Truly speaking, no other day or event in the life of a Sikh carries more significance than the day of Vaisakhi, for it was on this day in the year 1699 that the ‘Order of the Khalsa’ was initiated by Sahib-E-Kamaal Guru Gobind Singh Ji. It signifies the beginning of the process of transformation of the ordinary people of India into a morally responsive and disciplined martial army of the pure and fearless, difficult to reckon with. As per Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s own statement in the Bacchitter Naatak, this act was accomplished under the direct command from God Almighty. The initiation of the Khalsa Panth’, in the religious landscape of India, indeed re-defined the concept of standing up against religious tyranny and human rights violations. By emphasizing ‘the protection of the defenseless and helpless people’ as an essential concept of the religious obligations of the Sikhs, he was able to give a fresh shot in the arm of developing faith on this day of [[Vaisakhi].
According to some historians, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of the Sikh faith was actually born during the month of Vaisakh and not on Purnima of Kartika, as is commonly believed. This fact alone makes this day even more significant for the Sikh people. Guru Amar Dass Ji, the third Guru of the Sikhs had initiated an annual congregation on Vaisakhi at Goindval in Punjab. As time passed, the Sikh Sangat started to assemble on this auspicious day, where ever the seat of the then Guru would be.
For centuries, ‘the meek and week’ of India had been living under constant fear and coercion not only from the invaders who came via North-West India but also from the ruling class. They had been continuously exploited and forced to adopt the religion of the people in power. On that fateful Vaisakhi day, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the tenth Guru of the Sikhs, ultimately gave a choice to the people to mold their own destinies by standing firm to face the bigoted and intolerant rulers of the day. Interestingly, this concept of Sant Sipai, or ‘Saint-Soldier’ had already been instilled in the Sikh-psyche by Guru Hargobind Ji, the sixth Guru and the grandfather of Guru Gobind Singh Ji. But it was Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the Sahib-E-Kamaal, who finally institutionalized this concept.
Guru Gobind Singh Ji, a true Indian nationalist, a daring son and a selfless father with a keen desire to serve his country of birth, its people and their faiths, had invited the Sikh congregation on Vaisakhi day at Anandpur Sahib in the Shivalik foot hills. He desired to mold them by infusing a new blood of a new philosophy. Eighty thousand people had gathered from all over the country. Standing with a naked sword in his hand, he asked for a head from within the congregation for his stated cause. One by one, five committed individuals came forward. They were drawn from across the country from different castes, a Khatri from Punjab, a Jat from vicinity of Delhi area and three other low-caste Hindus respectively from the States of ]]Gujarat]], East India and from the township of Bidar in Karnataka. And then through a unique ceremony of “Amrit Sanchar” known as ‘Sikh Baptism’ in Western culture (perhaps due to the lack of a better word) he transformed them into Punj Piaras, the Five Cherished Ones.
And then he bent down on his knees and sought Amrit for himself from those who had just been turned into ‘Cherished Five’ of the Khalsa. With folded hands and bowed head and with a posture of extreme humility, this man extra-ordinaire’ set an example of equality and democratic fraternity, not to be found anywhere else in the annals of world history. Such an act of democratic equality and great humility where a Leader, the Guru purposefully turned around and transformed himself into a Seeker (Guru-Chela) had never been performed before, nor will it ever be again!
Describing this event, Dr. Gopal Singh mentions in his book, “The people of India had lost hope, courage and their country to the invaders of the middle-east. He abolished privilege and raised the lowest, equal in all ways to the highest and restored to man his manhood, to woman her woman-hood. He was undeniably and absolutely adamant in his refusal to ever be called God by his followers, unlike many other spiritual heads. Putting a serious injunction against those who ever wished to know him as such, he commanded ‘He who calls me God will for sure burn in the fires of hell. For, I am only a servant of God; yea doubt not the veracity of this statement’ (From Bachittar Naatak, written by Guru Gobind Singh, translated by Dr. Gopal Singh).
Such metamorphosis of the followers initiated by this patriotic son of motherland, led to the emergence of a martial nation, the Khalsa Panth, whose noble objective, among others, included its ultimate liberation from the clutches of the cruel and polluted rulers. Thus Guru Gobind Singh Ji turned sparrows into hawks to confront the forces of intolerance that had been leashed upon the helpless people by the ruthless and bigoted rulers of the times, for this was the only language, he felt, they understood. Yet Sarbans-Daani father of the Khalsa wrote in precise and clear terms that such an option should be exercised only after all other means had failed. Even W. H. Mcleod, a controversial Sikh history writer, in his book titled ‘Exploring Sikhism, published by Oxford University Press, clearly mentions on page 59 ‘The Khalsa was established by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699 as a formal and defined order because the Panth in its earlier, looser form was inadequately equipped to resist forces of destruction which loomed threateningly…’.
By proclaiming such a sea-change within the Sikh people on this auspicious day, Guru Gobind Singh Ji promoted a highly visible Sikh identity of uncut hair and other articles of the Khalsa. By assigning a specific code of conduct (Rehat Maryada), he formalized the Khalsa Panth once and for all and transformed it into the ‘Fauj of Akal Purukh’ or the ‘Army of God’. In fact, it is only the followers of this unique faith who can trace their existence to a formalized spiritual order with an assigned external discipline having its roots in one specific event on one particular day. No other religious festival could ever boast of such a singular association. That is why, the Vaisakhi has also been known as the ‘Saajna Divas’ or the ‘Day of Creation’ of the Khalsa. He wanted to make sure that his people, the Khalsa, even if they wished, could not hide themselves in the crowd especially at a time when their presence to protect the weaklings became imperative.
But Alas! Look at us, the ‘Modern Sikhs’!
With the passage of time, we have been gradually losing sight of that fundamental spirit and significance of this important day. We simply keep on flouting the very basic guidelines established by the Khalsas’ founder. The Sikh community as a whole, whether in India or abroad, is turning Vaisakhi into an event of hollow festivities without due attention to what it truly stands for. The celebrations are getting more and more elaborate, both on the religious and social fronts, yet the true perspectives and spirit behind such activities are continuously eroding in our minds.
Certainly, in saying so, I do not intend to imply that one should not celebrate this festive occasion in great jovial spirit that it is worthy of. On the contrary, I would categorically state that this being the ‘Day of Creation of Khalsa’, the celebrations should encompass all the happiness and excitement that they can muster. But unfortunately what is missing in all these celebrations is the lack of motivation to understand and then act on the message that was imparted to the Sikhs on this particular day.
We find more and more of us looking like others. Instead of supporting our Turbans, the Crowns, we are subtly emphasizing crew-cuts for our children. The distinct uniqueness of the Sikhs is being continuously adulterated by us, the so-called ‘Modern Sikhs’ who seem not to care much about the true meaning or message of Vaisakhi. So much so, that this concept of ‘Modern Sikh’ even shows up at the time of Anand Kaaraj, the most sacred Sikh marriage ceremony. In order to look like what a Sikh should be looking like, our Sikh children have started temporarily supporting a turban with partially cropped up and clipped beard just for the time of this ceremony. The metamorphosed appearance even disorients the closest of the invited friends not to talk about somewhat less than close acquaintances. Come evening wedding reception, the Turban, the Crown of the Sikh, is thrown away like an unneeded piece of clothing, never to be seen again. The newly-wed groom appears at the show in his usual day to day appearance, totally groomed with a shaven beard and without an iota of hair. ‘Can such temporary deception at the time of Anand Kaaraj ever confuse the ‘Guru Eternal’ whom we pay the utmost respect and around whom we circumambulate while taking vows to stay true to our future life partner?’ If not, then one has to wonder as to the need of playing such games and with whom?
Didn’t our Guru emphasize upon us to maintain a unique identity with full uncut hair, beard and turban once and for all? What could be clearer than his statement “Jub Lug Khalsa rahe niaraa, Tub lug tej deeo Mai Saara. Jub Aeh Gahai bipran kee reet, Mein naa karron inkee parteet.” meaning thereby “That so long as my Khalsa stays uniquely distinct, I will provide it with all the strength. And when it starts imitating others, I will not care for it any more”.
Vaisakhi should be considered a day of reflection for all of us, the believers of the Sikh faith. It should be the day when all who call themselves ‘the Sikhs of Guru’ start making some grass-root resolutions to change the status-quo rather than going with the flow. It should be the day when vows to uphold those golden principles of Sikh faith are renewed. It should be the time when those of us who have shunned the ‘Sikh identity’ realign once again our philosophy with the original spirit of this day. It should be the day when Turban is given back the ‘Glory of a Crown’ it once commanded. It should be the day when Sikhs intoxicate themselves with Guru’s Amrit rather than with booze. It should be the day when Sikhs reintroduce the concept of Sikh-Rehat in their lives rather than running away from it in hordes. Then and only then, this festival of Vaisakhi will have some meaning for us, the Sikhs.