The Sikh Calendar
Until the 13th of March, 1998, the Sikhs used a Hindu lunar calendar to determine their feast days. They now use their own Nanakshahi calendar which started on 14 March 1999 Gregorian (1 Chet 531 Nanakshahi ) and aligns with the Gregorian calendar as follows. The era (1 Chet 1 Nanakshahi) is the date of the birth of the 1st Guru, Nanak Dev, in the Punjab in 1469. Although there is an obvious relationship with the Hindu Solar Calendar, the Sikh Organization states that these dates are fixed relative to the Gregorian Calendar.
Baramaha is the name of composition in Sri Guru Granth Sahib which mention the twelve months (Indian names of the months) in a Calender year. Famous Baramaha composed by guru Arjan Dev Ji in Rag Majh is generally read in Gurudwaras on the day of Sangrand. Guru NanakDev Ji also composed Baramaha in Reg Tukhari.
The Nanakshahi calendar is used for all the Gurupurabs (festivals marking events in the lives of the Gurus) except the birthday of Guru Nanak which continues to be celebrated according to the Hindu Lunar calendar on Katik Poornamashi. Events such as Maghi and Hola Mohalla continue to be celebrated according to the relevant calendars. Some Gurupurabs are considered more significant that others. These are the ones that commonly appear as holidays and are marked in bold type.
Gurpurabs mark the culmination of Prabhat Pheris, the early morning religious procession which goes around the localities singing shabads (hymns). These pheris generally start three weeks before the festival. Devotees offer sweets and tea when the procession passes their homes. The celebrations start with the three-day akhand path, in which the Guru Granth Sahib (the holy book of the Sikhs) is read continuously from beginning to end without a break. The conclusion of the reading coincides with the day of the festival. The Granth Sahib is also carried in procession on a float decorated with flowers throughout the village or city. Five armed guards, who represent the Panj Pyares, head the procession carrying Nishan Sahibs (the Sikh flag). Local bands play religious music and marching schoolchildren form a special part of the procession. Free sweets and langar (community lunches) are also offered to everyone irrespective of religious faith. Local volunteers serve it with a spirit of seva (service) and bhakti (devotion). Sikhs visit gurdwaras (Sikh temples) where special programmes are arranged and kirtans (religious songs) sung. Houses and gurdwaras are lit up to add to the festivities.