The History of Baisakhi

History of Baisakhi

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Baisakhi is a derivative of Vaishakha. After harvesting the winter crop, the farmers of the northern states of Punjab and Haryana celebrate the beginning of another year. The day coincides with the solar equinox on the 13th of April. There is boisterous dancing and loud joyous singing as the traditional folk dances of Punjab, called the Gidda and Bhangra, are performed. It is also the anniversary of the creation of the Khalsa Pantha. People collect in the evening around abonfire to celebrate the harvest. History has recorded the execution of Guru Teg Bahadur, the ninth guru of the Sikhs, by the Mughals, on November 11, 1675. In revolt against this in justice, his son Guru Govind Singh, who was also the tenth guru, was compelled to take up arms.

He selected the auspicious day of Baisakhi to initiate this important task, by forming the order of the Khalsa. On the 13th of April in 1699, at a meeting in atown named Anandpur in Punjab, the guru called upon his people to come forward to sacrifice themselves for the good of the clan. Pin-drop silence methis appeal. He repeated the call, with the same response. The third time, athirty-year-old man named Daya Ram Khatri stood up and volunteered. The guru took Daya Ram to a tent near by and returned alone after some time, his sword dripping blood. He repeated his call for volunteers four more times. The others who offered themselves were Dharm Das, a Jat from Delhi,Mokhan Chand, a washerman from Dwarka, Sahib Chand a barber from Bidar, and Himmat Rai, a water carrier from Jagannatha. Each of them went with him to the tent and every time here turned alone with his bloodied sword.

The guru went to the tent yet again,this time for a long time. Here appeared followed by the five men, clad in saffron-coloured garments. The crowd was astonished for it had Baisakhi assumed them to be dead. They sat on the dais made for the occasion, while the guru prepared water to bless them. In an iron vessel, he stirred the batasha that his wife, Mata Ji to ji had put into water, with a sword called Khanda Sahib, while verses from their scriptures were recited by the congregation.

The water was now considered the sacred nectar of immortality called amrita. It was first given to the five volunteers, then drunk by the guru and later distributed to the crowd. All those present, irrespective of caste or creed, became members of the Khalsa Pantha. This was also a great step in national integration because society at that time was divided on the basis of religion, caste and social status. The concept of forming a group where the origin of the individual became irrelevant was considered a very radical step.

Those who had offered their lives were christened the Panch Pyare. They were directed by the guru to wear five K's: Kesh or long hair, Kangha or comb, Kripan or dagger, Kachha or shorts and a Kara or bracelet. He discontinued the tradition of Gurus and asked all Sikhs to accept the Grantha Sahib as their eternal guide. He urged them to come to him with their hair and beard sunshorn to get baptized by the sword. The suffix Singh derived from the Sanskrit word singha meaning 'lion',was added to the name of all male Sikhs, while the women were to call themselves Kaur, assistants to the Singh. To pay tribute to this event, prayer meetings are organised in gurdwaras across the country.

The main celebration however, takes place in the gurdwara at Anandpur Sahib, where the order was formed. At about4 o'clock in the morning, the Guru Grantha Sahib is ceremonially taken out from its resting chambers. After a symbolic bath with milk and water, it is placed on its throne. Priests called the Panch Pyare then chant the verses that were recited by the original Panch Pyare when the order was created. Called the Panch Bani, these prayers include the Jabji Sahib, Jap Sahib,Sudha Savahiye, Chow Payee Sahib and Anantpur Sahib. While the Panch Bani is being chanted, amrita is prepared in an iron vessel, as was done by Guru Govind Singh.

Devotees sip the amrita five times and vow to work for the Khalsa Panth. At noon, after Baisakhi the ardas, the Karah Prasad is offered to the guru for his blessings. It is then distributed to the congregation.They eat the prasad, before proceeding to participate in the guru ka langar. Believers perform kar seva. Shabads and kirtans are sung all day long to honour Guru Govind Singh and the beloved five, the founders of the Khalsa Panth.

Punjab has always been known and identified as a land of gaiety and merrymaking where festivals are celebrated with much exuberance and fanfare. Being a predominantly agricultural state that prides itself on its food grain production, it is little wonder that its most significant festival is Baisakhi, which marks the arrival of the harvesting season.

The word Baisakhi is derived from the month of Vaisakha (April-May), a time when the farmer returns home with his bumper crop, the fruit of his whole year’s hard labour. Cries of “Jatta aai Baisakhi” rent the skies as the people of Punjab attired in their best clothes break into the Bhangra dance to express their joy. The dancers and drummers challenge each other to continue the dance. The scenes of sowing, harvesting, winnowing and gathering of crops are expressed through zestful movements of the body to the accompaniment of ballads.

Fairs are organized at various places in Punjab, where besides other recreational activities, wrestling bouts are also held. The occasion is celebrated with great gusto at Talwandi Sabo, where Guru Gobind Singh stayed for nine months and completed the recompilation of the Guru Granth Sahib.

The Sikhs celebrate this day by visiting gurudwaras and distributing kada prasad. Processions led by the Panj Piaras or the five religious men are taken out. Kirtans and recital of passages from the Granth Sahib are also organized in gurdwaras, where people line up to receive the delicious prasad and perform kar sewa-that is, offering help in the daily chores of the gurdwara.

The Festival

India’s rich and glorious civilization is mirrored in its innumerable festivals. These festivals mark the seasons which signal to man the time for work and the time for relaxation, the commencement of the agricultural cycle with sowing in spring, and its culmination with the harvesting of the golden grain. And then, of course, we have, in endless variations of legend and myth, the hallowed perceptions that there is an ever-renewed war of light and darkness, of the divine and the demoniac in the unceasing evolution of the world.

Baisakhi (also called Vaisakhi) is a harvest festival which is celebrated on the thirteenth day of April according to the solar calendar. It is celebrated in North India, particularly in Punjab and Haryana, when the rabi crop is ready for harvesting. This tough agricultural operation is rendered into a lighter occupation by merry community festivities such as the Bhangra dance by men, who pound the ground with vigorous steps accompanied by singing. Women, too, break into a revelry of dances, principally the Gidda dance, executed with fervor and rhythmic exactitude. On these occasions, men and women adorn themselves with gay-colored clothes and traditional jewellery.

Generally, the sites of these festivities are on the banks of the rivers which have their sacred import with myths and legends woven around their origin and names.

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