Sikh festivals revolve around anniversaries of the 10 Gurus who developed the beliefs of Sikhism. All the Sikh Gurus taught the message of compassion, love, dedication, hard work, worship of one God, and commitment to peace and harmony for all people of the world. Their birthdays, called Jayanti, Gurpurab or Prakash Utsav, are occasions for celebration and prayer.
Festivals and events generally follow the Nanakshahi calendar, a 12-month solar calendar in use since 1998 and adopted in 2003 by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, the Sikh elected governing body. The calendar is accepted in about 90% of the gurdwaras, or Sikh temples, worldwide.
The Sikh New Year falls on the first of Chet, the first month of the Nanakshahi calendar (March 14 on the Gregorian calendar). The calendar’s epoch is the birth of Nanak Dev, founder and first Guru of Sikhism, in 1469.
Hola Mohalla (“mock fight”) is a Sikh festival that takes place on the first of the lunar month of Chet, usually falling in March. According to a tradition established by Guru Gobind Singh, it follows the Hindu festival of Holi by one day (“hola” is the masculine form of the feminine “holi”).
In contrast to Holi, when people playfully sprinkle colored powder and water on each other, Hola Mohalla is an occasion for Sikhs to demonstrate their martial skills in simulated battles. During the festival, celebrants form army-style columns and proceed to a given spot or move in state from one gurdwara to another, accompanied by war drums and standard bearers. The Guru held the first such mock fight in February 1701 at Anandpur.
Baisakhi (also spelled Vaisakhi), the first day of the month of Vaisakh, is a major harvest festival and religious observance for Hindus and Sikhs. For Sikhs, the day commemorates Guru Gobind Singh’s founding of the warrior community called the Khalsa.
On Baisakhi Day 1699, the Guru baptized the community’s first members, the Panj Pyare (Five Beloved Ones), who were willing to sacrifice their lives for their faith. He gave the Khalsa a unique identity with five distinctive symbols, the Five Ks: kesh (uncut hair), representing holiness and simplicity; kara (steel bracelet), self restraint; kanga (wooden comb), a clean mind and body; kaccha (cotton underwear), preparation for battle on horseback; and kirpan (sword), the obligation to defend oneself and those in poverty and oppression.
Baisakhi is celebrated worldwide and especially in India’s Punjabi region. The most important custom is Nagar Kirtan, a procession led by five men with orange banners representing the Five Beloved Ones, accompanied by hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib and martial arts demonstrations. Sikhs may visit the gurdwara with flowers and other offerings, bathe in sacred pools, attend kirtans (programs of spiritual music) and perform community service.
Shaheedi Divas of Guru Arjan marks the death of Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the fifth Sikh guru and first martyr, and is observed on 2 Harh (June 16). Guru Arjan Dev Ji was arrested under order of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. When he refused to convert to Islam, he was tortured over several days and died on Jeth Sudi 4, Samvat 1663 (May 30, 1606).
Sikhs honor Guru Arjan for compiling and contributing about 2,000 verses to the Guru Granth Sahib, the main Sikh scripture. He is remembered for building the Harimandir Sahib (“Home of the Divine”)—also known as the Golden Temple—in Amritsar, India, and for making the town a center for the Sikh faith. To emphasize that the Sikh way was open to all, regardless of caste, he constructed the temple with doors facing all four directions.
First Parkash (opening ceremony) of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the principal Sikh scripture, is observed on September 1 on the Gregorian calendar. The Granth, or Adi Granth, is an anthology of prayers and hymns compiled by the fifth Sikh guru, Arjan Dev Ji, and includes words and verses spoken by the 10 Sikh Gurus and other saints.
When Guru Arjan finished compiling the Adi Granth, with 1430 pages and 5864 verses, he placed it in the newly built Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar. He performed the first parkash there on 1 Bhadon Sudi, Samvat 1661—August 30, 1604. The Adi Granth was a turning point for the Sikh faith, marking a separation from Hinduism and Islam.
Installation of the Guru Granth Sahib – October 20
Arjan Dev, the fifth Sikh Guru, compiled the first edition of the Adi Granth, the principal Sikh scripture, from hundreds of hymns by the first five Gurus and other saints. It was completed and installed in the Golden Temple at Amritsar in 1604.
Rivals later stole the Adi Granth and Gobind Singh—the 10th and last human Sikh Guru—took on the task of recreating the entire book. Guru Gobind dictated all verses he considered revealed, including verses written since the first edition, to a Sikh scholar. The project took almost five years and was completed in 1705.
On October 20, 1708, Guru Gobind Singh gave his last sermon, conferring permanent gurudom on the second edition of the Granth. Since then, the book has become known as Sri Guru Granth Sahib and is viewed as the perpetual living Guru and guide of Sikhism. It is not worshipped, but treated with reverence for its wisdom and spiritual teaching. Sikhs stand when the Guru Granth Sahib is brought into a room, and in gurdwaras (houses of worship) keep it on a raised platform in the center, opening, reading and closing it ceremoniously.
Bandi Chhor Divas (“Day of Liberation”) is a Sikh holiday that coincides with Diwali. Historically, Sikhs have celebrated Diwali and Baisakhi along with Hindus. In the late 20th century, Sikh religious leaders began calling the day Bandi Chhor Divas. In 2003, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, the Sikh elected governing body, adopted the name along with the Nanakshahi calendar.
Bandi Chhor Divas celebrates the release from prison of Guru Hargobind, the sixth Sikh guru, and 52 other Hindu kings by Emperor Jahangir in 1619. According to tradition, the Emperor agreed to release the Guru, who asked that the kings also be freed. The Emperor agreed, but to limit the number of prisoners leaving, released only those who could hold onto the Guru’s cloak tail. However, the Guru had a cloak made with 52 panels attached, so each king was able to hold onto it and leave.
When Guru Hargobind arrived in Amritsar a few days later on Diwali, the Golden Temple and entire city lit up with lamps and candles in celebration. Sikhs continue this tradition of lighting homes and temples on Bandi Chhor Divas, as well as exchanging gifts and feasting with family and friends.
Sikhs honor the birth of Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th and last human Guru, on 23 Poh, or January 5. (Some regions observe it according to different calendars). He was born in 1666 at Patna Sahib, India, and became the Sikh leader at age nine after his father, Guru Tegh Bahadur, was executed by the Mughal emperor.
Guru Gobind is revered as a devout spiritual leader who made major contributions to Sikh ideology and writing, as well as a fearless protector of all people from oppression and injustice. He initiated the Khalsa community[https://theguibordcenter.org/faiths/sikhism/sikh-festivals-and-observances/#baisakhi] to stand against injustice and named the Adi Granth as the final, eternal Guru and spiritual authority of Sikhdom.
Sikhs celebrate the occasion with processions and singing, gathering at gurdwaras for prayer and spiritual discourse, and reciting poems and hymns. A langar (community meal) is also prepared for believers.
Maghi is the first of the month of Magh. Also known as Makara Sankranti, the day is celebrated by both Sikhs and Hindus, especially in India’s Punjab region, where it follows the harvest festival Lohri. In Sikhism, Maghi honors of the Chali Mukte (40 Liberated Ones), who were martyred as they resisted a military attack on Guru Gobind Singh in Muktsar, Punjab. The battle took place on 30 Poh (December 29) in 1705 and the fallen were cremated the next day, the first of Magh, which generally falls on January 13 or 14.
Observances include recitals of the entire Guru Granth Sahib, ceremonies in gurdwaras, bathing in holy water, charitable giving and eating kheer (sweet rice porridge). The largest celebration takes place over three days in Muktsar. Believers come to bathe in the sarovar, or sacred pool, and visit shrines associated with the battle. On the third day, pilgrims form a procession from the main shrine to the Tibbi Sahib gurdwara, sacred to Guru Gobind.
“Don’t create hatred with anyone as God is within everyone.” ~Guru Arjan Devji, Siri Guru Granth Sahhib