The Vaisakh or Baisakh (April - May) is the Sikh New Year festival and is celebrated on April 13 or 14. For the Sikhs in Punjab and other parts of the country, this day has a particular significance, as it also commemorates 1699, the year Sikhism was born as a collective faith. The main celebrations are held at Anandpur Sahib and at Muktsar. It was on this day in 1699 that Guru Gobind Singh founded Khalsa at Anandpur Sahib.
Guru Gobind Singh baptized five Sikhs and founded the Khalsa. These five men came to be known as the Panj Pyare, or `Beloved Five. And he proclaimed said that whenever and wherever five baptized (Amritdhari) Sikhs come together, the Guru would be present. All those who receive Amrit from five baptized Sikhs, will be infused with the spirit of courage and strength to sacrifice. Thus with these principles, he established Panth Khalsa, the Order of the Pure Ones.
At the same time, the Guru gave his new Khalsa a unique, indisputable, and distinct identity. The Guru gave the gift of bana, the distinctive Sikh clothing and headwear. He also gave five symbols of purity and courage. These symbols, worn by all baptized Sikhs of both sexes, are popularly known today as Five Ks. They are kesh (A Sikh never cuts or trims his hair), kanga (a wooden comb), kara (special iron bracelet), kacha (a pair of knee length shorts) and kirpan (a 6" to 9" long, dagger-like or knife-life weapon).
Sikhs celebrate this very important day of their religion with joy and devotion. They take an early bath and wear new clothes. Every Sikh visits on this day the largest gurudwara. If possible Sikhs visit the Golden Temple at Amritsar and take a bath in the pool of Immortality. They also participate in the special prayer meet marked for the day. Major celebrations of Baisakhi are organized at Golden Temple, Amritsar where the Khalsa Panth was founded on a Baisakhi Day in 1699. After a special Ardas of kirtans (religious songs) and discourses, Kada Prasad (sweetened semolina) is distributed amongst all present. Later, people sit in rows to relish the langar or community lunch prepared and served by kar sevaks or volunteers.
The main religious function is reading of Granth Sahib, where it is read from beginning to end for 2 days and nights and is called Akhand Path. The Granth is taken out in procession to the accompaniment of music. The procession is called is called Nagar Kirtan. The five men walk in front of the `Granth` with drawn out swords in memory of Panch Pyare of Guru Gobind Singh. Men, women and children alike participate in the Baiskhi processions with enthusiasm.
In Punjab, the robust farming communities celebrate with rambunctious songs and dances. While the men dance the traditional Bhangra
with energy and zest, the women folk join in with the Giddha dance
. Melas or fairs are held over a couple of days and people participate in the fun, games and entertainment. Even mock fights and a band playing religious tunes make Baisakhi processions quite colourful and exciting. The dance is simple in movement but is extremely energetic and is performed in groups on the beat of dhol. Later in the evening, people exchange greetings with friends and relatives usually with a box of sweets or other traditional gifts.
Even the farmers in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, celebrate the festival of Baisakhi with lot of joy and enthusiasm, since for them Baisakhi marks the time for harvest of rabi crops. This is a time of hard work but also a time when the community gathers together to mark the end of a successful agricultural season. Prosperous with the bountiful produce they look forward to celebrating Baisakhi with all eagerness. Cries of "Jatta aayi Baisakhi" ring in the skies as gaily-dressed men and women move towards the fields to celebrate the occasion. Farmers also celebrate Baisakhi as a Thanksgiving Day and the offerings are usually in the form of the first crop harvested. Homes are cleaned and decorated with garlands of mango leaves and marigold flowers. After taking an early bath in ponds or rivers people visit temples or gurdwaras to express gratitude to the Almighty for the bountiful harvest and pray for prosperity and good times in future.