Vaisakhi is a time of celebration for the Indians and it is a much awaited occasion in Canada where people throng to pray at the Gurdwaras and temples. While for the Sikh community this festival commemorates the establishment of the “pure” by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699, it is also celebrated by Hindus and Buddhists for different reasons including the start of a new year. This festival has religious and cultural significance for all communities. Vaisakhi is also a harvest festival for Punjabis and, according to the Bikrami calendar, which is the Hindu calendar, it is the start of the New Year.
With rich history to back up Vaisakhi, it is time for one of the most important festivities for Sikhs outside of India. Lower Mainland has the distinction of hosting the biggest Nagar Kirtan in Surrey, where last year around 200,000 people came. Selfless service, devotion, enthusiasm, gaiety and religious fervor mark the two Nagar Kirtans of Surrey and Vancouver. Nagar Kirtans are attended by people of all race and culture and it is the perfect time to show the community’s strength to the mainstream.
The birth of Khalsa was the culmination of 230 years of hard work by the 10 Gurus to instill in the Sikhs the courage and integrity to stand against injustice, exploitation, corruption, tyranny, social injustice, casteism, discrimination and repression. The birth of Khalsa was not only a challenge to the orthodox rituals and ceremonies but also against the divisions created in the society on the basis of caste and colour. Guru baptized to eliminate the concept of high and low and the emphasis was on character building. History points out that during the time of the Guru’s, Punjab was in turmoil. The rulers were corrupt and there was no rule of law for the weak. Justice did not prevail and the rights of the common people were non- existent. The weak suffered and the strong imposed their will. There was misery all around and while the rulers suppressed the masses, the priests exploited the sentiments of the people.
Under these circumstances the Gurus rose to the occasion and the Tenth master chose to create the Khalsa. The Guru wanted people within the community who would be willing to take on the challenge to face the rulers and be strong and fearless to uphold justice. Fairness was the key emphasis and he wanted warriors who were ready to die for the sake of truth. The Guru continued the concept of sant –sipahi initiated by Guru Hargobind but gave a distinct identity to the Sikhs by starting baptism in the form of Khande ki Paul. The saint warriors were people of high character and integrity who were ready to sacrifice themselves for protecting others.
History points to numerous instances when the Sikhs rose to the occasion and proved that they were not just paying lip service to the commandments of the Guru but they lived by it. Thousands of Sikhs sacrificed their lives but they never showed their back to their faith.
This tradition continued for a long time but with the changing times, Sikhs became complacent and they began to be impacted by the rituals and beliefs of other religions also. Sikhism, a way of life, began to be impacted and Sikhs began to become mere worshippers of the holy Guru Granth Sahib rather than using the message in their daily lives. The uniqueness which was evident in the actions of the Sikhs began to fade and though today they are proud of the achievements of their ancestors, not following what the Gurus had imbibed in them has become a normal routine. The distinct identity given by the Guru is not much evident in the community and rather those who wear the turban are not considered “cool”. Matrimonial in the newspapers are a testimony to what the parents and the girls want. “ Wanted a clean shaven Sikh Jat boy” can be easily found written in the advertisements.
While the Guru had given amrit to all, irrespective of caste and colour, casteism has not been eliminated in the community. The landscape of Punjab and abroad points out to the fact of Gurdwaras on the basis of castes. Age old caste discrimination is easily visible.
The Guru gave equality to women but it is sad to see that feticide and infanticide is predominant in the community. Women are still considered to be inferior and though the shabad “ So kiyo manda aakhiye,jit janme rajaan” is read everywhere, reality is somewhat different.
The Gurus initiated a movement against intoxicants but again the community prides in being the highest consumer of alcohol. A major crisis facing the community today is drugs and over 70 percent of youngsters in Punjab are hooked to drugs. The situation in Canada is also alarming.
While the community prides in talking about the Sakhi of Guru Nanak Dev ji in which he oozes blood from the bread of Malik Bhago and milk from the bread of Bhai Lalo, depicting that ill gotten wealth denotes the blood of the poor, nefarious means are adopted to collect money. The race to reach the top ignoring the basic fundamentals preached by the Gurus is becoming a norm in the community.
Helping the needy in times of distress was a basic teaching given to us but what is seen today is demeaning. Hundreds of elders and new immigrants are exploited by the well established in the form of low wages and over work. Elder abuse is a matter of concern which needs to be dealt soon.
Sycophancy and double standards are worth mentioning here. While the Gurus stressed on truth, our many community leaders and people of influence only remember the community during times of election and when the work is done, community issues get sidelined and personal agendas come to the forefront. Even the masses who can be heard complaining on the many radio stations that the community issues are ignored by the politicians, get busy entertaining and getting photographed with them when they come to attend functions. Vaisakhi also is no different where politicians of all parties can be seen propagating their agendas instead of being a part of the community celebrations.
The commercialization of Nagar Kirtans also needs to be looked into so that the religious fervor doesn’t get dissipated.
No doubt it is a matter of great pride that the community is able to gather thousands and thousands of people in the Nagar Kirtans, it is also a time for self introspection. Are we satisfied by the progress of the community by just serving food during the Nagar Kirtans or do we feel that something needs to be done to address the above points. Are we really following the ideals of the tenth master who created a bandwagon of those selfless leaders who pursued truth? Are we standing up for the desperate and needy? Are we helping our brothers and sisters who need assistance to get established in Canada? Are we upholding the values of justice, equality, fraternity instilled in us by the Gurus? Are we instilling the spiritual values in our children? If not, we need to start today or else our future generation will complain that we just kept on paying lip service to the ideals of the Gurus and did not follow the religion in the true perspective. Community leaders need to come together and work selflessly to take the community back to its pristine glory. Individually we need to promise that this Vaisakhi onwards we will start following the commandments of the Gurus as enshrined in the holy Guru Granth Sahib and this will get reflected in our daily actions. Focus should be on character development instead of just the rituals and ceremonies becoming a norm in the Gurdwaras. Nagar Kirtans should continue but with a changed perspective!!