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Sikh community comes together to celebrate Vaisakhi 2013

Sikh devotional music is part of the Vaisakhi celebration. - Courtesy photo/Surinder Gill
Sikh devotional music is part of the Vaisakhi celebration.
— image credit: Courtesy photo/Surinder Gill

By SHAMSHIR KAUR
For the Kent Reporter

Vaisakhi is a Sikh holy day celebrated by about 24 million Sikhs throughout the world. Washington has about 50,000 Sikhs, with the majority residing in Kent and Renton.

The Sikh community celebrates Vaisakhi 2013 Day of Empowerment – a festival filled with music, programs, exhibits and a parade – on Saturday at the ShoWare Center, 625 W. James St. The annual Nagar Kirtan, a Sikh processional custom, is held on behalf of the Gurdwara (place of worship) Singh Sabha of Renton.

The public is invited.

Sikh devotional music begins at 8 a.m. and continues until 11:30 a.m. Programs will be available in English and in the Punjabi language from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. A parade follows from 2 to 4 p.m.

A gallery of community artifacts, which covers 100 years of Sikh history in the Pacific Northwest, is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A Sikh Military Heritage Exhibit, featuring the Victory Medal of Pvt. Buckam Singh, the only known surviving Sikh soldier from World War I, among other items, will be on display.

Representatives from several educational institutions also will be in attendance to provide information on academic issues and opportunities, including the Kent School District, Seattle University, Renton Technical College, and Highline Community College.

The date falls around April 13 or 14 but many cities choose to celebrate on different weekends due to scheduling conflicts. The day's main focus is the Nagar Kirtan, a parade, in which thousands of people proceed through the streets. They sing hymns from a sacred book of worship known as Guru Granth Sahib Ji, the Sikhs' most ultimate holy scripture.

The history

In the year 1699, the 10th Guru Gobind Singh Ji stood before a crowd and asked who was ready to give their lives for the cause of religion. Five men volunteered, but Guru Gobind Singh Ji did not sacrifice them; instead, he baptized them. Those men became the first five members of the Khalsa Panth (The Order of the Pure Ones).

The tradition of Sikh baptism during the Vaisakhi festival originated from this historic event and those five original members, the Panj Pyare (The Five Beloved Ones), still lead the celebration in spirit. Five Sikh men represent them each year in the parade.

This is also when The Guru gave all Khalsa men the surname of Singh (lion) as a reminder to be courageous. Women took on the surname Kaur (princess) to emphasize dignity. That is why you will see those common surnames for many Sikh men and women.

Today's celebration

In the United States, there is usually a parade commemorating the Vaisakhi celebration in almost every city with a major Sikh population. People come out to do Seva (selfless service), such as giving out free food and completing other labor needed in the community.

Gatka (Sikh martial arts) are also demonstrated throughout the procession. Many exhibits and shows are held to honor the Sikh history and religion as well.

Many Sikhs are working hard to educate others about the Sikh religion and issues, according to Jasmit Singh, who involved with local Sikh activities.

The event is a day of empowerment, an opportunity to learn how these nonprofit organizations work for the betterment of the Sikh community. The Sikh Coalition, EcoSikh, Panjab Digital Library, Sikh Research Institute, and United Sikhs will be on hand to speak about their programs and how to get involved

This year will be a little different since the parade usually starts and ends from the actual Gurdwara, and this year it will not. On Saturday, the ShoWare Center will be the main location for all the daily programs and the starting and ending point for the parade.

Be respectful

On a cultural note: This is a festive occasion of religion, so please keep your clothing respectful (no profanity or obscene images), and come with your hair covered, either with a scarf or bandana. Shoes are permitted to walk in the parade and in the center, but they are not permitted wherever the Guru Granth Sahib Ji rests.

There is a zero-tolerance drugs and alcohol policy as well as no smoking.

Also, everyone is encouraged to wear orange and navy, the colors of the Khalsa.

Shamshir Kaur is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.

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