FESTIVAL OF VAISAKHI (or BAISAKAHI)
By Caroline Donne
Date varies from year to year - please check the REonline Festivals Calendar
for Whole School or Class Assembly
- Vaisakhi is a
New Year festival in the Sikh calendar and recalls the institution of the
'Khalsa'. The story originates in 1699, after a long period of Sikh
persecution. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last human Guru (the Sikh holy
book, the 'Guru Granth Sahib', is considered to be the last Guru), called
together all the Sikhs and, as the story shows, instituted a group of five men
known as the Khalsa who would be willing to dedicate themselves to God, to
defend their faith and to care for the poor and the helpless.
- From this time
onwards men and women from as young as 16 or 18 have been initiated into the
Khalsa as a sign of their commitment to follow the Sikh way of
- On Vaisakhi
people gather in Gudwaras (temples) and there is a continuous reading of the
Guru Granth Sahib. A new Sikh flag is put in place and the flag pole washed.
There are shared meals and celebrations. Very often people are initiated into
the Khalsa on this day.
- If possible,
find pictures of some of the five 'K's - the five symbols of those who have
dedicated themselves to the Sikh way of life. These are: uncut hair (kesh); the
hair comb used to keep the hair clean and neat (kanga); a steel wrist-band
which, through its unbroken circle, reminds Sikhs that God is one (kara); the
sword, which symbolizes the willingness to defend the faith and the poor and
helpless (kirpan); and short trousers (kacha). You might also like to mention
the Sikh turban, which is not one of the five Ks but is used to keep the uncut
hair (kesh) tidy. This is a good opportunity to invite a Sikh parent or a
representative from the Sikh community along to show the five Ks and to talk
about the festival.
- On a board you
could put some of the key words from today's assembly, such as devotion, Guru,
- A picture of the
- Introduce the theme of devotion.
What are children devoted to? Football teams? Pop bands? How do we show our
devotion to things? Wearing football scarves, buying the CDs of the bands we
like; going to church or to the temple. Explain that today's assembly is about
a group of people who showed their devotion to God in an amazing way. Explain
that the story is important for Sikhs who celebrate a festival known as
Vaisakhi at this time.
- Story. The story comes
from India. It happened a long time ago, over 300 years. For the Sikhs life was
difficult. They had been under attack for many years. There were lots of poor
people without anyone to help them.
The Sikh leader was called Guru
Gobind Singh. Guru means teacher, and he taught people about God. Guru Gobind
Singh decided things had to change, and so, on the spring festival of Vaisakhi,
he called the Sikhs to join him. There was a huge crowd, over 20,000 people.
Guru Gobind Singh stood outside his tent and called out: 'I need a Sikh who is
willing to die for God and for the Guru.'
His words were passed through
the crowd. Everyone was amazed. Who was devoted enough to give up their life?
Twice more the Guru called out to the crowd and asked the question. Then one
man came forward. Guru Gobind Singh took him into his tent. After a while the
Guru came out by himself. But in his hand was a sword covered in blood! The
crowd gasped. Then the Guru asked again. 'Who is willing to die for God and the
Guru?' Surely no one else would come forward.
What about that sword
with blood on the blade? But then another man stepped forward and went into the
tent with the Guru. Once again the Guru came out of the tent alone, with blood
on his sword. Then amazingly, another man stepped forward and went into the
tent, and then another. Four brave and devoted men - and each time the Guru
stepped out of the tent alone, with his sword in his hand.
Then a fifth
man stepped forward and went into the tent with the Guru. How many men must
die, the crowd wondered. But this time the Guru came out of the tent, with his
sword, and behind him were the five men. They were still alive!
was a test,' the Guru explained, 'to see who was brave enough and willing to
give up everything to show how much they were devoted to God.' The Guru called
the five men the 'Panje Pyare', the beloved ones. They were to become the first
members of a group called the Khalsa, which would defend the Sikh faith and
care for the poor and helpless, whoever they were and whatever they believed.
Then the Guru made a mixture of sugar and water called 'amrit'. He
asked the beloved ones to give him some of the amrit, to show that although he
was the Guru, all people were equal in God's eyes. That day amrit was given to
people in the crowd who said that they believed in one God, and that all people
were equal. They were given new last names too, to show that they now belonged
to one big family - women were given the name Kaur, which means princess, and
men were given the name Singh, which means lion.
- From that time onwards any man or
woman, or boy or girl, who shows that they want to follow the Sikh way of life,
takes part in a special ceremony which is often celebrated at this time. They,
too, join the Khalsa and they make five important promises:
1 To wear
five signs or symbols of the faith (see the five K's above).
2 To follow
the teachings of the Sikh Gurus and the holy book called the Guru Granth Sahib.
3 To help people in need.
4 To give up alcohol and tobacco and to be
faithful to their husbands or wives.
5 To work hard and to give to charity.
Stress that the point of the festival is not that the five wanted to
die for their beliefs, but that Sikhs wish to serve God and people in a
peaceful and helpful way.
on the themes
Think again about what you are devoted
to. Is it so important to you that you would give up everything for it? Is it
worth being devoted to - will it bring happiness, will it last, will it help
Invite the children to take part in a time
of quiet and to think about what they have heard. Use music to help the
reflection. You could go on to say the following words which are adapted from
those said by the fifth Guru, Guru Arjan:
'Not even the scorching wind touches him who takes
refuge in the Lord.
He throws his protective ring around us so that no
suffering can overpower us.
How fortunate we are that God is our support.'