Q117. Mention the important Sikh festivals.
Sikh festivals are many, for example general festivals like the birthdays, the accession anniversaries of the Gurus, the death anniversaries of the Gurus, in addition to other special events. There are also local festivals like Maghi (celebrated at Mukatsar in Punjab) Holla Mahalla (celebrated at Anandpur and Fatehgar Sahib). However, there are five big festivals which are celebrated by the Sikhs all over the world. These festivals are not meant for solely entertainment, pleasure of food and frolic, but are occasions for the revitalization of faith and rededication to the principles and practices of Sikhism. These celebrations are open to all men and women without distinction of caste, creed or color and take form in devotion and worship, through Kirtan (hymnal singing), Katha (discourse or lecture) and Ardas (supplication), Karah Parsad (consecrated food) and Langar (free food in the community kitchen).
(i) Guru Nanak's Birthday: Guru Nanak is the Founder of Sikh religion. He was born on 20th October 1469 at Talwandi, now in Pakistan. The actual birthday-anniversary varies, according to the dates of the Bikrami Sambat. The celebrations generally last for three days, though in some small villages or Gurdwaras, there is only a one-day celebration on the actual birthday. Two days before the birthday, an Akhand Path (continuous reading of Sri Guru Granth Sahib which takes about 48 hours, by relays of readers called pathis) is held in the Gurdwara (Sikh Temple). One day before the birthday, a procession is organized through the town, led by Panj Piyaras (Five Khalsas) and the Palki (palanquin) of Sri Guru Granth Sahib followed by teams of singers, singing hymns, brass-band playing different tunes and groups of devotees singing in chorus. On the actual birthday a Diwan (religious session) begins early in the morning at about four O'clock, with the singing of the Asa-di-var (morning prayer) followed by the hymns from the Scripture. Then follows the Bhog (reading of last five pages) of the Akhand Path after which more, Kirtan and Katha, lectures and the recitation of poems in praise of the Guru. This celebration goes on till lunch-time, when Langar is served to all.
Some Gurdwaras also hold night-services. These begin soon after sunset when the Rehras and Chaupai are recited. Then follows Kirtan till late in the night. Sometimes a Kavidarbar (poetic symposium) is held, to enable poets to pay their tributes to the Guru in their own words. At about 1.20 A.M. (the actual time of the birth of the Guru) the congregation sings the praises of the Guru and recites the Holy Word. The function ends at about 2 A.M.
(ii) Guru Gobind Singh's Birthday: Guru Gobind Singh is the tenth Guru of the Sikhs. He was born at Patna on 22nd December 1666. The celebrations are similar to those for the three-day schedule of Guru Nanak's birthday. Those Sikhs who cannot join the main celebrations for some reason or live in places where there is no Sikh Temple, hold a celebration in their own homes and themselves perform Kirtan, Ardas and distribute Karah Parsad.
(iii) The Installation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib as permanent Guru:
Three days before passing away, Guru Gobind Singh conferred perpetual Gurudom on Sri Guru Granth Sahib on 3rd October 1708. The Sikh Scripture is also called the Eleventh Guru. On this day a special one-day celebration is held with Kirtan, Katha, lectures, Karah-Parsad and Langar. Sikhs then rededicate themselves to follow the teachings contained in the Guru Granth Sahib. In all Sikh temples, the Guru Granth Sahib presides and holds the most prominent place. In some Gurdwaras, an Akhand Path is read as a part of the celebration.
(iv) Baisakhi: This is the Birthday of the Khalsa (the pure ones). Guru Gobind Singh started the Khalsa brotherhood with his 'baptism of steel' on 30th March 1699. This one-day celebration is held in Gurdwaras with Kirtan, Katha, lecture and Karah-Parsad, Ardas and Langar. In addition, the Amrit ceremony is held and Amrit is given to those who offer themselves for baptism. Sikhs after taking Amrit, are called Khalsa. In some Gurdwaras, an Akhand Path is read as a part of the celebration.
(v) Diwali: The Sikhs celebrate Diwali - generally regarded as a Hindu festival - because Guru Hargobind came back to Amritsar on this day in 1620, after his release from Gwalior jail. The one-day celebration is held with Kirtan, Katha, lectures, Karah-Parsad, Ardas and langar in the Gurdwara. Diwali means festival of lights. So in the evening, illuminations are lit and fire-work displays are held, both in Gurdwaras and in the homes of Sikhs to express their joy at the return of the Sikhs's Guru to Sri Akal Takht (The Throne of the Timeless one) at Amritsar.
In addition to the above festivals, celebrations are held in memory of the martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan in summer season, and the martrdom anniversary of Guru Teg Bahadur in winter, in every Sikh temple.