Baisakhi, the festival of harvesting the Rabi crop, is known as `Khalsa Sirjana Diwas` (the birth of Khalsa). The day of Baisakhi marks the birth of Khalsa Panth and therefore holds tremendous significance for the Sikhs. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru, inaugurated the Khalsa on March 30, 1699. Also on this day, the Muslim rulers executed Guru Arjan Dev with boiling oil.
The story of Baisakhi Festival began with the martyrdom of the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Teg Bahadur, who was publicly beheaded by the Aurungzeb, the Mughal ruler. Aurungzeb wanted to spread Islam in India and Guru Tegh Bahadur stood up for the rights of Hindus and Sikhs. The Mughals, therefore, saw him as a threat.
After the death of Guru Teg Bahadur, his son, Guru Gobind Singh, became the next Guru of the Sikhs and wished to instil among his fellow men the courage to sacrifice. To fulfil his dream, Guru Gobind Singh called on the historic Baisakhi Day congregation of Sikhs at Keshgarh Sahib near Anandpur Punjab. When thousands of people assembled for his blessing, Guru Gobind Singh came with an unsheathed sword. He said that every great deed was preceded by an equally great sacrifice and demanded that anyone prepared to give his life should come forward. On the Guru’s third call, a young man offered himself. The Guru took the man inside a tent and reappeared alone with a bloodied sword.
Guru Gobind Singh asked for another volunteer. This was repeated for four times until a total of five Sikhs went into the tent with the Guru. Everyone thought worriedly that Guru Gobind Singh had killed five Sikhs. At this point, the Guru presented all the five men before the people. Everyone was surprised to see all the five men alive, wearing turbans and saffron-coloured garments. The Guru had actually baptized the five in a ceremony called Pahul. These five men were called Panj Pyaras or `Beloved Five` by the Guru.
In an iron vessel, the Guru stirred with a sword called Khanda Sahib, the batashas(sweets) that his wife, Mata Sundari Ji, had put into water. The congregation recited verses from scriptures as the Guru performed the sacred ceremony. The water was now considered the sacred nectar of immortality called amrit. It was first given to the five volunteers, then drunk by the guru and later distributed amongst the crowd. With this ceremony, all those present, irrespective of caste or creed, became members of the Khalsa Pantha (the Order of the Pure Ones).
The Guru regarded the Panj Pyaras as the first members of the Khalsa. With the constitution of the Panj Pyaras, the high and low castes were grouped together - there was one Khatri, shopkeeper; one Jat, farmer; one Chhimba, calico printer; one Ghumar, water-carrier, and one Nai, a barber. The Guru further gave Singh (Lion) as a surname to every Sikh. He also became Guru Gobind Singh from Guru Gobind Rai. This was seen as a great step towards national integration because society at that time was divided on the basis of religion, caste and social status.
Guru Gobind Singh also bestowed on the Khalsa, the unique Sikh identity. He directed Sikhs to carry five Ks: Kesh or long hair, Kangha or comb, Kripan or dagger, Kachha or shorts and a Kara or bracelet. Guru Gobind Singh also discontinued the tradition of human Gurus and asked all Sikhs to accept the Grantha Sahib as their eternal guide.
After the Baisakhi Day in 1699, the tradition of human gurus was thus discontinued.
Baisakhi today is celebrated not only among Sikhs and Punjabis, but by all the communities with equal enthusiasm to mark a new beginning, the start of a new harvest season or the solar year. This Sikh religious festival falls in the month of April, according to the Gregorian calendar.
India`s rich and glorious civilisation is reflected in its countless fairs and festivals. They mark the seasons which signal the time for work and relaxation, the commencement of agricultural cycle with sowing in spring and its culmination with the harvesting of golden grain.