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Surrey celebrations: What does Vaisakhi mean to you?

‘It is a time to come together with loved ones, reflect on our blessings, and reaffirm our commitment to the principles of Sikhism, such as selfless service, equality, and justice’

Prior to the return of Surrey’s popular Vaisakhi parade on Saturday, April 22, we asked some people in the community: What does Vaisakhi mean to you?

Jessy Sahota, award-winning police officer, athlete and coach: “As a young child growing up in Surrey, my two favourite holidays were Vaisakhi and Christmas. For many Punjabis and South Asians, Vaisakhi holds great significance because it is a time that allows us to reflect on our Sikh faith, our Punjabi roots and our rich historical culture. I hope Vaisakhi continues to grow and prosper within Canada so that one day my kids can enjoy this beautiful holiday as much as I have.”

Sharanjeet Singh Mand, acclaimed sitar player: “The idea of Vaisakhi is of great significance. To many, it is a celebration of a new beginning. I also perceive the spirit of revival as the essence of all existence. It’s the source of all the hope which is so necessary for life to progress. Life goes through many cycles, life in its full is itself an all-encompassing cycle and events like Vaisakhi must be treated as an opportunity to recapitulated on our learnings so far and walk further with a better understanding of oneself. I wish every being a great new beginning. My best wishes on this Vaisakhi.”

Jinny Sims, MLA for Surrey-Panorama: “As a child, Vaisakhi meant new clothes, going to the Gurdwara with my grandmother and making Saag and Roti. Today, it is a reminder of what a rich, colourful culture we have in Surrey. Thousands of people of all ages, celebrating this festival – sharing traditions, song and food.”

• RELATED: ‘Treasure of Sikh Heritage’ exhibit in Surrey and April’s other Sikh Heritage Month celebrations.

Jasleen K Sidhu, director of Sikh Heritage BC. (Submitted photo)
Jasleen K Sidhu, director of Sikh Heritage BC. (Submitted photo)

Jasleen K. Sidhu, director, Sikh Heritage BC: “Vaisakhi holds a special place in my heart. 324 years ago Guru Gobind Singh Ji established the Khalsa thereby cementing the identity of the Sikh community. My community. Vaisakhi is a time for me to renew my commitment to the values of the Sikh faith, including honesty, compassion, and selfless service. As an educator, I see Vaisakhi as an opportunity to share the rich cultural heritage and history of the Sikh community with my students and to promote greater understanding and appreciation for Sikhs. Vaisakhi inspires me to work towards a more just and equitable society, where everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential, regardless of their background or identity. Vaisakhi also allows for a time for the B.C. Sikh community to gather and celebrate with the Nagar Kirtan. Moreover, as someone that is involved with Sikh Heritage Society BC, it is a time for me to celebrate Sikh Heritage Month with the larger community.”

Neeraj Walia, secretary, Guru Nanak Modi Khana Food Bank: “Vaisakhi is a significant cultural and religious festival celebrated by people of the Sikh faith. To me, Vaisakhi represents a sense of community, renewal, and gratitude. It is a time to come together with loved ones, reflect on our blessings, and reaffirm our commitment to the principles of Sikhism, such as selfless service, equality, and justice. Vaisakhi reminds us of the importance of living a life of purpose and meaning, and of the power of faith and solidarity in the face of adversity.”

Joban Bal, founder, One Blood For Life Foundation: “Vaisakhi holds a special significance for me. It is a time to reflect on the values that our faith teaches us, such as equality, selfless service, and devotion. The creation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh Ji was an act of immense courage and sacrifice. It was a call to uphold the values of justice and equality, even in the face of persecution and oppression. This message continues to resonate today, and serves as a reminder of the importance of standing up for what is right, no matter the cost. Selfless service, or seva, is another fundamental principle of Sikhism. It is the idea that we must use our time and resources to help those in need, without expectation of reward or recognition. This spirit of seva is especially important during Vaisakhi, as we come together to celebrate and to serve our communities. For me personally, my grandparents really planted the seed of selfless service in me in my early childhood years prior to school. As I reflect back, those core values really gave me a concrete foundation on which to build the rest of my pursuits in life. Over the years, the community has come together to help support many of our blood donation and stem cell registration efforts, impacting lives in the thousands over the years. Times like this also give us an opportunity to come together and create positive impacts for causes much larger than ourselves. However, Vaisakhi is not just a celebration for Sikhs. It is a celebration for all who believe in the values of equality, justice, and freedom. It is a reminder that, no matter our differences, we are all part of the same human family and that we must work together to build a better world for all. As we celebrate Vaisakhi, I hope that we can all reinforce these values and strive to live up to them in our daily lives.”

Mandeep Nagra, Surrey City Councillor: “For me and for every Sikh in the world, Vaisakhi is the beginning of a new year, a time to celebrate and to be thankful for all your successes in the last year and to connect with the history of Sikh culture and religion. As a resident of Surrey, my family and I, especially all the kids, look forward to participate in Nagar Kirtan (parade).”

Gurjinder Bhurji, realtor and Run Surrey Run co-founder: “As kids my brothers and I looked forward to Vaisakhi and the annual Nagar Kirtan. We participated in singing hymns, and loved seeing all the beautiful floats. We also enjoyed the free, delicious food along the way. For the past many Surrey Vaiskahi Nagar Kirtans, we have always had a tent set up with free rice and curry, popcorn, cake and pizza at Copytech. As our family grew bigger, the children all got involved and all enjoyed prepping up for this one-day event. COVID-19 postponed Nagar Kirtan, but this year hundreds of thousands are looking forward to celebrating Vaisakhi again in Vancouver and Surrey. It is an event all communities are welcomed to join, with lots of free food and drinks along the routes. I wish everyone a very Happy Vaisakhi!”

Alex Sangha, founder of Sher Vancouver: “I was born into a Sikh family and Vaisakhi has always been a core part of my identity. Vaisakhi to me means more than a harvest festival or the birth of the Khalsa, it espouses the message, values and egalitarian beliefs of Sikhism. People of all backgrounds and faiths are welcome to march together as part of the congregation. I feel proud I am part of a community that embraces diversity and differences. The strength and power of humanity come together with Vaisakhi. People share, care for, and help each other. I often say, if everyone just helps one person in their life, then the entire world will be uplifted and empowered. I feel Vaisakhi goes a long way to help set the foundation to make that dream a reality. You can walk into any Sikh Temple in the world and have a hot meal and find shelter from the cold. Doing ‘seva’ or selfless service and helping the less fortunate or vulnerable and trying to make a difference in this world is the true meaning of Vaisakhi for me.”

• RELATED: ‘Significant crowds’ expected for April 22 return of Surrey’s Vaisakhi Parade after 3-year absence.

Luv Randhawa, musician. (submitted photo)
Luv Randhawa, musician. (submitted photo)

Luv Randhawa, musician: “Vaisakhi has always had a special meaning to me. Growing up and learning about my culture and religion. I was always looking for my identity. Born in UK and raised in Surrey, I was always split in who I was. Attending the Nagar Kirtan (parade), I started questioning, why does this happen? To my surprise and really interesting points, I learned to pray it will be a year with new peace, new happiness, and an abundance of new friends. May God bless you throughout the coming season. It is seen as a celebration of spring harvest season, primarily in Northern India. On the religious side of Vaisakhi, it is when, in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh Ji chose the festival as the moment to establish the Khalsa collective name given to Sikhs who’ve been baptised. It truly taught me what my identity is, but how beautiful our culture is. Sharing this with our diverse community here in Canada and around the world. Love the parade, the food and people that come from all around to celebrate this very auspicious occasion. It is just not only for Sikhs, but for all of our community. Free food, music and even some rides at the Gurdwara (Sikh temples). Truly a beautiful celebration and remembrance of what our Guru Maharaj Ji taught us. Enjoy, and Happy Vaisakhi from my family to yours!”

Harry Bains, MLA for Surrey-Newton: “Vaisakhi holds great importance in the Sikh faith and for so many people of India. The history of this occasion is important to many within my riding. The values of generosity, tolerance, and equality celebrated during Vaisakhi, are messages that have always resonated with me throughout my life, and I’ve worked hard throughout my tenure as the MLA for Surrey-Newton to bring these values to Victoria.”

Harry Bains, Surrey City Councillor: “Vaisakhi is a day when the community comes together to celebrate the creation of the Khalsa Panth in 1699 under the guidance of Guru Gobind Singh Ji. In Surrey and across the globe, it’s an important time for people to come together and celebrate the oneness of all of our communities. Vaisakhi is a time to remember that we should all strive to stand up against oppression and uphold freedoms of all people — wherever and whoever they may be.”

Anita Huberman, Surrey Board of Trade: “Vaisakhi is fundamentally about community, progress and celebration, creating community centres and establishing shared traditions in Surrey. Vaisakhi is a celebration of all that is good in Surrey – celebrating Surrey’s growth!”

Moninder Singh, president of Gurdwara Sahib Dasmesh Darbar in Surrey. (Submitted photo)
Moninder Singh, president of Gurdwara Sahib Dasmesh Darbar in Surrey. (Submitted photo)

Moninder Singh, president of Gurdwara Sahib Dasmesh Darbar: “For Sikhs, Vaisakhi is about sovereignty, liberation, and the struggle against oppression, as epitomised through the creation of the Khalsa, the warrior-saint collective of initiated Sikhs. Vaisakhi marks the creation of the Khalsa and celebrates the sovereignty of the way of the Khalsa. This foundation was laid by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak, who taught Sikhs to live consciously and cultivate spiritual strength. In many ways the creation of the Khalsa is the pinnacle of these teachings. Historically Vaisakhi has been one of two key moments each year when Sikhs would come together and reflect on the challenges the Sikh collective is facing. Vaisakhi is also a moment of remembering the sacrifices of our people under oppressive powers who have used the large gatherings on Vaisakhi as an opportunity to target and oppress Sikhs. Today we’re seeing a similar environment in Punjab, where despite the clear underpinnings of sovereignty, Sikhs are being exposed to repression and mass incarceration in their demand for freedom, and that is why Vaisakhi 2023 is a pivotal point in our recent history. For me Vaisakhi encapsulates the rich Sikh traditions, histories, and lived realities of Sikh resistance and Sikh defiance as we search for a more just and equitable world for ourselves and all of the creator’s creation.”

Jugpreet Bajwa, singer/musician: “Vaisakhi is a day of celebration where different cultures celebrate this auspicious day for different reasons. Vaisakhi festival, also pronounced as Baisakhi, marks one of the most important dates in the Sikh History. It is celebrated as the beginning of the Punjabi new year as well as the formation of Khalsa by their 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji in the year 1699 at Anandpur Sahib. Sikhism was born as a collective faith and a religion. Sikhs now would be identifiable from the adoption of five (5ks) namely Kesh: uncut hair, kara : a bracelet, kirpan: a symbolic dagger, kachha: underwear, and kangha: comb to straighten the hair; all of these to give the community a martial character. On the other hand it is celebrated to pay gratitude and thanks for the harvest of food and crops that year. The majority of the Sikhs on this day go to the Gurudwara to pray and various religious services are held. Sikh’s tend to wear colourful traditional Indian clothes and take part in parades through the streets singing, dancing and chanting hymns. Parades are held in different cities in India and Internationally. These parades are also called Nagar Kirtan. This festival is celebrated annually on April 13 and sometimes on April 14 and according to the Indian lunar calendar it marks the first day of the month of Vaisakhi. From the perspective of India’s struggle for independence General Reginald Dyer ordered his troops to shoot into the protesting crowd in Jallianwala Bagh, an event which came to be known as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre on the day of Vaisakhi in 1919. For many Hindu communities, the festival is an occasion to ritually bathe in sacred rivers such as Ganges, Yamuna, or in Sangham at Allahbad and other rivers held sacred by Hindus. In addition to these mental shades of happiness, mournful and spiritual among people, Vaisakhi is celebrated in the form of merry making, singing and dancing at the harvesting of the Rabi crops. Bhangra dance with its boisterous beat is seen and felt in the air. It marks the end of harvesting. In Punjabi, The farmers blare : ‘Jatta aaye Vaisakhi. faslaan di oh muk gaye rakhi.’ It means: Oh you farmer, let’s heartily hail Vaisakhi therefore, we are relieved of not taking care of the crops anymore. Multicultural people as we are in Canada: we participate in the celebration of Chinese New Year, in the same spirit Vaisakhi is a clarion call to all the community to be a part of this celebration. This is what Vaisakhi means to me as it should mean to you!”

Sukh Dhaliwal, MP, Surrey-Newton: “For me, Vaisakhi and Khalsa Day is an opportunity for residents of Surrey and all Canadians, to honour the Sikh community and celebrate the many contributions Sikhs have made, and continue to make, in shaping the strong, diverse and inclusive Canada we know today. On behalf of my family, I wish everyone a happy and joyful Vaisakhi and Khalsa Day.”

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Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news stories for the Surrey Now-Leader, where I've worked for more than half of my 30-plus years in the newspaper business.
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