Surrey’s South Asian community will this Saturday be celebrating its 20th Vaisakhi parade, an annual event with a storied past that just gets bigger every year.
It commemorates the founding of the Sikh religion in 1699. Parades have been held in Vancouver since 1979 and in Surrey since 1998.
Here is a quick look at Surrey’s Vaisakhi celebrations through the years:
2017 – Last year, police prepared for a crowd of up to half a million people, a mighty number considered Canada’s 2016 census put the city’s population at 517,887. All told, more than 400,000 attended.
2016 – Surrey Mounties likened that year’s parade day to “a large Canadian city without crime,” following a record-breaking attendance of 350,000 with 19 floats and no arrests or notable crime reported.
2015 – Some 300,000 attended 2015’s parade.
“It feels really good to know the community in general is coming out,” parade spokesman Moninder Singh told this newspaper. “That’s what we’ve wanted for years now, to grow it into a more community based event.”
2014 – Likewise, 2014 was another big year.
“The number we’ve been tossing around is about 240,000,” Surrey RCMP Sergeant Dale Carr told this newspaper at the time. “A sea of heads. It was fantastic; a great, joyful day.”
2013 – Surrey police were extra vigilant in 2013 as it prepared for the parade, which took place just six days after bombings at Boston’s Marathon. More than 200,000 people attended. Police said the crowd was “exceptional,” and Surrey’s parade was now one of the biggest free family-oriented events in Western Canada.
2012, 2011 – Roughly 200,000 attended in 2012, and 2011 was another record-breaker, with an attendance of roughly 150,000. The festival saw 54 intersections closed in Newton, along the parade route.
2008 – In 2008, Surrey’s parade was expected to draw 150,000, but roughly 100,000 attended. The parade was marred, as in some past years, by controversy when tributes to individuals judged by Canadian authorities to be terrorists were included. Surrey’s mayor at the time Dianne Watts attended but refused to take an official role in the ceremonies and many other politicians stayed away altogether.
2007 – More than 100,000 attendees were expected at the 2007 parade, and it turned out to be a close estimate. Surrey’s parade attendance doubled that of Vancouver’s roughly 50,000.
“We’re expecting people from all over Canada, India and other parts of the world,” Parvkar Singh Dulai, of the Gurdwara Dasmesh Darbar temple told this newspaper. “It’s grown into an international event right here in Surrey.”
Again, the event was not without controversy. India’s consul in Vancouver, Ashok Kumar, told the Canadian Press it is unacceptable that the annual parade showcased portraits of so-called martyrs.
2006 – Surrey’s Vaisakhi parade in 2006 was a rain-out, but despite that more than 70,000 people attended.
2005 – Surrey’s seventh annual Vaisakhi parade attendance, in 2005, surpassed Vancouver’s, making it the largest of its kind in North America, with more than 80,000 people. This year’s parade was also not without controversy after an organizer shouted separatist slogans in Punjabi from a stage with the premier and other provincial and federal politicians waiting behind him.
2004 – Vaisakhi parade 2004, in a federal election year, was glutted with political candidates of all stripes. Some parade goers were less than impressed.
“This is supposed to be a religious holiday, but this is like a political thing,” Nash Mann told the Vancouver Sun outside the Ross Street temple. “This year, the politicians have really held things up.”
2003 – In 2003, more than 80,000 people were expected to attend, and more than 70,000 did. There was controversy over a float that contained Sikh separatist slogans and photos of slain martyrs.
2000 – Police reported in 2000, following both parades in Surrey and Vancouver, that things went off peacefully and the parade was enjoyed by the wider community as well.
“I love the food,” Ben Graumann, age 50, told the Province newspaper on April 22, 2000 while munching on his eighth samosa. “They are having a fabulous celebration.”
Some 30,000 attendees were expected at Surrey’s parade, for so-called “traditionalists,” while Vancouver’s parade was for “moderates.”
Politicians at all levels now, with Surrey’s first parade in 1998, had two parades to work, driving back and forth between Surrey and Vancouver. Vancouver’s Vaisakhi parade has been an annual event since 1979.
The five K’s of Khalsa
Vaisakhi marks the birth of the Sikh faith, pays tribute to the harvest and commemorates one of the most important days in the Sikh calendar: the creation of the Khalsa.
The Khalsa was founded to fight adversity more than 300 years ago and has since continued to be at the heart of Sikhism.
There are five Ks – or articles of faith – that are worn by baptized Sikhs to indicate a Khalsa devotee’s commitment.
Kesh (uncut hair). A Sikh is to maintain and adorn this natural God-given gift. The Kesh is covered with a turban, Keski or Chunni to keep it clean and manageable.
Kanga (wooden comb). The comb is used for the maintenance and ongoing upkeep of Kesh – a reminder to regularly maintain the body and mind in a clean and healthy state.
Kara (steel bracelet or bangle). The bracelet symbolizes an unbreakable bond with God and is a constant reminder that the Sikh is a servant of the Lord.
Kachhera (cotton underwear). Dignified attire reflective of modesty and control.
Kirpan (a small sword). The kirpan is a sign that a Sikh is a soldier in God’s army that will be used to protect the weak and needy or for self-defence. It is never to be used in anger.
A Sikh who has not been baptized may also don all five Ks, but is called a sahajdhari, which translates to “slow adopter.”