In Sikh culture, there are many festivals, and they can be very inclusive ceremonies that bring groups together. I always loved Vaisakhi growing up; it was such an intimate and joyful day. This is essentially the Sikh New Year, a day full of wonderful and elaborate tradition in true Sikh fashion.
Togetherness is really at the heart of many of our traditions, and this is incredibly prevalent in Vaisakhi. We all sit together for a prayer, we clean ourselves and our flagpole ready for the New Year together. We then tie up a new flag, and distribute parts of the old flag for good luck, and then we all retire to eat together. Everyone dresses up and has a great time. It’s a time of great celebration and happiness.
For me, this was a celebration of our faith, with the Punj Pyare (5 loved ones) undertaking a ritual, and everyone taking part in the ceremony of the flagpole. It also acts as a function of teaching others about our faith and inviting others in to our temple.
I loved it. My mum and I would prepare loads of food the night before, and it was always a very buzzy environment. We’d then go upstairs and choose Indian suits to wear (read: my mum chose the suits and let me believe I had a choice). I’d get up really early, eat my breakfast with siblings, and get ready. My sister would do my hair – the aspiring hairdresser that she was (in fact, she went on to qualify as a hairdresser), and I’d be excited for the special day that lay ahead.
When we finally got to the temple, we would go to the kitchen and help to make everyone’s tea, and make sure enough food had been made for everyone to eat. We would go downstairs and wait for the prayers to start, and then listen, pray, and believe, whilst some joined in. During the breaks in the prayers I would reconvene with friends – new and old, and we would play with the priests and each other. We would sit for the second half of the prayer, and sometimes, mainly when I was older, I would be allowed to play instruments to accompany our hymns. It was a day full of joy and blessings.
We would go outside and watch the flag that had been drawn up for a whole year be drawn down, reminiscing on the memories of the year before when we had undergone the same ceremony. We would untie the flag to a blessing that was sung over it, and proceed to clean the flag pole. For me, this was like starting afresh, cleaning not only the flagpole, but your soul for the following year. We would then recover the flagpole with the brilliant orange flag, and hail it back up. After what was quite a laborious task, we went in to eat (and I’d love hearing how everyone loved the food that we had prepared). After, we would go back to my grandmother’s house with our extended family, have tea, and look forward to our new year.
Having such an integrated community that you felt safe expressing yourself within is priceless as a child, and having ceremonies like this meant that you not only had your immediate, and extended family, but you also had an entire family at the Guduwara that you felt you could go and talk to. There were children at ceremonies that you connected with, and adults that allowed you to explore your own beliefs in a safe environment. In this way, our ceremonies provided much more than just a celebration of faith, or an environment to continue preaching Sikh beliefs. It provided you with something closer than a community – a family that supported you in your endeavours. It is this togetherness and closeness that is celebrated in our rituals that I enjoyed so very much.
Jaspreet is a 21 year old Sikh woman from South London. She is currently studying at UCL and is interested in going into academia in the area of the philosophy of science.