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Sikh Festivals and Holy Days
Sikhs do not believe that any particular day of the week is a holy day. However, Sangraand (the first day of the Indian lunar calendar month) is an important day, when most Sikhs like to visit the Gurdwara for special prayers, usually in the early monring.
In India most Gurdwaras are open to the public for prayer and worhip all day, everyday; special congregational services are held both in the early morning and evening.
In Britain, Sunday being a holiday, most Sikhs find it convenient to visit a Gurdwara on that day. However, at some places Saturday evening is regarded as most convenient.
A Sikh festival or holy-day is called is called Gurpurb. Gurpurb means the Guru's Remembrance Day. This usually refers to the birth or the death of certain Gurus. The following Gurpurbs are regarded as rather important:
The Birth of Guru Nanak
This 'Gurpurb' comes, usually in the month of November and is celebrated with great excitement. An important feature of the celebration is a colourful procession of hundreds and thousands of Sikhs, men, men women and children, which is led by the Panj Piaray (five beloved ones) and the Holy Granth on a float. As the procession winds its way through the streets a continuous chant of the sacred music or hymn singing is heard, which is occasionally broken by loud (mass) shouts of salutations of Sat Sir Akal (Hail Victory to the True Lord).
In most Gurdwaras, celebrations start a couple of days earlier with the commencement of Akhand-Path (non-stop reading of the Holy Granth for 48 hours). On the final day, the atmosphere in and around the Gurdwara is like a fair, as families and groups of Sikhs are seen entering and leaving the premises throughout the day.
In the evening, some Sikhs illuminate their homes and shops with candles, 'deevas' or other electric lights. Occasionally, a display of fireworks is also arranged, especially at the Gurdwaras. However, the most spectacular sight is the Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple), Amritsar, which as on Diwali Night looks like a floating palace of a million multi-coloured lights.
Baisakhi (or Vaisakhi)
This festival day or the Gurpurb celebrating the birth of the 'Khalsa' usually falls on the 13th of April. Baisakhi was originally celebrated to mark the beginning of the New Year (according to the ancient Indian Lunar Calendar).
To the Sikhs, the importance of this day is both historical and religious. It was on this day on 13th April, 1699 when Guru Gobind Singh gave the Sikhs a new name (Singh) and a new identity of being a nation, by making them distinctively different in physical appearance and personal behavior. Hence forth, along with 'inner discipline' the Sikhs were asked to keep an 'out discipline' too by wearing the 5K's.
Baisakhi is also an important harvest festival in the Punjab. All over the Punjab farmers are happy because they have 'gathered in' the wheat, the most important crop of the season. Now they can perform Bhangra (folk dance) and sing. The folk lore goes like this-
"O, Jatta aayee visakhi,
Meaning- Hey! Farmer! the Baisakhi has come and you no longer need to worry about and watch your wheat.
Although, essentially a Hindu festival, the Sikhs have found themselves enough good reasons to celebrate this day as another important festival. Diwali is commonly known as the festival of lights or lamps. Thus many Sikh homes and business properties are decorated and lit with Deevas (oil lamps made of clay), candles and multicoloured electric bulbs. Children look forward to enjoying fireworks and 'family feasts'. The Darbar Sahib at Amritsar presents another spectacular sight at night, with hundreds and thousands of big and small oil lamps, candles and electric lights. Usually, Diwali falls in the month of October.
Lohrri, Maghi and Holi
are other popular festivals of the Punjab. They have no real religious significance to the Sikhs, except locally, and generally their celebrations coincide with a particular season.
However, there are quite a few other local fairs which are historically important to the Sikhs and attract crowds in hundreds of thousands and last two to three days. The most important of these are: