Hindu Festival: Baisakhi

Baisakhi, like Lohri, is again a festival of north India and is and a very prominent one for Punjab. This festival is also agriculture-based, celebrated with gusto and gaiety by the hardy and hardworking farmers of Punjab after the harvest.

Baisakhi always falls on 13 April and marks the beginning of the solar year. If one follows the lunar calendar, then Baisakhi usually comes in the month of Chait and not in Baisakh as the name indicates. However, once in four years, when the extra month (Purshottam or the Length) is added (in the middle of the year, thus making a year of 13 months), Baisakhi falls in Baisakh. Just before Baisakhi, the first crop of the year, the Rabi crop, has been harvested and sold. Consequently, the farmer has ample money in his pocket and is free from worry till he again goes to plough the fields. He is extremely happy and has time for family and friends, but first he must thank the Almighty, i.e., by celebrating Baisakhi.

In the morning of Baisakhi, people take part in a big nahan (bath) at all the rivers and tanks. From early morning there is a great rush of people. Dressed in festive attire, people go to temples and gurdwaras with mithai and money (which is supposed to be one-tenth of the total produce or whatever they are capable of donating). They give 'thanks' for their fortune and pray for a better crop the next year. The day is considered very auspicious and big melas (fairs) of cows and buffaloes are organised in the village grounds, where many financial transactions take place. Also, fun melas enliven the landscape in every town and village. Here the old and the young in colourful clothes and turbans come to enjoy the mela. The giant wheels and the merry-go-rounds (set up in virtually no time since they are portable and every village has hand-manoeuvred contraptions) provide great entertainment and joy. Eating is the order of the day, and chaat, ice-cream, flossy sugar lollipops and other delicacies are in great demand. Balloons and all varieties of wooden and clay toys are displayed for sale. People take other household or daily requirement articles like pots and pans to sell and buy and the hustle and bustle attracts almost everyone to the fair.

Sometimes, a new-born baby is taken to the temple or gurdwara and the first drink of water is given to it with a rose petal. (Of course, if the baby is a few days old, one is not supposed to deny water to a baby for long.) For the Sikhs, Baisakhi represents a very sanctified day. It is on this day that Guru Gobind Singh initiated the Tanch Piyara' (the five loved ones). He decorated the Khalsa (Khalsa-Sajaya) at Anandpur Sahib near Chandigarh and gave these five people (all from the scheduled castes, and from different provinces of India, e.g., from Punjab, from Uttar Pradesh, from Andhra Pradesh and from Bihar) the first sermon on being a true Sikh. He made them promise not to cut their hair or beard; to always keep a comb; always wear an iron bangle on one arm; always wear an underwear; and always carry a kirpan (a small sword so as to be ever-ready for battle). (Guru Gobind Singh was then fighting the invading Muslims.) Baisakhi becomes a really sacred and pious day for the Sikh community and a true 'Khalsa' rejoices in it.

One of the most sacred pilgrimage centres for the Punjabis, especially for the Sikhs, is Arnritsar, where the Golden Temple is situated. This temple is known as 'Hari Mandir\ It has a huge tank all round the temple and anyone bathing in it is purified, and his or her sins are washed away. On Baisakhi day, water is brought from all the sacred rivers of India and poured into this sarouar (mini-ocean).

Every household teaches its children to give dhaan on Baisakhi day which is the first day of the solar calendar, so that throughout the year the feeling of charity remains in the heart.

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