Description of Sikh Festivals

Birth of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru (Enlightener-Prophet)Poh 23, (January 5, 1666 C.E.)

"I speak the truth, so listen up! Only those who love will find God." This couplet, read by Sikhs as part of their daily prayers, epitomizes its author, the tenth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh. The love expressed in his prolific compositions lift the spirits of humanity. His embrace of the world is only surpassed by his humility: "I am but the Primal Being's slave, here to see His play in the world."

In the mundane realm, Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708) was the quintessential warrior-poet as combined excellence as a linguist, bard, scholar, martial artist, hunter, and marksman. His heroic life has inspired generations of Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike towards lives of idealism and service.

He guided the Sikhs through a period of ruthless oppression by high-caste Hindu kings and Mughal rulers. Caste apartheid and religious bigotry, rampant even today in India, had enervated the spirit of large segments of humanity in South Asia. Guru Gobind Singh's defiance of tyranny and solidarity with the poor restored hope to the oppressed and empowered them to strive for liberty and freedom.

One of his defining achievements was ordaining the fellowship of the Khalsa, which means the pure who accept God as their only sovereign. The Khalsa comprises men and women who seek mystical harmony with the Divine through introspection and service of the dispossessed.

As recorded in his revelations, Jaap and the Akal Ustat, the Guru proclaims that compassion for humanity is the only way to reach God.

Sikh New Year

Chet 1 (March 14)

Sikh New Year begins in accordance to the Nanakshahi calendar.

Holla Mohalla

Chet 1 (March 14, 1680 C.E.)

An annual celebration initiated by Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708), the tenth and the last Sikh Prophet, on March 29, 1680. Armed Sikhs on foot and on horseback would play war games on this occasion at Anandpur (the City of Bliss), the Sikh capital in the Sikh homeland, Punjab. The Sikh Prophet provided participants in this celebration, who came largely from the low castes and the poor, with martial training. It is noteworthy that the right to bear arms and ride horses was denied to the underclass.

An annual fair continues to be held at Anandpur and the festival is celebrated all over the world by Sikhs. War games, religious congregations, political conferences, recitation of the Sikh scripture (Guru Granth Sahib), fresh attiring of the Sikh flag (Nishan Sahib), and an initiation ceremony (Amrit Sanchar) are some of the features of the festival.

Vaisakhi, the ordination of the Order of the Khalsa

Vaisakh 1 (April 14, 1699 C.E.)

Vaisakhi, which often marks the spring harvest in Punjab, was occasion for Sikhs to gather to organize community affairs. The second Sikh Prophet, Guru Angad Dev (1504-1552) started formally assembling all Sikhs on Vaisakhi. By the Vaisakhi of 1699, the ten Sikh Prophets had institutionalized several of the ideas put forth by the first Sikh Prophet, Guru Nanak. On April 14, 1699, the tenth Sikh Prophet, Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708), formalized the culminating institution of the Khalsa or the Guru Panth.

The Panth was the collective of all initiated Sikhs, who sought a life of mystical harmony with the Divine through introspection and service of the dispossessed. The concept of Panth joins issues with contemporary political thinking that holds economic expediency and power as the sole aim, and asserts that the true concern of politics is the ethical and spiritual evolution of human beings.

Following this momentous Vaisakhi, Sikhs were to seek initiation into the Khalsa, and embrace a physical form that heretofore was optional. This modern form included the five articles of faith that Sikhs wear -- (1) unshorn hair, (2) a small comb for the hair, (3) a steel bracelet which signifies a Reality with no beginning and no end, (4) a religious sword indicative of resolve and commitment to justice, and (5) knee-length drawers in keeping with the disciplined life-style of a Sikh. Sikh celebrates this momentous day all over the world with much joy and enthusiasm.

Birth of Guru Nanak, Sikhism's Founder

1 Vaisakh (14 April, 1469 C.E.) [see Birth Date of Guru Nanak Sahib]

April 14 marks the birthday of Guru Nanak, the founder and the first of ten Gurus of Sikh religion. The three basic tenets of Sikhism, as declared by Guru Nanak, are: (1) earn your livelihood with honesty though hard work, (2) constantly remember God through devotion and activism and (3) share your earnings, out of love and compassion with others. The Guru undertook four odysseys, preaching his universal message of humanitarianism and activism to oppressed people of South Asia and the Middle-East. As a result, along with Sikhs, many Muslims and Hindus celebrate his birthday with great zeal, even though the Guru firmly declared that he followed a path revealed by God that was distinct from Hinduism and Islam.

Martyrdom of Guru Arjan, the fifth Sikh Guru (Enlightener-Prophet)

Harh 2 (June 16, 1606 C.E.)

Chandu Shah carried out the horrific execution of Guru Arjan (1563-1606), the fifth Sikh Prophet on June 16, 1606. As an upper-caste Hindu, Chandu Shah took exception to Guru Arjan's growing influence that sought to create an egalitarian society at the expense of the stratified caste-structure. He allied with detractors of the Sikh movement to orchestrate the martyrdom of Guru Arjan by filing a formal complaint in the Mughal court.

The author of Dabistan-i-Mazhaib, a contemporary account in Persian, states that the state imposed a heavy fine on the Guru who, on principle, refused to pay it. Chandu forced the Guru to sit on a hot iron plate, and poured hot sand over his body. He was deprived of food and was tortured for five days. With wounds blistering on his body, on May 30, 1606 (C.E.), tied hand and feet, he was thrown into river Ravi, one of the five rivers that flow through Punjab, the Sikh Homeland.

In 1984, this day became even more profound for the Sikhs. During the observance of Guru Arjan's martyrdom, when the greatest number of Sikhs attend services at Sikh centers, the Indian Army mounted an attack on the central Sikh center in Amritsar (Darbar Sahib or the Golden temple) and forty others. According to Cynthia Mahmood, an expert on Sikh struggle for sovereignty, ". . . the ostensible aim was to rid the sacred buildings of the militants who had taken up shelter inside. But the level force used in the attack was utterly incommensurate with this limited and eminently attainable aim. Seventy thousand troops, in conjunction with the use of tanks and chemical gas, killed not only the few dozen militants who didn't manage to escape the battleground but also hundreds (possibly thousands) of innocent pilgrims, the day of the attack being a Sikh holy day. The Akal Takht, the seat of temporal authority for the Sikhs, was reduced to rubble and the Sikh Reference Library, an irreplaceable collection of books, manuscripts, and artifacts bearing on all aspects of Sikh history, burned to ground. Thirty-seven other shrines were attacked across Punjab on the same day. The only possible reason for this appalling level of state force against its own citizens must be that the attempt was not merely to "flush out," as they say, a handful of militants, but to destroy the fulcrum of a possible mass resistance against the state." (Jeffrey A. Sluka, Ed., "Dynamics of Terror in Punjab and Kashmir," Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000, p. 77)

First Consecration of the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh Scripture

17 Bhadon (September 1, 1604 C.E.)

On September 1, 1604, Guru Arjan (1563-1606), the fifth Sikh Guru, consecrated the Sikh scripture. The Sikhs had been a people of the Revealed Word since the first Sikh Prophet, Guru Nanak affirmed to one of his Sikhs, Bhai Lalo: "As the divine Word comes to me from the Master, so do I repeat that Wisdom, O Lalo." In 1604, however, Guru Arjan formally compiled these divine revelations and consecrated the Guru Granth Sahib at Harmandir (popularly known as Golden Temple) in Amritsar, Punjab.

A universal "source book" for humanity, the Guru Granth Sahib reveals Divine experiences through profound metaphor and affecting poetic expression. "Guru Granth Sahib expression of man's loneliness, his aspirations, his longings, his cry to God and his hunger for communications with that Being. I have studied the scriptures of other great religions but I do not find elsewhere the same power of appeal to the heart and mind as I find here...," wrote Nobel laureate Pearl Buck. Set to a formal system of classical Sikh music, the hymns and verses of the Guru Granth Sahib make little or no mention of dogma or religious law. Furthermore, in its compilation, the Sikh Gurus embraced the revelation of non-Sikh prophets from Semitic and Eastern traditions making the Guru Granth Sahib truly universal and ecumenical.

In 1708, the Guru Granth Sahib would be accorded joint-sovereignty along with the Guru Panth (see description for October 20, 1708). Sikhs accept only God's word as sovereign. Arnold Toynbee wrote that "Of all the known religious scriptures, the book [the Guru Granth Sahib] is the most highly venerated. It means more to Sikhs than even what the Quran means to Muslims, the Bible to Christians and the Torah to Jews. The Guru Granth is the Sikh's perpetual Guru (Spiritual Guide)". He went on to say that in the coming religious debate, "Guru Granth will have something of special value to say to the rest of the world."

Joint-sovereignty of Guru Granth and Guru Panth declared to guide the Sikh people

6 Katik (October 20, 1708 C.E.)

Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and final Guru of the Sikhs in human form, declared the mystical union of the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh Scripture) and the Guru Khalsa Panth (the collective of initiated Sikhs) as the final sovereign of the Sikh Nation for all times. This ended the institution of the human Guru, and formalized a republican and democratic institution wherein the general will of the Sikh people would be expressed through consensus that is reached under the light and wisdom of the Sikh scripture.

The Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur - A Miracle for Humanity

11 Maghar (November 24, 1675 C.E.)

On November 24, 1675, Guru Tegh Bahadur, the Ninth Guru Nanak, was beheaded on the orders of Emperor Aurangzeb of South Asia. The Guru's crime was that he had opposed the state's laws that sanctioned religious discrimination, which was directed mainly against selected populations of Brahmans, upper-caste Hindus. Ironically Guru Tegh Bahadur himself preached against the practices of upper-caste Hindus, as Brahmanism was anathema to him.

Setting aside his own differences with Brahman practices, he stood by his principle of protecting the oppressed. Although he had a standing army, and was an accomplished warrior -- his name, Tegh Bahadur or "Sword Warrior," came from his feats in battle -- he chose to passively resist Aurangzeb's oppression of the Brahmins of Kashmir. Perhaps, he sought to demonstrate to oppressed people that the human spirit can defy an unjust state even without the backing of an army.

Sikhs memorialize his martyrdom as it reveals awe-inspiring courage and all-embracing love, and highlights the marvelous grandeur of the human spirit.


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