The festival of Vaisakhi is celebrated to mark the onset of spring in India. The time of Vaisakhi usually signifies the end of the harvest season, and is an occasion of tremendous joy and festivity for farmers.

The celebrations are concentrated in the states of Punjab and Haryana. In other parts of India, Vaisakhi is known by diverse names – Pohela Boishakh in West Bengal, Bohag Bihu in Assam, Puthandu in Tamil Nadu, Ugadi in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, Pooram Vishu in Kerala and Maha Vishuva Sankranti in Odisha.

How is it celebrated?

The celebrations start with people bathing in a holy river and going to Gurudwaras, chief of which are the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the Gurudwara at Anandpur Sahib, where Khalsa was born, and Talwandi Sabo, where Guru Gobind Singh recompiled the sacred Guru Granth Sahib. After the prayers, people delve into merriment and dance and sing. The popular phrase ‘Jatta Aayi Vaisakhi’ is proclaimed loudly in neighborhoods as gleeful farmers celebrate a bountiful harvest. Sikh community also marks the beginning of the New Year on this day.

For Sikhs, the celebration of this holiday recalls another new beginning: the formation of the Khalsa, the special company of the faithful to which all initiated Sikhs belong. The Khalsa was founded by the tenth Sikh guru, Gobind Singh. The initiation rite called khande di pahul, or “taking amrit,” frequently takes place on this day, the anniversary of the first initiations.

One of the main events on Vaisakhi is the raising of the Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag. The huge flagpole must be unbolted and lowered as scores of men and women support its weight, and others sing shabads. The flagpole is then washed and the new flag is installed. The wrapping cloth of the flag extends down to the base of the platform, and is fastened with ties of the same orange color as the flag. The new Nishan Sahib is raised as people shout the Sikh slogan “Jo Bole so Nihal,” “Who says this will be exalted!” Each is answered with the affirmation of what it is that needs to be said: “Sat Sri Akal!” or “God is Truth!” In all, Vaisakhi is a joyful and festive occasion.

Feasts are an integral part of the festival and the traditional Karah Prasad (a semolina concoction prepared with wheat, clarified butter and sugar) is a special delicacy. People congregate for lunch at the guru-ka-langar or community kitchen at the Gurudwaras and after a shared meal, take out grand processions of Nagar Kirtan, in which devotional songs are played, led by five Khalsas dressed as Panj Pyare, pass across the streets in the wee hours of the morning. Devotees also visit the Gurudwaras to offer their prayers and seek blessings. Several fairs are also organized where festivities are observed with Bhangra and Gidda performances, folk songs, amusement rides and delicious food.

Nikita Sharma