The Vaisakhi Nagar Kirtan is a celebration of the birth of Khalsa, or the Sikh community.
Known to be one of the most attended public events in Surrey and Vancouver, the Vaisakhi Nagar Kirtan is a celebration of the birth of Khalsa, or the Sikh community. It is also commonly known as the Vaisakhi Parade, as a large assembly of religious floats are organized to travel on a route around the city. This all-day event includes religious hymns being sung on nearly every float, martial arts performances, celebration booths and stages, and abundant food being served for free in pop-up tents throughout the route. Throughout the years, this event has attracted people of all cultures and grown to a record-breaking attendance of nearly 400,000 people.
The Vaisakhi celebration is held on a different Saturday for Vancouver than it is for Surrey, and both days many city streets are blocked off so that the public can walk alongside the floats, and have space to watch the parade go by. A lot of the South Asian community dedicates their day to either serving the public by having a food stall of their own, volunteering their time to traffic control and clean-up, or ensuring the event is a safe place for everyone. A lot of planning and organization goes into the event, and is done on a mainly voluntary basis out of the sheer devotion and desire the community has to make this celebration memorable. During this event, the community unites to create a positive atmosphere and perform the act of selfless service, which also sets a great example for both the younger generation and various other communities.
Although this is something to be incredibly proud of, there has been concern of how many of those people actually understand the importance of Vaisakhi, and how this event represents history and culture at its roots. As a historically religious event, it is quite important for us as a community to recognize the sentiments and value that this event holds for the believers of the religion, which seems to be overshadowed at times by the other appealing factors associated with Vaisakhi. For example, many people think of this as a community fair put on for pure entertainment, or see this as an opportunity to speak in front of an audience, which is valid in its own respect. However, sometimes this interferes with one of the most important aspects of the event, which is the ‘parade’ where all religious floats pass through the city.
In our excitement, it is easy to want to contribute in our own ways, but as a community we need to take a step back to truly appreciate the rich tradition and historic value by giving it its own significance. As a multicultural nation, I feel that the greatest way to appreciate our diversity is to learn about the importance these culturally specific events hold for their respective communities. If we give importance and respect to their uniqueness, we will be able to understand better the way these traditions create meaning and foster unity among others.
This year, I would like to encourage you all to take a moment to think of Vaisakhi as not just a celebration, but a commitment to displaying culture and religion in a way that is inclusive, accepting and representative of the diversity that makes Canada so special.
About the Author: Jaskirat Sahni is a student pursuing a Bachelor of Science at UBC. She loves volunteering in the community during her spare time, as she is an active volunteer in many organizations including the City of Surrey and Free the Children, and has also founded a non-profit organization called “Girls Empowered”.
Images Courtesy of Aziz Dhamani, Chandra Bodalia, istockphoto