World ? Asia ? India


The vigorous Bhangra dance of the Punjab

14 Apr 2009 (annual)
Baisakhi (or Vaisakhi) means different things to two religious groups in India. It marks the new solar year for Hindus, and the day in the 17th century when the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, founded the Khalsa (Sikh brotherhood).
For Hindus, celebrations for the new year involve bathing, feasting and worshipping at home and in temples. Devotees pay special respect to the goddess Ganga, who descended to Earth thousands of years ago. Thousands gather along the sacred Ganges River for ritual baths. Plenty goes on in the holy cities along the Ganges (such as Benaras), in Srinagar's Mughal Gardens, Jammu's Nagbani Temple, or indeed anywhere in Tamil Nadu.

You'll also see flags of gold-embroidered silk in front of Hindu homes, with pots of brass, copper or silver dangling from poles. In Kerala the festival is called Vishu, and includes plenty of pyrotechnics, and displays called Vishu Kani - arrangements of flowers, grains, fruits, cloth, gold, and money (which help to ensure a year of prosperity). Assam's version is called Bohag Bihu, and the community organises massive feasts, music and dancing.

Sikhs celebrate a whole different event on this day. If you are lucky enough to see men performing the (now funky) bhangra dance, you'll understand a bit of it. It tells the story of the agricultural process, from tilling the soil through to harvesting. Baisakhi also commemorates the day in 1689 when Guru Gobing Singh founded the Khalsa - the fighting Sikh brotherhood that donned the distinctive Sikh outfits.

Sikhs visit temples, where the holy Granth is read, marking the time when the Guru asked five volunteers to offer their lives. He then took them one at a time into a tent, and emerged each time with a bloody sword, although he had in fact sacrificed a goat. In honour of these loyal "Beloved Five", a series of parades are held, in which sets of five men walk in front of the holy book with swords drawn. When the ceremony is over, the partying begins.
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