New Year isn’t always celebrated on January 1st.  Different religions and cultures celebrate it at different times.  One of these different times is Vaisakhi (also known as Baisakhi) - the Sikh New Year.  It is celebrated on either April 13th or 14th and commemorates 1699 when Sikhism was officially born as a collective faith. 

Also known as Baisakhi, it is a long established harvest festival in Punjab.  The tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, chose Vaisakhi as the occasion to transform Sikhs into a family of soldier saints called the ‘Khalsa Panth’.  It was founded in front of thousands in Anandpur Sahib.

During the festival, he came out of a tent carrying a sword. The Guru challenged any Sikh prepared to give up his life and come into the tent.  He then returned alone.  His sword was covered in blood.  He then asked for another volunteer and repeated this process four times until five men disappeared into the tent. The crowd was very concerned.  However, five men came out of the tent wearing turbans with the Guru.  These five men from then were known as the Panj Piare, or 'Beloved Five'.

The men were then baptised into the Khalsa by the Guru. He sprinkled them with Amrit (for holy water) and said prayers.  This formed the basis of the Sikh baptism ceremony we still see today.

Celebrations are big and wonderful.  Gurdwaras are decorated and visited and chanting, dancing and singing all take place throughout the day.  Marking the festival are ‘Nagar Kirtan’ processions (nagar meaning town and kirtan meaning singing hymns from the holy book of Sikhism – the Guru Granth Sahib).  These processions are led by traditionally dressed ‘Panj Piaras’ with the Guru Granth Sahib being carried in the procession as honour.  Many Sikhs also choose to be baptised into the Khalsa brotherhood on this day as remembrance of what happened all those years ago. 

The Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara in Gravesend had a major event where grand celebrations took place and music played and people danced.  The array of stalls, specific to Sikhs and their culture, were busy and lively with food being given out.  Many also welcomed donations as part of one part of their religion called sewa.  It is estimated that thousands of people were there.  Borislava Borisova, a spectator, found it “very interesting and fun”.  A short film has been shot and put on the following link  A recent Bollywood film named 'Mubarakan' also has featured the gurdwara in its shooting as well. 

Additti Agrawal, Newstead Wood School