What's happening at London's Vaisakhi Festival
Lovepreet Singh Samra, one of the organisers of London’s Vaisakhi celebrations, talks about the meaning of Vaisakhi and what you can expect at the event.
Vaisakhi is a special day for Sikhs as well as many Hindus across the globe. It is an ancient festival that marks the start of the new farming year, but more importantly for Sikhs it marks the commemoration of 1699 when Sikhism was born as a collective faith. In that year, the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, chose Vaisakhi as the occasion to transform the Sikhs into a family of saint soldiers, known as the Khalsa Panth.
This year Vaisakhi falls on Saturday 14 April. The heart of modern celebrations starts before then, with many Gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) organising Nagar Kirtans, neighbourhood processions involving the singing of holy hymns. Many Sikhs also initiate in to the Khalsa Panth during Vaisakhi through the Amrit ceremony, the same ceremony that was conducted back in 1699.
The Mayor of London’s Vaisakhi Festival is at Trafalgar Square on Saturday 28 April. There’ll be lots to look forward to on the day.
We’re lucky to have some world-class musicians leading the dharmic and Gurbani kirtan music-making, like the internationally renowned Lehmber Hussainpuri. Then there’s London’s own Golden Roots and Qi-Rattan. Younger stars include Manvir Singh Mani, who made the 2017 final of Voice of Punjab and Karanjit Singh from Dharam Seva records. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get acquainted with the sound of the tabla drums and other classical instruments.
Vaisakhi is also a spring harvest festival. In keeping with such festivals, food is very much on the table! This year’s festival will make the ‘langar’ or community kitchen the centrepiece of celebrations. Providing simple, free food in the community, particularly to those most in need, is a principle of langar. Food will be made fresh on the day and you won’t have to pay a penny for it. You’ll also be able to buy various Indian street food delicacies and try the juices beloved by the Indian continent, such as sugar cane, ice golas, coconut milk and mocktails!
Last year we mounted Europe’s biggest Sikh art exhibition. This year we hope it will be even bigger. We’ll also revisit the Sikhs who served in WWI, and look out, or you might even be ordered into a Sikh soldier march about! There’ll also be turban tying, children’s activities, community stalls and the chance to treat yourself to jewellery and Panjabi suits!
All in all, the event has inclusivity at its core. It’s open to the whole of London and beyond. There’ll be something for everyone. And in keeping with the Mayor’s #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign, we’ll be shining a light on the great female figures of Sikh history. We’ll also be championing the cause of female empowerment around the world today with some surprise visitors on stage.
As for me, I’m both nervous and proud. My young son will be performing a recital. I think I’m more nervous than he is!