Vaisakhi: A time to remember teachings of Sikhism

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By Zile Singh

Vaisakhi is celebratedthroughout the world on April 13th every year. While for Hindus it is an ancient festival marking the Solar New Year and also celebrating the spring harvest.It is also one of the three festivals chosen by Guru Amar Das to be celebrated by Sikhs (other being Basant Panchami and Diwali). The Khalsa calendar (New Year) also starts from the creation of Khalsa Panth on Vaisakh 1, 1756 Bikrami (30 March 1699). 

Today, there are approximately 30 million Sikhs worldwide, making Sikhism the world’s firth largest major religion. India’s Sikh population stands at 21 million, which is only 1.72% of the country’s total population. 

The History of Vaisakhi, in relation to Sikhism, traces its origin to March 30, 1699. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth in succession, called a congregation ceremony from across the country at Keshgarh Sahib near Anandpur Sahib to instil courage and strength to sacrifice against the tyranny of Mughal ruler Aurangzeb.  Aurangzeb was converting the Hindus and the Sikhs to Islam at the point of a sword.  At the ceremony the Guru selected Five volunteers who were ready to give their lives to fight against injustice.  In today’s parlance this congregation can be called the first national integration council because followers gathered from four corners of India breaking all barriers of caste and creed. Those Five volunteers, who were baptised as Panj Piaras – five beloved- by the Guru were:  Bhai Daya Singh (a shopkeeper from Lahore), Bhai Dharam Singh (a farmer from Meerut), Bhai Himmat Singh (a water carrier from Jagannath Puri, Odisha), Bhai Muhkam Singh (a tailor from Dwarka – Gujarat), Bhai Sahib Singh (a barber from Bidar, Karnataka).  Through this historical event the foundation of Khalsa Panth (Order of the Pure Ones) was laid.

From then onward all the followers of the Guru were given the surname ‘Singh’ and ‘Kaur’ for male and female respectively. They were also commanded to bear the following articles of faith: Kesh (hair), Kangha (wooden comb), Kachera (loose undergarment), Kirpan (short curved sword) and Kara (iron or steel bangle). They were required to refrain from:  Hukka (intoxication or tobacco), Hajjamat (shaving of hair), Halaal (meat prepared in the Muslim way), and Haraam (adultery).

Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world. It is a distinct monotheistic religion with its own unique divine scripture and beliefs. It was founded in the Punjab Province (Undivided India) in the 15th Century by Guru Nanak Dev, the First Guru of the Sikhs.  The Ten Gurus in their succession are: Guru(s) Nanak, Angad, Amar Das, Ram Das,  Arjan, Hargobind, Har Rai, Har Krishan, Teg Bahadur and Gobind Singh.

The fifth Guru Arjan Dev compiled GuruGranthSahib, (Adi Granth) in 1604 and installed it in Harminder Sahib, known as the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The holy Granth, in addition to the teachings of the Gurus, contains hymns of renowned Bhagats/Saints of that time like: Kabir, Namdev, Ravidas, Sheikh Farid, Trilochan, Dhanna, Sheikh Bhikan, Jaidev, Surdas, Pipa and Sadhna.  The importance of the inclusion of these hymns was to denounce caste and religious barriers. The Tenth Guru bestowed the Guruship forever to Guru Granth Sahib – the Holy Book.

The most important and guiding hymn in the Granth is ‘Japji Sahib’ which reads,“Ek onkar, satnam, kartapurkh, nirbhau, nirver, akalmurat, ajoony, saibhan, gurparsad”. (One Universal Creator God. The Name is Truth. Creative Being Personified. No Fear. No Hatred. Image of the Undying. Beyond Birth. Self-Existent. By Guru’s Grace.)

The principal teachings of Sikhism are that there is only one God and that all human beings can have direct access to God with no need of rituals or priests.  It denounced the caste system and taught that everyone is equal, regardless of caste or gender.

Three important pieces of advice of Guru Nanak Dev Ji are:

·          Kirat Karo:  Earn an honest, pure and dedicated living by exercising God given skills, abilities, talents and hard labour.

·          Naam Japo: Do meditation in the name of God, especially chanting Waheguru which means Wonderful Lord.

·          VandChako:  Share with the community whatever you have earned.  This could be wealth, food and knowledge.