ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂਜੀਕਾਖ਼ਾਲਸਾ ॥ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂਜੀਕੀਫ਼ਤਹਿ ॥
We hope everyone’s enjoying their much-needed holidays! For this month’s bulletin, we’re celebrating 324 years since Guru Gobind Singh Ji gathered Sikhs at Anandpur Sahib to declare the formation of the Khalsa.
To be sure, Vaisakhi has a history that extends long before this, with the date marking the Solar New Year for a number of Hindu and Indic traditions (not for Sikhs though, where the previous month, Chet, is the start of the year as denoted by the Bikrami calendar used by the Gurus, and more recently by the Nanakshahi calendar). More significantly, the primary meaning Vaisakhi had for Panjabis before 1699 was as a harvest festival.
The point is that Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s decision to have Sangat come together on that particular date was tactical and deliberate. The story of Guru Ji drawing their sword and initiating the Panj Pyare is, of course, well documented, but that they chose to do this on the most celebratory day of the year is just as significant. Guru Ji had lost their father, Guru Tegh Bahadur, at the hands of Aurangzeb, and they were undoubtedly aware of the personal loss that they’d themselves go through just a few years later. Yet, Guru Gobind Singh Ji saw the birth of the Khalsa as a celebratory event; and, in some ways, the way Guru Ji culled disparate Sikhs of different backgrounds, and cultivated them into a homogenous fauj, can only actually be likened to the harvesting of crops.
It’s unsurprising then that forces that have tried to hurt the spirit of the Khalsa have historically tended to do so on this auspicious day. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919 was an especially violent example of this, but we might also see the events unfolding in Panjab today in the same context. At the time of writing this, Pappalpreet Singh, Amritpal Singh’s mentor and aide within the Waris Panjab De organisation, has been arrested. As with the hundreds of arrests that happened in March, the charges put forward are, at best, dubious. Although arrests have scaled back since then, the manhunt for Amritpal Singh remains. His real crime? Promoting Sikhi in a drug-ridden Panjab.
It’s also telling that we, as diaspora Sikhs, were incredibly sceptical of the notion that Amritpal had evaded arrest. Sikh history has been traditionally delineated as a series of massacres, genocides and military losses; it’s little wonder then that Sikhs immediately view these events and situations with pessimism and despair. When videos and voice notes came out showing Amritpal addressing the sangat, comment sections were ridden with the same sort of message: “look at his eyes”; “he doesn’t look okay”; “this doesn’t sit right with me”.
The reality is that we’re not used to seeing someone actively, and successfully, resisting the state, all while in Chardi Kala. “Gulami Soch” (i.e. a slave-like mentality) has predominated in the post-colonial Sikh psyche. Amritpal’s example is showing Azaadi in action, and his actions and speeches before this manhunt started embody what a Sikh politics should look like — broad-based, reaching across boundaries along the lines of creating a strong sangat nurtured by Sikhi. It brings to mind Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and the way that he was intentionally proclaimed as Maharaja of the Sikh Empire on Vaisakhi in 1801 — Vaisakhi is, and has always been, at that intersection between elated celebration and political deliberation.
“The Massacre That Led to the End of the British Empire”, The New York Times ,(https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/13/opinion/1919-amrtisar-british-empire-india.html)
“The Khalsa and its Relevance in the 21st Century”, JungNihang , (https://jodhsingh.medium.com/the-khalsa-and-its-relevance-in-the-21st-century-459a1e98b6f)