The heart of London beat to Sikh drums on Sunday, May 5th, when over 50,000 people joined the Vaisakhi celebrations at Trafalgar Square, an event exclusively promoted by our Ethnic agency.
Celebrated across the Indian subcontinent by hundreds of millions, Vaisakhi (or Baisakhi) is an important holiday for Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists, who observe it as a harvest festival and the new year.
Ever since 1699, when the holy warrior Guru Gobind Singh (the 10th Guru of the Sikhs) established the Khalsa on March 30th, Vaisakhi day, this holiday has been holding special significance for the Sikh nation.
Legend has it the Guru climbed on a hill and spoke to a gathering of his followers, demanding that they offer themselves up for sacrifice (a rather common motif in religious history), by stepping into his tent and allowing themselves to be executed by means of decapitation with a large sword.
People were reluctant to do this until the first volunteer stepped up. Crowd mentality kicked in quickly after, and wannabe martyrs started pouring into the Guru’s tent. Every time he emerged outside with his blade drenched in warm blood, someone else wanted to go. Five followers went inside one after the other, willing to die for their master, before Gobind Singh halted the charade: he was just testing their self-preservation instincts.
They were all unharmed, hidden inside the tent. The guru then revealed his mild deceit to the throng of anxious onlookers and used the same sword to mix some sugar with water in a bowl in front of them. The ordeal was not quite over yet. The five volunteers took the sweet concoction and squirted themselves in the eyes with it five times, repeating a simple mantra every time round. Lo and behold, all became the Panj Piare, or ‘the five beloved ones’ in the first ritual of Sikh initiation ever performed. The Khalsa had been formed.
A body of leadership for all initiated Sikhs, the Khalsa was also an effective form of governance over centuries of turbulent history riddled with religious persecution. Its members can still be recognised by the five symbols or articles of faith, as well as the titles Singh (which means ‘lion’) and Kaur (which means ‘princess’). Upon initiation, neophytes are welcomed into the Khalsa through a ritual that renders them pure, holy, brave and level-headed. This is an ongoing occurrence, the Sikh tradition being kept the same way everywhere in the world to this day. However, it needs to be mentioned that although not all Sikhs are part of the Khalsa, all joyfully celebrate Vaisakhi.
Naturally, this Sunday was no exception.
The stage was taken by ethnic artists, poets and dancers who put up both traditional and modern performances to an estimated 50,000 people of all backgrounds. Thanks in no small part to the hot and sunny weather, the annual Vaisakhi on the Square event was particularly lively this time around, with families travelling from far away suburbs to attend. Authentic Indian food was aplenty, as were hand-crafted souvenirs at the commercial pop-up stalls set up on the day.
The event was supported by the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority, who contracted our shop to handle the promotion and community outreach. What better warm-up then for the busy summer ahead?
Keep watching this space. We’ll be organising many such Ethnic events around the UK, to highlight the vibrancy of multiculturalism.