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Above: detail from "The First Vaisakhi", a painting by Canadian artist Kanwar Singh [ArtofPunjab.com].

Faith

The Meaning of Vaisakhi

SIMRAN JEET SINGH

 

 

 

Every April, communities across the world come together to celebrate Vaisakhi. For centuries, Vaisakhi has marked the spring harvest, and Punjabi farmers have celebrated this occasion with community gatherings and festivals.

Vaisakhi took on special significance for the Sikh community in 1699, when the tenth of the Sikh Guru-Prophets -- Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708 CE) -- invited his disciples to join him in the city of Anandpur Sahib. At this gathering, Guru Gobind Singh formally established the Khalsa Panth (the community of committed Sikhs) and publicly entrusted it with leadership.

Every year on Vaisakhi, Sikhs come together to commemorate and reflect on this significant historical event.

While the community holds a special place in its collective heart for this occasion, Vaisakhi is not a “holiday” in that the Sikh tradition does not regard any one time or day to be uniquely “holy.” Rather, it is an occasion for celebrating the community’s growth and for recalling a set of shared values and collective memories.

In both its cultural and religious context, Vaisakhi is fundamentally about community, progress, and celebration.

Some people mistake Vaisakhi of 1699 as the initial moment of Sikh community formation, so it is particularly important to recognize that Guru Nanak (1469-1539 CE) started the process of forming the Sikh community nearly two centuries earlier.

Among other things, he gathered disciples, created community centers, and established shared traditions. The community grew substantially under the leadership of his successors over the next 200 years, and the expectations and responsibilities of the community also increased during this period.

This development culminated on Vaisakhi of 1699 when Guru Gobind Singh established a formal order of committed Sikhs -- the Khalsa Panth -- and bowed before its representatives as a way of indicating the transmission of corporeal authority. The Sikh theology urges cultivation of the individual self while also serving and nurturing the communities around us, an integration of the spiritual and temporal domains.

The 1699 inauguration of the Khalsa Panth also demonstrates an integration of the spiritual and political. The political aspects of this occasion are more apparent.

Guru Gobind Singh’s decision to pass on political authority to the Khalsa Panth took place during a period of intense political tensions between the reigning Mughal Empire and the Sikh community. On this occasion, Guru Gobind Singh standardized a core of discipline, practice, and identity around which the Sikh community continues to be centered.

While playing a role in demarcating a community and enhancing group cohesion, these shared practices also play a significant role in enriching one’s spiritual development. One way in which this occurs is through ethical cultivation -- a constant practice of discipline facilitates the cultivation of moral faculties. Aristotle referred to this moral training as habitus, the formation of habits through regular practice that informs our decision-making in diverse situations. Engaging with these bodily and ritual practices serves to enrich the human spirit within.

Similarly, the Sikh tradition posits that the role and significance of community is not limited to the political domain. Sikh doctrine emphasizes the central roles that communities play in shaping our spiritual journeys and encourages practitioners to seek out intentional communities that share the same ethical values and spiritual commitments.

In the Sikh spirit, Vaisakhi celebrates the integration of the spiritual and temporal worlds, and it provides practical avenues for bringing these to bear through shared values and practices. Vaisakhi is fundamentally about community, celebration, and progress, and these values are at the forefront of the collective consciousness as Sikhs gather together to mark the occasion.

 

[Courtesy: The Daily Beast]

April 14, 2014

 

Conversation about this article

1: M.K.S. (New York City, USA), April 15, 2014, 2:01 PM.

This was a great intro article by Simran Jeet Singh, giving those without much knowledge about Sikhi, the fundamentals of our beliefs and practices. Whenever the article is taken from another site, I always like to go there and view the comments if available. In the Daily Beast, there were 3 comments to the article. Comment 1: By veerhindustani2014 - Touting the Hindu/Sikh friendship. Comment 2: By ccmohit - "While acknowledging links to our beloved and honorable Guru Gobind Singh Ji, ccmohit tries to minimize the event of the creation of the Khalsa panth and highlights that Vaisakh is the harvest month and always celebrated all over India. Comment 3: By teaserIII - Thinks there are too many articles about Sikhi in the news nowadays. My observation is that even the most insignificant article about Sikhi in the mainstream media invites the following types of trolls: 1) The Sikh hate camp on one end, whom I could care less about; 2) Those espousing Hindu/Sikh affinity ending with a 'Bharat Mata ki jai' theme, even though the article has nothing to do with Hindu-Sikh issues or India or Indian politics; 3) Those that pretend to give an unbiased opinion yet can't wait to knock down anything Sikhi-related. 4) Those who mischievously shout 'Khalistan Zindabad' to provoke the mainstream Indian/Hindu and thus make sure they would never have a positive image about Sikhs and Sikhi. I wonder if others have come across similar habitual commentators.

2: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), April 15, 2014, 10:27 PM.

@1 M.K.S - I think you have nailed the archetypal commentators on articles relating to Sikhi. You however have missed some. The Hindu who falsely swears his family was persecuted by Sikhs during the militancy period, the Hindu who accuses every sympathetic commentator to victims of post 1984 events as being a Khalistani, the Hindu who uses the cliche lines of summing up the post-1984 period as Sikhs trying to divide the nation. Another is a slight twist on your first characterization, the Hindu who sees no difference between Sikhism and Hinduism and feels the need to lecture Sikhs about OUR religion and traditions. These particular comments usually pop up in articles relating to events post-1984, but I would not be surprised if somewhere on the internet there is a comment that the Khalsa was created on Vaisakhi to protect the Hindus. Regardless, good article.

3: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), April 15, 2014, 10:29 PM.

Ehh, now that I reread M.K.S' post, I would have to say you did actually hit every nail on the head.

4: R Singh  (Canada), April 20, 2014, 11:58 AM.

MKS, you have totally nailed it. The zealots are out there in force, meddling and lecturing. We need to look out for not just the articles, but to also ensure that our children do not fall prey to this kind of stuff.

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