Jaskaran Sandhu: How Sikhs Are Celebrating Vaisakhi During Another Pandemic Lockdown
Sikhs around the world mark the second Vaisakhi of the pandemic today
April 13, 2021 | 4.5 min. read
Sikhs around the world today mark the second Vaisakhi of the pandemic. Much like April 2020, especially for those of us in places such as Ontario, we are celebrating amidst another lockdown.
That means another year of not being able to go to the Gurdwara. Another year of no Nagar Kirtans (also commonly known locally as Khalsa Day Parades). Another year of recognizing what is one of the most important dates in the Sikh calendar at home. There is something powerful marking this day together in person with the entire Sangat which we all miss.
Gurpreet Singh Bal, President of the Ontario Khalsa Darbar (OKD), which also happens to be the largest Gurdwara in North America, shared with me how things will be quiet at Gurdwaras across Canada.
“The community understands the gravity of the situation we are in, and because of that attendance is respectful of current public health guidelines. The Gurdwara management team has been working closely with the community to ensure everyone’s health is kept paramount while serving religious obligations. We still have a role to play, the Langar Hall is open on a take-out basis only to ensure those with food security issues are being supported through these tough times.”
Sikhs are celebrating the founding of the Khalsa in whatever way they safely can.
Dr. Kamal Arora, a Baaz contributor, shared earlier this week that she would be taking the day off from work this year.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for religious accommodation in your workplace or school. It’s your right under human rights law. #Decolonizeyourcalendar”, she put out in a widely shared tweet. Arora is planning to use the day to take a socially distanced walk with her mom in a park, eating good food, doing an Ardaas, and taking a Hukamnama.
As basic a concept as this may seem, it would have been pretty novel for many Sikhs in the diaspora even a few years ago. This is probably why Arora’s tweet generated the conversations it did, as others also shared that they would be taking the day off - or at the very least taking it a little easy in order to partake in religious observance.
I use to jokingly say to my parents I should get the day off school, and they should get the day off work, for Vaisakhi. We all laughed and went about our day as if it was any other, aside from an evening visit to the Gurdwara.
Well, no one is laughing now as many Sikhs increasingly assert their identity for the rights they deserve - such as a personal religious holiday.
It is important to note, however, not everyone is so privileged to be able to take the day off or celebrate from home - even for Vaisakhi.
As has become more clearly apparent over the course of COVID-19, Sikhs from across Canada are often employed in essential jobs and have been sacrificing their health during the entire pandemic. As we celebrate Vaisakhi today, and Sikh Heritage Month for the entirety of April, we should keep in mind the contributions Sikhs are making. We should also be advocating for greater protection from COVID transmission, as well as priority vaccines for our front-line essential workers across industries.
So, what does Vaisakhi during a pandemic look like? I put the question to family, friends, and community advocates.
Gurparatp Singh Toor, another contributor to Baaz through the Beyond the Blue Series, was inspired by Arora and decided to take the day off from work. “We are making Degh, doing Ardaas, spending time with one another as a family, and doing some Seva through a Khalsa Aid food drop as well.”
Since Toor’s parents are not home for Vaisakhi this year, he had to learn how to make Degh himself through virtual instructions. “The golden ratio is 1:1:1:3 of wheat flour, ghee, sugar, and water,” he said. Baaz could not confirm if this is the actual golden ratio at the time of publishing.
Dr. Jaspreet Kaur Bal, a professor at Humber College, a member of the World Sikh Organization, and someone I occasionally record the #AskCanadianSikhs podcast with, is not taking the day off work but is taking advantage of virtual platforms to bring the family closer today. “We are making parshad with cousins on Zoom meetings led by our grandmothers, as well as sharing sakhiyan,” she said.
Steeven Toor, a co-founder of the mental health advocacy organization P.R.E.M and resident of Calgary, shared that he will be “streaming virtual programs from Gurdwaras across Canada.” As one of the more social individuals I know, there is no doubt he would have crisscrossed the country to attend various Nagar Kirtans as well if this was pre-pandemic.
Parents have made increasing efforts to introduce Vaisakhi-related activities with their children as well. Art, crafts, storytelling, and more. There has been a marked increase in materials and modules available online for Sikh parents which has made programming much more accessible for families at home.
Today is also a time for reflection as loved ones continue to protest outside Delhi, and across Punjab, against Narendra Modi’s farm bills. Many today will be watching online streams of Vaisakhi programming straight from the protest sites, as well as from the Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple).
Fighting for the rights of all people, and against state violence and oppression, will always be a dominating and ever-present theme for Sikhs. As relevant today as it was at the birth of the Khalsa.
While things are definitely different under a pandemic, it does not take away from the significance of Vaisakhi and everything it means for Sikhs and the world. Hopefully next year we can all celebrate together, in Gurdwaras and Nagar Kirtans near you.
Jaskaran Sandhu hails from Brampton, Canada, and is the co-founder of Baaz. He is a Senior Consultant at the public affairs agency Crestview Strategy. Jaskaran also previously served as Executive Director for the World Sikh Organization of Canada and as a Senior Advisor to Brampton’s Office of the Mayor. You can find Jaskaran on Twitter at @JaskaranSandhu_
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