Baisakhi is one of the most important festivals of Punjab, but when it comes to enthusiasm in celebrating it, inspiring examples of Punjabis settled abroad stand apart. In fact, each year their zeal and gusto is beyond compare as they eagerly wait for this festival throughout the year.
‘Nagar kirtans’ (Sikh Parades), langar (community kitchens), sports festivals, exhibitions on culture and Sikhism and most captivatingly live Punjabi music shows usually begin from early April and go on till May end wherever Punjabis are settled across the world. And the best part is that the local Punjabi community and various other communities also join the celebrations which symbolises ‘international unity’ as it connects individuals from different cultures.
‘Nagar kirtan’: The essence of Baisakhi celebrations
Beginning with ‘nagar kirtans’, they are simply a cynosure for all. It is followed by thousands of people and remains a successful platform for Sikh communities to showcase the history and importance of Sikhism.
“As per best of my knowledge, the first ‘nagar kirtan’ organised by Sikhs abroad was in the year 1979 in Vancouver. With the passage of time, many other North American cities followed by Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Middle East and even in countries like Hong Kong and Philippines where Sikh population is not much, ‘nagar kirtan’ became any annual affair.
In some cities, several organisations and groups have been formed which organise this from time to time in April and May,” says Charanjit Singh Randhawa, a former president of North America’s oldest society -Khalsa Diwan Society based in Vancouver since 1908.
He adds, “These ‘nagar kirtans’, as tradition, begin from gurdwara and then move around in the major parts of the city and get full support from the local administration. For everyone’s safety, the route that ‘nagar kirtans’ follow is made traffic free by local traffic police and each year many local political leaders also join and appreciate the effort. This is so wherever they are organised,” says Randhawa, who did not forget to mention that performance of Gatkha (Sikh martial arts), during ‘nagar kirtans’ remains fascinating for all.
Participation from other communities
“Most Punjabis and even many locals hailing from other cultures are so attached to the Baisakhi events that they even apply for leave at their workplaces well in advance to ensure their participation. Even international students studying here from India skip their classes to sail in the same boat,” reveals Chicago-based Beant Kaur Virk (53), who runs a Giddha academy since the last 10 years.
Regarding the contribution of her academy to this festival, she conveys “There are many Giddha and Bhangra schools across the USA and Canada. I prepare young girls for Giddha performances at various cultural events scheduled anywhere for any Indian festival. This year, my team will perform in my home town Chicago and interestingly, there are also few US girls who are part of the same team,” echoes Virk.
For the community kitchens organised at the gurdwaras and at ‘nagar kirtans’, most Indian restaurant owners unite for this kitchen service. “We bring our best chefs and along with them we and many others join them for making the best effort in this service, which enthralls people from all religions and cultures. So, many Europeans too appreciate the community members for this service which has also been featured in various local newspapers of Europe,” say Manjeet Singh and Ravinderpal Singh, who run Indian restaurants in Munich and Paris, respectively.
Hong Kong is not far behind in Baisakhi celebrations. According to Navtej Singh Atwal, member of Gurdwara Sikh Khalsa Diwan (Hong Kong), which also organises games during Baisakhi, besides the ‘nagar kirtan’, an annual sports festival is also held in which many elderly Punjabis take part.
“Last year, the gurdwara committee had also booked a cinema hall to show ‘Chaar Sahibzaade’, a Sikh religion film, which proved very inspiring for us. In nutshell, many such efforts are made by the gurdwara that keeps us connected to our roots and religion,” says Babbly Dhillon, who moved to Hong Kong post marriage.
There are many similar examples from Australia and New Zealand as well. Canberra Sikh Association in Australia, as part of Baisakhi celebrations, organised a turban tying contest last week. It also organised an exhibition on Sikh history and a seminar on how youth can be connected to the teachings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of Sikhs.
“All these events received great response, but it was really touching to see Australian youngsters participate in the turban-tying contest,” says Preetinder Singh, a representative of this association.
Punjabi singers love to perform during Baisakhi
Some Punjabi singers and other artists from the state claim that they remain booked for live musical concerts during this time of the year.
“It feels good to celebrate with the community overseas. Sometimes, in one month I do more than 10 to 12 world music tours. Foreigners love traditional Punjabi music,” says singer-turned-actor Gippy Grewal, who is currently in the USA for live shows and in May will do about five Baisakhi concerts in the United Kingdom.
Famous anchor and singer Satinder Satti says, “During Baisakhi, I end up doing many shows abroad. It feels great to perform in other countries amidst Punjabis.”
Similarly, film comedian Rana Ranbir shared his plans of performing at the Baisakhi Mela scheduled for April 19 at Hunslow, followed by shows in Melbourne and Auckland as well.
Imandeep Singh Deol (24) from Sydney and Maninder Virk (25), studying in Auckland, opine that all Baisakhi events, including cultural shows make them feel as if though they were never away from home. “It is a rejuvenating experience and helps us come together and keep the spirit of Punjab alive even while we’re away from our native land,” they shared.