Baisakhi marks the Punjabi New Year, and is celebrated every year around 14th April. It is also the harvest festival of Punjab and Haryana.
New Year in India
In the month of March-April we ring in the New Year as per Indian calendars.
The calendars in India follow both the Sun and Moon, i,e Sauramana and Chandramana calendars.
States such as Karnataka, Andhra, Maharashtra and a few others, which follow the Chandramana calendar celebrate their New Year respectively, based on the day after the New Moon.
While others who follow the Sauramana calendar, i.e. states such as Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Punjab- and Assam celebrate the New Year typically on April 14th / 15th, as the day when the Sun transits into Aries Zodiac, also called Mesha Sankranti. Sankranti stands for transit and Mesha is the Aries Zodiac.
More on this in our article: Indian New Year.
One of 3 Sikh festivals
Baisakhi is one of three main festivals chosen by Guru Amar Das, the third of the 10 founding Sikh Gurus, the other two festivals being, Maha Shivaratri and Deepavali.
Guru Amar Das
Celebrates Spring Harvest
Apart from heralding the Punjabi New Year, Baisakhi is an also an occasion that celebrates spring harvest. Punjab, as the name suggests, is the land of 5 rivers, Panch meaning 5, and Ab meaning, waters. This day also celebrates the sacredness of rivers, which are a major source of water, the backbone of agriculture. This harvest festival is celebrated with much fanfare in the agriculture dominated states of Haryana and Punjab.
Baisakhi, a Harvest festival
Baisakhi, apart from being a harvest festival, is also an occasion to remember the martyrs of this land.
Creation of Khalsa Panth
This day commemorates the creation of the Khalsa Panth, the Sikh order, under the leadership of Guru Gobind Singh in 1699, after Guru Tegh Bahadur, who had refused to convert to Islam, under the orders of Mughal ruler Aurangzeb, was executed by the Mughals.
The word Khalsa means ‘pure’. Khalsa is a collective body of all Sikh disciples represented by the five Sikh Gurus, known as Panj Pyare, meaning “The five who are much dear”. The Panj Pyare Gurus, much adored by the people, and selected by Guru Gobind Singh were Bhai Sahib Singh, Bhai Dharam Singh, Bhai Himmat Singh, Bhai Muhkam Singh and Bhai Daya Singh. The spiritual leadership was passed on to the holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, which is the eternal Guru for the Sikhs.
Guru Gobind Singh and the Panj Pyare
Jallianwala Bagh Massacre
Baisakhi is also the day, on 13th April 1919, when the people of Amritsar, who were peacefully celebrating the Punjabi New Year at Jallianwala Bagh, a public garden in Amritsar, were mercilessly shot down on the orders of General Dyer, of the colonial British force. This incident is regarded as one of the worst massacres in the annals of World History.
Jallianwala Bagh tragedy
The Jallianwala Bagh Memorial
The Baisakhi day beings with a bath in one of the rivers or lakes. Gurudwaras and Mandirs are decorated and, special Kirtans, devotional singing are held.
The people of the Sikh community also organize Nagar kirtan – singing in procession. These are led by 5 people from different parts of the land, who are dressed up as Panj Pyaras, and the procession goes through the streets with people singing sacred music – bhajan and chanting hymns from the Sikh texts. These processions also carry a copy of the Guru Granth Sahib in reverence.
People then come together for preparation of festive foods – bhojan, community fairs and other cultural programs.
Baisakhi is thus a festival that not only unites people in festivities, but also unites many reasons to be commemorated and celebrated.