Visakhi and Diwali

amritsar diwali as taken from pinimage.com

Two Punjabi social festivals which were incorporated into sikhism by Gurus are Visakhi and Diwali. Visakhi is festival of harvest right after winter. Diwali is festival right before winter to get ready to do hard work on crops. Both Diwali and Visakhi are festival of India and are celebrated all over india under various names.

VISAKHI, was a seasonal festival popular in the Punjab which takes place on the first day of the solar month of Baisakh (Sanskrit Vaisakha, so called because according to astrological calculations, the moon at this time passes through visakha naksatra or constellation) of the Indian calendar. Traditionally, the festival was celebrated as the harbinger of happiness and plenty being closely connected with harvesting. To ward off malignant spirits ruinous to the harvest, a ritual dance preceded the festivities. In the central districts of Gujranwala, Sialkot and Gurdaspur as also in parts of Jammu, the popular dance form was, and still is, bhangra.

As some Sikh texts record, Guru Nanak (1469-1539) was born during the month of Baisakh. According to Sarup Das Bhalla, Mahima Prakash, Part 2, Guru Amar Das (1479-1574), at the suggestion of Sikhs led by Bhai Paro, started an annual congregational fair at Goindval on the occasion of Baisakhl. It became customary for distant sangats of Sikhs to assemble at the seat of the Gurus on every Baisakhl (and Diwali) day.

With the inauguration by Guru Gobind Singh of the Khalsa on 1 Baisakh 1756 Bk, Baisakhi became an important festival on the Sikh calendar. The date then corresponded with 30 March 1699, but owing to the adoption of Gregorian calendar by the British in 1752 and the difference between the Christian and the Bikrami years since then, Baisakhi now usually falls on 13 and sometimes on 14 April. The Sikhs everywhere celebrate Baisakhi enthusiastically as birthday anniversary of the Khalsa. Akhand paths are recited followed by kirtan and ardas in almost every gurdwara. Community meals form part of the celebrations. At bigger centres congregational fairs, amrit-prachar, i.e. initiation ceremonies for inducting novitiates into the Knalsa fold, and contests in manly sports are held. Until the partition of the Punjab in 1947, the largest attended Baisakhi fairs were those of Panja Sahib, in Attock district, and Eminabad, in Gujranwala (now both in Pakistan).

The most important venues now are the Golden Temple, Amritsar, Takht Damdama Sahib at Talvandi Sabo, in Bathinda district, and Takht Kesgarh Sahib, Anandpur Sahib, in Ropar district, all in the Punjab. It was at Kesgarh Fort that conversion of Sikhs into the Khalsa through the administration of khande do pahul, or baptism of the double-edged sword, first took place on the Baisakhi day of 1699.

Diwali means festival of lights (from Sanskrit dipamala or dipavall meaning row of lamps or nocturnal illumination), is observed all over India on amavasyia, the last day of the dark half of the lunar month of Kartika (October-November). Like other seasonal festivals, Diwali has been celebrated since time immemorial. In its earliest form, it was regarded as a means to ward off, expel or appease the malignant spirits of darkness and ill luck. The festival is usually linked with the return to Ayodhya of Lord Rama at the end of his fourteen-year exile. For the Hindus it is also an occasion for the worship of Laksmi, the goddess of good fortune, beauty and wealth. Among the Sikhs, Diwali came to have special significance from the day the town of Amritsar was illuminated on the return to it of Guru Hargobind (1595-1644) who had been held captive in the Fort at Gwalior under the orders of the Mughal emperor, Jahangir (1570-1627) . Hence forth Diwali, like Baisakhi, became a day of pilgrimage to the seat of the Gurus. Bhai Gurdas (d. 1636) in his Varan, XIX. 6, has drawn an image of lamps lighted on the night of Diwali like the stars, big and small, twinkling in the firmament going out one by one bringing home to the gurmukh, one who has his face turned towards the Guru, i.e. he who is attached to the Guru, how transitory the world is."

During the turbulent eighteenth century, it was customary for the roaming warrior bands of Sikhs to converge upon Amritsar braving all hazards to celebrate Diwali. It was for his endeavour to hold such a congregation at Amritsar that Bhai Mani Singh, a most widely revered Sikh of his time, was put to death under the imperial fiat. Amritsar still attracts vast numbers of Sikhs for the festival and although all gurdwaras and Sikh homes are generally illuminated on Diwali night, the best and the most expensive display of lights and fireworks takes place at the Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple), Amritsar


BIBLIOGRAPHY

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