Festivals: practices in Britain and elsewhere

Festivals: practices in Britain and elsewhere

  • Vaisakhi: This is the most important festival for Sikhs celebrated on April 13 or 14 every year. Celebrations in Britain include colourful street processions (nagar kirtan), public singing, chanting, and sharing of free food (langar). This festival commemorates the formation of the Khalsa in 1699.

  • Diwali (Bandi Chhor Divas): While this festival is often associated with Hinduism, Sikhs also celebrate it, marking the release of the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind, from prison. In Britain and elsewhere, Sikhs commemorate the day with the lighting of lamps and fireworks, prayers and the distribution of sweets.

  • Gurpurbs: These are anniversaries related to the lives of the ten Sikh Gurus. The most important ones are the birth and death anniversaries of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh. Public processions, recitals, and shared meals are typical ways these are commemorated.

  • Hola Mohalla: This is an annual Sikh festival which takes place on the second day of the lunar month of Chet, a day after the Hindu spring festival, Holi. It was started by the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, as a gathering of Sikhs for martial arts training. Today, it is celebrated with military-style parades, mock battles, poetry reading, and music.

  • Langar: While not a festival, the concept of ‘langar’, involving preparation and sharing of free food in a community kitchen (langar hall), is a fundamental practise in Sikhism. It is practised weekly in Gurdwaras in Britain and worldwide promoting communal harmony, equality, and charity.

  • Birth and naming ceremonies: When a child is born in a Sikh family, the holy book (Guru Granth Sahib) is opened at a random page and the first letter of the hymn on that page determines the baby’s name. This ceremony known as ‘Nam Karan’ is followed both in Britain and globally.

  • Amrit Sanchar: The Sikh initiation ceremony, which involves partaking ‘Amrit’ or nectar, originated from the creation of Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh. In Britain, teenagers and adults who are ready to make this commitment take part in the ceremony at the Gurdwara.

Each of these practises strengthens the religious identity of Sikhs and fosters a sense of community, which is important not just in the Sikh homeland of Punjab, India, but also in the diaspora communities in Britain and elsewhere.