by Dr. Venugopal Menon


Sikhism is the world's fifth-largest gest religion, a monotheistic faith founded by Gurus Nanak in the 15th century and with about 2.5 million followers. Their doctrines include equality of humans, moral character, generosity, humility, and self-reliance. The sacred book of Sikhs is the Adi Granth, the First Book, also called Granth Sahib, composed of six gurus. One most important name of God for the Sikhs is Waheguru, the Wonderful God, without gender but being addressed as Father. The 5 Ks associated with the Sikhs is Kesh (uncut hair), Kara (a steel bracelet), Kangha (a wooden comb), Kachera (cotton shirts), and Kirpan (steel sword).

Some of the major festivals celebrated by the Sikhs are Baisakhi, Guru Nanak Jayanti, Maghi, and Holla Mohalla.



(January 13 or 14)

The Sikhs celebrate Baisakhi, (also pronounced Vaisakhi) along with the Hindus, on the first day of the month Vaisakham, the Solar new year, usually falling on January 13 or 14. It was initiated as a major Sikh festival by Guru Gobind Singh to commemorate the foundation of the Sikh community in 1699, known as the Khalsa. Guru Gobind Singh was coronated as the tenth Sikh after the ninth Guru Teg Bahadur Singh was persecuted and executed by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, for refusing to be converted to Islam.

In 1699, on Baisakhi, Sikhs from all over Punjab gathered together to celebrate the local harvest festival. Amrit Sanskar, the rite of initiation into the Khalsa, often occurs on Baisakhi, very early in the morning. It involves five men, Panj Piare, ‘Five Beloved Ones’, initiating the candidates with sweetened water (Amrit) and the candidates commit themselves to observe a daily discipline, along with the pain kakke of five Ks.

For 48 hours, there occurs continuous reading (Akhand path) of the whole Guru Granth Sahib, followed by a procession remembering courage, unity, and strength of the Sikhs. There would be team sports, Bhangra dancing, fairs, exhibitions, and of course, feasting.


Guru Nanak Jayanti

Also known as Gurpurab is the most important festival for the followers of the Sikh religion, that celebrates the birth anniversary of their first Guru, Guru Nanak Dev. It is on the day of Karthik Poornima, the fifteenth day of the month Karthik, as per the Hindu calendar, that usually falls in November.

Guru Nanak was born on April 15, 1469, at Rai Bhoi Ki, near Lahore, which is in present-day Pakistan. He is the spiritual leader and founder of the Sikh religion and completed writing 974 hymns of the Guru Granth Sahib. The main verses elaborate that the creator of the universe is one, and preaches the followers to offer selfless service to humanity, irrespective of the differences, and advocating social justice for all. The celebrations start in Gurudwaras, two days before the day of Jayanti. There is a 48 hour non-stop recitation of Guru Granth Sahib, called Akhand path. A procession called Nagakirthan is organized, led by five men, holding the Sikh triangular flag, the Nishan Sahib. The holy book is placed in a palanquin during the procession, people singing hymns in groups, playing musical instruments, and displaying martial arts skills. Langar, originally a Persian word, translated as ‘an alms-house’, a place for the poor and needy, and where free food is provided for all irrespective of their religion, class, or gender, welcoming them all as the Guru’s guests. In recent times, Gurudwaras, provide food and shelter to the needy. Guru Nanak Jayanti is celebrated as a public holiday in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, and West Bengal.


Maghi and Lohri

(January 13) Maghi is the occasion when the Sikhs recall and respect the sacrifice of forty Sikhs, who fought for Guru Gobind Singh. It is on the first day of the month of Magh, usually, January 13, the same as Makar Sankranti that the Hindus celebrate. On the eve of Maghi, is the festival of Lohri when Hindus celebrate with bonfires to greet the birth of sons. For Sikhs, Maghi is the festival of Muktsar, a district town in Punjab, in commemoration of the heroic fight of the Chali Mukte, the Forty Liberated Ones, who laid down their lives warding off an attack by an imperial Mughal army. The Sikhs recite their holy Guru Granth Sahib and observe the religious rituals in Gurudwaras. The largest congregation is at Mukstar in Punjab, where Mela Maghi fairs are organized and pilgrims take a holy dip in the sacred waters of Sarovar and visit many shrines. A mahala, or big march from the main shrine to Gurudwara Tibbi Sahib, sacred Guru Gobind Singh, concludes the three-day celebration.

Maghi is celebrated by people eating kheer, an old dish of rice cooked with sugarcane juice, mixed with red-chili mixed yogurt. In some parts, kichdi made with lentils, raw sugarcane, and jaggery is served.


Hola Mohalla


Often just known as Hola, this Sikh festival takes place on the first of the lunar month Chet, which is in March. This is a tradition established by Guru Gobind Singh, following the Hindu tradition of Holi, but assuming more of a masculine nature for the Sikhs.

‘Mohalla’ has roots in Arabic, hal meaning ‘alighting or descending’, which in Punjabi, implies an organized procession like an army column. Unlike Holi, the Sikhs demonstrate their martial arts skills in simulated battles. Hola Mohalla stands for mock fights, in which processions like in the army, accompanied by war drums, standard-bearers proceed to a given spot or move from one gurudwara to another. Guru Gobind Singh organized the first festival in February 1701. The historic townships of Anandpur Sahib and Kiratpur Sahib in the Ropa district of Punjab have been where Hola Mohalla has been hosted since 1701. The military exercise used to be staged on the bed of the river Charan Ganga with the backdrop of the famous Hindu temple of Mata Naina Devi in Shivaliks. Recently the government of India has accorded it the status of a national festival. During the grand festival, there would be mock battles, displays of weapons, followed by kirtan, singing, and poetry competitions. There would be daring feats, tent pegging, bareback horse-riding, and other shows of bravery. Every Sikh function has the langars preparing traditional meals of wheat flour, rice, vegetables, milk, and sugar, provided by the villagers.