Baisakhi Mela ….is what we could call a country fair. A vivid and vibrant colour of life of rural Punjab is epitomized in these fairs. The people are joyous and exuberant …and they should be, after the bountiful harvest, which will bring wealth and richness in their lives. If you have not been to a Baisakhi Mela let me tell you a little about what happens ….. well firstly the activities in Baisakhi fairs do give people a chance to enjoy …music dance ….horsemanship ….martial arts…Added to that workmanship of all kinds and stuff from all over are for sale in stalls.
Hmmm!!! How can we forget foods in Punjab…We Punjabis are perhaps the most voracious foodies.
Foods….all sort of foods and flavours are one of the most multihued array on display for festivals but..But then why only festivals, trust a Punjabi to make it a reason enough anytime during the year to lay a delectable culinary feast.
The Story of the Birth of Khalsa
Significantly Baisakhi commemorates 1699 as well, the year Sikhism was born as a collective faith.
The seed of the story of Baisakhi was perhaps sown with the martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur, the ninth Sikh Guru who was publicly beheaded by the Aurungzeb, the 6th Mughal
emperor . Aurungzeb wanted to widen the scope of Islam in India through coercion, and Gthis is where Guru Tegh Bahadur stood up for the rights of oppressed Hindu populace …thus for the Mughals he became a proverbial thorn in the flesh and a threat.
After the death of Guru Teg Bahadur ji, his son, Guru Gobind Rai became the next Guru at the age of nine…Wise beyond his years, he possessed a divine grace, yet he continued to attain education in diverse areas of interest ,like literature …languages …music….art and even martial arts and principles of war.
Guru Gobind Singh was here on a mission, it was his dream to inspire courage and create equality for all the people …..It was to fulfill this divine mission that Guru Gobind Singh called for a congregation of Sikhs at Keshgarh Sahib near Anandpur on March 30, 1699 on the historic Baisakhi Day.
It was the Baisakhi .….the beginning of the month of Baisakh of the year 1699. This was just the time of the year for joyous and bountiful festival for the agrarian community of the ‘Land of Five Rivers’…. As always the spirit of the Baisakhi mela’ was in the air and the aura was so very contagious. People from far and near had gathered together at Anandpur to celebrate the New Year Festival. However, the gathering was a bit different on that day. This year Guru Gobind Rai had sent a message that every Sikh who should try to come….Rather must do his best to come to the annual fair.
By noon, it is said that well over eighty thousand people had assembled at the undulating fair ground at Anandpur on that Baisakhi Day …and more kept coming.
Cynosure of all eyes was a structure ….They all stopped to stare up the hill for there on a hillock overlooking the extensive fair grounds was a large and tent pitched…..It had kind of grandeur about it and was richly festooned.
People were all very energized and keyed up ,they looked forward to meeting the Guru …each one felt as if the unusual 'message' was especially sent for them alone. ….soon a buzz went around that the Guru was in the marquee and he would be coming out soon .All eyes were turned towards the tent and everyone was waiting patiently for Guru's ‘darshan’ and to receive his blessings.
But it took a little longer than expected.
At last their fortitude was rewarded, as they saw Guru Gobind step out of the dark innards of the tent onto the sunshine as the skies were clear and bright; ….He was wearing a saffron coloured robe with a blue waist band and there was a long sword hanging from his left side. He walked briskly and came to a specifically erected raised area near the tent.
What would you give to have heard Guru Gobind Singh speak the words that He spoke to his disciples on that day?
Can you imagine those words that were said there that day?
Those words had the potential to craft a life changing path and their lives were never to be the same ever again….
Such was the effect of his personal aura to one and all that it seemed that the Guru stood towering close to them; although in actuality he was at some distance from the people in the back. They saw that there was a strange glow about his persona and a slight smile touched his face. Suddenly he stopped to look intently at the crowd,…And he pulled out his sword and raised it high with his right hand. …A kind of a hush descended on the festive gathering.
His speech was powerful and the contents were potent ….it was given to impart self belief and to inculcate courage amongst fellowmen. At the end of the speech he continued that every great deed was preceded by equally great sacrifice and demanded that anyone prepared to give his life come forward.
Now, in thundering tone of voice that carried far and wide through the crowds, the Guru spoke, "My dear Sikhs, I am glad to see so many of you here today. Today I have planned to offer you something special. But for this I need your help. Indeed, I need your head. I need the head of a Sikh who claims his faith in me."
There was a deathly silence all around. Everybody was too stunned to walk away or even whisper. Then the Guru flashed his sword again, raised his voice to a level with depth and gravity and repeated, "My Sikhs, I want a head and nothing less than a head. If anyone among you claims to be a true Sikh, then come forward and prove it." He looked so severe and stern…...
Before he had finished his last sentence, a tall lean Sikh was already moving forward towards the Guru on the platform.
His name was Daya Ram and he was from Lahore.
Reaching the Guru, he folded his hands, bent his head forward and said, "O, Lord, the true Guru, I claim to be your humble Sikh. My head is ready for you. Please take it."
The Guru turned towards him ,held him by the arm and looked intently into his eyes…..What he saw must have satisfied him for he led him into the tent. Soon after the crowd inside heard the sound of a sword striking a body….. They then heard the soft chants of Whaeguru ! Waheguru!Waheguru!......And then came an ominous loud thud.
The silence was such that you could have heard the proverbial pin drop…..Then there was movement at the marquee…They saw the Guru coming out of the tent, looking even more ferociously stern….. Fresh blood dripped down his sword. The crowd was truly horrified. Nobody needed to be told what had happened inside the tent.
Once again the Guru stood on the platform. Once again he raised his sword and addressed the crowd, "Well, my Sikhs! I want a second Sikh who would willingly offer his head to me." This new demand made the people even more scared. But they dare not ask or challenge the Guru for his seemingly wrongful act. However, as he was repeating his strange call, another Sikh began to move forward.
His name was Dharam Das, and he was from Delhi.
Dharam Das stood before the Guru and said in a humble voice, "O, my true King…My guru, I offer my head to you, please take it, it is yours." This pleased the Guru…for eyes softened seeing the devotion in Dharam Das’s eyes ..He put his arm around him and gently turned him around and took him inside the tent. This time again, the crowd heard a a gentle chant of Waheguru!...... and then….again their was a loud thud. Everyone gasped. They were sure that Dharam Das, too, had been put to death.
Again the Guru emerged from the tent with a sword unsheathed and swathed in blood. His expression was graver than ever ….and he looked far into the crowded congregation ….again he demanded from the crowd, "Come, come my Sikhs, who comes next. I still want some more. Now I want a third head. I want a Sikh who has faith in me."
The people were terrified. They thought perhaps the Guru had gone mad. He was asking too much. Now they were no longer spell bound by the events which had taken place just before. They could think. They began to move; they whispered with each other. They began to slip away from the crowd. Some just fled for their lives.
In the mean time another Sikh named Mohkam Chand had reached the Guru on the platform. He was from Dwarka.
With folded hands he requested the Guru to accept his head. The Guru did not wait or waste a minute, and did the same as he had done with the other two.
For the fourth time, the Guru stood before the crowd and repeated his demand for yet another head. Now the crowd was even more restless. Some people were slinking away but most stood their ground. They all were really scared, and it did not take long before they saw
yet another Sikh on the platform offering his head to the Guru.
His name was Sahib Chand and he was from Bihar.
The Guru dealt with him in the same way as with the other three before him.
The crowd was getting thinner by the moment. By the time the Guru came back and asked for a fifth head, only the very faithful had stayed behind. But there seemed to be no shortage of volunteers.
Soon, another Sikh named Himmat Rai moved forward.
He was, at once, led to the tent, but this time the Guru did not return quickly.
The people outside began to wonder….curious they were but could not even dare to imagine the consequence their minds conjured…. The horror they had seen was unfathomable….but gradually they heaved a sigh of relief for the Guru had stopped asking for more heads.
Now with hope and anticipation they waited nervously and prayed 'Waheguru'.
Then the Guru stepped out into the clear late afternoon sunlight .
He was followed by five other men…They seemed to be ina uniform. They, too, were dressed in saffron colour, with blue scarved tied round their waists and turbans. They looked very much like the Guru himself. All stood on the platform facing the crowd. Their faces beamed with joy and satisfaction.
As soon as the people near them recognised that they were the same Sikhs who they thought had been killed by the Guru, they immediately started cheering them and saluted them with loud shouts of Jo Bole so nihal..'Sat Siri Akal!' Soon everybody joined in, and the whole atmosphere was vibrant with the deafening sounds Sat Siri Akal. Many people who had left the fair ground in fear and disappointment heard these cheers and rushed back to see what was happening. They could not believe their eyes.
Everything had happened so fast.
They could not understand.
'Had the dead been brought back to life?'
When the cheering crowd had stopped, the Guru spoke to the crowd, "My dear Sikhs; we all remember that when Guru Nanak gave a test to his Sikhs only one passed it. His name was Lehna, who then became Guru Angad. Now two hundred years after the first test, I have given you another final test. However this test was not for Guruship, but for the 'nationhood'.
I call it the Khalsa, the brotherhood of the pure at heart.
You have witnessed the birth of the Khalsa. These Sikhs standing beside me are my Panj Piara’s (five beloved ones). Each of them is a saint and a soldier in one. These five Sikhs are dedicated and daring enough to lead; and strong enough to support the edifice of the Khalsa."
Later the Guru introduced his Sikhs to a new kind of initiation ceremony called the Amrit -Baptism.
In an iron vessel, the Guru stirred with a sword called Khanda , the batasha 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 called amrit.
It was first given to the ‘Panj Piara’s, then taken by the Guru himself 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 and gave them a new name - 'Singh'. And Kaur’.
It was estimated that well over 20,000 Sikhs were baptised the same day.