retains the character of fun and enjoyment that Holi has embodied. In addition to this, it is also a community festival that brings people together in an atmosphere of sharing and caring.
It is also an occasion to remember the valor of the Sikhs in battling the enemies of the land. The festival day begins with early morning prayers at the Gurdwaras. The Guru Granth Sahib is ceremoniously taken out and bathed ritually with milk and water. Thereafter, it is placed on a platform and venerated. Kirtans are sung, the prasad is consecrated and everyone shares a part of it. After the service, community lunch is served at the common hall. Evening is a time for numerous cultural activities.
The Nihang Sikhs, who are part of the Sikh army that Guru Gobind Singh founded, exhibit their martial skills and daring through mock battles, sword-fighting displays, archery and horse-riding exercises. The Nihangs also splash color on the spectators, and everyone follows suit. Stories and songs about the life, valor and wisdom of the ten Sikh gurus, right from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh, are told and recited.
Music, dance and poetry programs and competitions are held at many venues. A procession is carried through the important Gurdwaras in town marking the highlights of the last day celebrations. Holla Mohalla, while being an occasion to rejoice, is also a time to restore faith in the Khalsa Panth and rededicate oneself to the service of the community. Everyone, irrespective of their social standing, involves themselves in kar seva – manual labor, such as helping in the langars or public kitchens, cleaning the Gurdwaras and washing dishes.
Sikh Festival Lohri
Lohri is a festival connected with the solar year. Generally, it is an accepted fact that this festival is celebrated to worship fire. This is particularly a happy occasion for the couples, who would be celebrating Lohri for the first time after marriage and, also for the family who are blessed with a son as he would be celebrating his first ever Lohri. Celebrated enthusiastically in Haryana, Punjab, Delhi and parts of Himachal Pradesh, it signifies the beginning of the end of winter.
The day begins with children collecting money from houses in the neighborhood. Children go from door to door singing songs in praise of Dulha Bhatti, a Punjabi version of Robin Hood who robbed the rich and helped the poor. These “visitors” are given either money or gajak, til bhuga, moong phali, gur and rewri. In the evening, a bonfire is lit, winter savories are served around the bonfire and everyone gathers around it. Munchies, collected from each house, are thrown into the fire.
The festival assumes greater significance if there has been a happy event in the family during the elapsed year, like the birth of a male child or marriage. The family then plays host to relatives and friends, wherein the eateries take a back seat and merry-making takes over. Bhangra, dhol, gidda and light-hearted flirtation rein the overall scenario. Liquor flows freely and guests are served dinner. A popular belief in this region is that if someone seeks a radish roasted in the bonfire lit by a family that has reason to celebrate, then blessings are bestowed on the family of the seeker as well.
Geographically speaking, the earth leans towards the sun along the Tropic of Capricorn ( Makara Rekha ) from the day following Lohri, also known as Winter Solstice. The earth, farthest from the sun at this point of time, starts its journey towards the sun along its elliptical orbit, thus heralding in the onset of spring. It is this transition which is celebrated as Lohri in Northern India, as Makara Sankranti in the central part of the country and as Pongal Sankranti in South India.
In South India, the festival is spread over three days and signifies the beginning of harvesting season. A rath yatra is taken out from the Kandaswamy temple in Chennai on Pongal. The day is celebrated as Ganga Sagara in West Bengal. According to a belief, Hindus purify their sins by taking bath in the Ganges. A big fair is also held on the Sagara Island, 64 km from the Diamond Harbor where the Ganga meets the Bay of Bengal.
Call it Lohri, Pongal or Sankranti, the festival conveys the same message that the bond of brotherhood and the spirit of oneness should prevail despite all odds.
Baisakhi Sikh Festival
For people in northern parts of India, especially the Sikhs, Baisakhi is a mega event – it is a religious festival, harvest festival and New Year’s Day all rolled into one. In April, this day marks the beginning of the Hindu solar New Year. In fact, this day is celebrated all over the country as New Year day, under different names. For the Sikh community, Baisakhi has a very special meaning. It was on this day that their tenth and last Guru – Guru Gobind Singh – organized the Sikhs into Khalsa or the ‘pure ones’. By doing so, he eliminated the differences of high and low and established that all human beings are equal.
Sikhs assign quite a different meaning to Baisakhi, and if you happen to be in a Punjabi village to catch the men performing the wild bhangra dance, you’ll get the clear picture. This strenuous dance tells the story of the agricultural process, from tilling the soil through harvesting. As the dholak ( drum ) changes beats, the dancing sequence progresses, dramatizing plowing, sowing, weeding, reaping, and finally celebrating. Baisakhi also commemorates the day in 1689 when Guru Gobing Singh founded the Khalsa, the fighting Sikh brotherhood that donned the distinctive Sikh outfits.
Sikhs visit temples, such as the Golden Temple in Amritsar, where the holy Granth is read, commemorating the day on which the Guru asked five volunteers to offer their lives, then took them one at a time into a tent. He emerged each time with a bloody sword, although he had in fact sacrificed a goat. In honor the “Beloved Five,” a series of parades are held, in which sets of five men walk in front of the holy book with swords drawn. When the ceremony is over, a round of feasting, music-making, and dancing begins, amid the blossoming flowers and harvested grain.
Baisakhi has special significance for two of India’s major religious groups. For the Hindus, it is the start of the New Year, and is celebrated with requisite bathing, partying, and worshipping. It’s believed that thousands of years ago, Goddess Ganga descended to earth and in her honor, many Hindus gather along the sacred Ganges River for ritual baths. The action is centered in the holy cities along the Ganges in north India, or in Srinagar’s Mughal Gardens, Jammu’s Nagbani Temple, or anywhere in Tamil Nadu. Hindus plant poles ( wrapped in flags of god-embroidered silk ) in front of their homes, and hang pots of brass, copper or silver on top.
Children wear garlands of flowers and run through the streets singing “May the new year come again and again!” In Kerala, the festival is called ‘Vishu’. It includes fireworks, shopping for new clothes and interesting displays called ‘Vishu Kani’. These are arrangements of flowers, grains, fruits, cloth, gold, and money are viewed early in the morning, to ensure a year of prosperity. In Assam, the festival is called Bohag Bihu, and the community organizes massive feasts, music and dancing.