Vaisakhi: Past to Present - The changing Trends!
April 25, 2008
Author/Source: Parminder Singh
Vaisakhi is the most revered and celebrated festival of the Sikhs. No other day or event in the life of a Sikh carries more significance than the day of Vaisakhi. On this day in the year 1699 an 'Order of Discipline" (Khalsa) was initiated by the Tenth Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh. This day signifies the beginning of the process of transformation of the ordinary people of India into a morally responsive and disciplined martial army of pure and fearless. The initiation of the 'Khalsa' envisaged the protection of the defenseless and helpless people as an essential concept of the religious obligations of the Sikhs. The Guru was able to give a fresh shot in the arm of developing faith on this day of Vaisakhi.
For centuries, India had been living under constant fear and coercion not only from the outside invaders through 'Khyber Pass' but also from the ruler class and had been continuously exploited and forced to adopt the religion of the people in power. On the auspicious day of Vaisakhi, Guru Sahib, ultimately gave a choice to the people, to shape their own destinies by standing firm to face the bigoted and intolerant rulers. Interestingly, this concept of 'Saint-Soldier' had already been instilled in Sikhs by their Sixth Master (Guru Hargobind), but Guru Gobind Singh, the Tenth Nanak, finally institutionalized this concept. The Guru, a daring son and a fearless father had a desire to serve his country of birth, its people, and its civilization and hence he invited the Sikhs in a congregation on this day at Anandpur, a town in the Shivalik foot hills. He desired to mold them by infusing a new blood with afresh philosophy. One by one he called on five beloved ones and blessed all of them with sacred Amrit. And then He bent down on his knees and sought Amrit for himself from them, who had just been turned into 'Cherished Five'. The Mother Nature was witness of this whole heavenly occasion. Hence, Guru started a new doctrine of equality and great humility, where a Giver (Guru) turned around and became himself a Seeker, which had never been performed before and nor it will be.
This metamorphosis of the followers initiated by The Guru, the patriotic son of motherland, led to the emergence of a martial family, the Generation of Pure, This concept of Guru turned sparrows into hawks to confront the forces of intolerance and oppression that had been lashed upon the helpless people. By initiating this doctrine within the country and in the Sikh people in particular, on this day, Guru promoted a highly visible Sikh identity of uncut hair and other articles of faith thus assigning Sikhs a specific code of conduct. In fact, it is only the followers of this unique faith who can trace their existence to a formalized spiritual ladder with an assigned external discipline having its roots in one specific event on one particular day. Thus Tenth Master, very righteously put the philosophy of his predecessors and gave it a practical shape," Build your homeland on truth and righteousness, the unshakable pillars. And the support of the Almighty, who sustains the world".
But, Um! The Modern Sikhs!
With the passage of time, we have been gradually losing distinct sight of that fundamental spirit and importance of this eventful day. 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 ostentatious, both on the religious and social fronts, yet the true spirit behind such activities is continuously eroding in our minds. Certainly, I do not intend to imply that one should not celebrate this festive occasion, rather would categorically state that this being the 'Day of Creation of Khalsa' the celebration should encompass all the happiness and excitement that it can muster. Unfortunately, what is lacking in all these celebrations is the motivation to understand and then act on the message that was imparted to the Sikhs on this historical day. The withering distinct identity, more of ostentation, apostasy, castism, which Gurus' asked us to stay away from, are now more rampant and part of these celebrations. The major events now end up with arranging big political conferences, where political leaders impose allegation on one another, singers entertaining the masses, purchase of articles of Sikh faith and decorating them in homes and hardly put a heed to understand their significance.
Through these festivities, Sikhs also headed towards their tercentenary celebrations in 1999 and it ended as a complete fiasco. Guru Nanak, proclaimed his universal mission in 1499. Guru Arjan started compilation of Adi Granth in 1599 that gave the Sikhs their scripture. Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa in 1699 and brought to fruition Guru Nanak's mission. Maharaja Ranjit Singh captured Lahore in 1799 and laid the foundation of the Sikh kingdom that placed the Sikhs on the world map. Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha, wrote his work, Hum Hindu Nahin (we are not Hindus) around 1899. Then Sikhs, celebration through these events headed towards April 1999, to mark the completion of 500 years of Guru Nanak's proclaiming his universal mission. But that was a complete washout, anti-climax to His mission. All these recent celebrations put a question mark for all of us. Are we really following the true doctrine of this day!! Are we passing the true spirit and the message of historical day of 1699 to our coming generations successfully!!
A last, but not the least word. Vaisakhi should be considered a day of reflections for all of us, the believers of Sikh faith. It should be the day when the vows to uphold those golden principals are renewed. It should be the time when those of us who have shunned 'the distinct identity' to realign once again our philosophy. It should be the day when Turban is given back the 'Glory of a Crown' it once commanded. And only then, this festival of Vaisakhi will have some meaning for us, the Sikhs.
* The author is a 'Senior Research Fellow' at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi and is pursuing his PhD in Chemistry.