Before we speak on Sikh Festivals, we need to mention a word or two about “Gurupurabs,” which literally translate to festivals. Gurupurabs are basically anniversaries that are associated with the lives of the Gurus in Sikhism over the course of the past centuries. The Sikhs generally celebrate 10 Gurupurabs each year. At each of these occasions, one of the 10 gurus belonging to the Khalsa Pantha is honoured. Of these, the most primary ones are the birthdays of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh as well as the martyrdom anniversaries of Guru Arjan Dev and Guru Tegh Bahadur.
Therefore, let’s get started with the Gurupurabs and the remaining Sikh festivals.
Guru Nanak (the first Sikh Guru and the founder of Sikhism) was born on October 20, 1469 at Rai-Bhoi-di Talwandi in the present-day district of Sheikhupura, which now lies in Pakistan. The district is also known as Nanakana Sahib. Guru Nanak’s birthday falls on the full moon day of the Karthik month. Each year, his birthday is celebrated on this day. The Sikhs believe that Guru Nanak brought enlightenment to the world. Sikhs from all over the world celebrate Guru Nanak Jayanti each year with great enthusiasm and devotion.
Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru, was born at Patna Sahib on December 22, 1666. Guru Gobind Singh forged the unique and distinct Sikh identity and called the followers as members of the Khalsa (or Pure) and made it mandatory for them to possess the five “Ks”: Kesh (or hair), Kirpan ( or dagger), Kada (or bracelet), Kangha (or comb), and Kachcha (or undergarments). Thus, his contribution to Sikhism is immense by creating a unique, exclusive culture in India, which had no parallel.
Prior to Partition, in Lahore, nearly every Sikh made it a point to visit Guru Arjan’s samadhi or tomb. At short, frequent intervals, sabils (a preparation of sweetened, iced milk-water) were served to all passersby. The crowd visiting the holy site amounted to lakhs, and not thousands. Arrangements were so perfect, flawless, and immaculate that parents of lost children could be traced in a very short time. At numerous places, there were groups of singers chanting hymns, reciting lectures sermons, and kathas, which were narration of stories from the holy scriptures. In modern times, this day is celebrated in all gurdwaras by holding processions and serving refreshing drinks free of charge.
This martyrdom day generally falls in November or December. The day is eventually celebrated through the organisation of processions, singing of hymns in the Gurdwaras, and by recitation of lectures, sermons, and kirtans, to name a few.
Baisakhi is the New Year’s Day according to the Sikh Calendar. It occurs during the month of Vaisakh. It is essentially a harvest festival, which eventually marks the ripening of the Rabi crops. The day marks a coincidence with the solar equinox on April 13. On this day, Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru, founded the Khalsa or the Sikh brethren in 1699. For Sikhs, this is viewed as a collective birthday.
On April 13, 1699, at a meeting held in Anandpur, Punjab, the Guru called upon all Sikh devotees to come forward and sacrifice themselves for the betterment of the clan. Initially, the audience did not respond. However, after numerous calls from the Guru, 5 Sikh devotees, who were Himmat Rai, Sahib Chand, Mokhan Chand, Dharm Das, and Daya Ram Khatri readily offered themselves. Guru Gobind Singh took all of them to a tent one by one and returned alone with a sword dripping with blood. Then, the Guru entered the tent once more, this time for a longer time. He reappeared and was followed by the five men, brightly clad in saffron-coloured garments. In this way, all present in the crowd became members of the Khalsa Pantha, with everyone partaking in the “amrita” or the sacred nectar of immortality. Those five men were fondly called the “Panch Pyare.” The male Sikhs were required to add the suffix “Singh,” meaning lion, whereas the female Sikhs were to be called “Kaur,” or assistants to the Singh.
Holla Mohalla is an annual Sikh festival traditionally held at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab. The festival was started by Guru Gobind Singh as a mass gathering of Sikhs for mock battles and military exercises on the day following the Hindu festival of Holi. It reminds the people of defence preparedness and valour, which were concepts close to the heart of Guru Gobind Singh, who was simultaneously battling the Mughal invaders. On this festival lasting for three days, mock battles are organised, generally followed by poetry and music competitions.
Maghi is the occasion that commemorates the sacrifice of 40 Sikhs, who fought valiantly for Guru Gobind Singh Ji. The day marks the observance of the heroic fight of the Forty Liberated Ones or Chali Mukte.
Maghi falls on the first day of the Magh month. Sikhs celebrate the occasion with an end-to-end recital of the Guru Granth Sahib and observance of religious rituals in all Sikh Gurdwaras. On the eve of the Maghi festival, the festival of Lohri is celebrated when bonfires are lit, and alms are distributed.
The celebration of the Sikhs on return of the sixth Guru from detention from the Gwalior Fort has a coincidence with the Hindu festival of Diwali. This eventual coincidence has led to a common thread between Hindus and Sikhs. The Sikhs celebrate this day as Bandi Chhorh Divas, which literally translates to “the day of release of the detainees.” This is because the sixth Sikh Guru condescended to his release on the condition that the remaining 52 detainees would also be eventually released. The story of Diwali for the Sikh devotees is a story of struggle and eventual freedom. Deewé or earthen oil lamps are lit, marking a one-day celebration in the Gurdwaras and homes. In addition, some Sikhs burst fireworks.
This was an overview of the most important Sikh Festivals.