UK’s Sikh community prepares for second Vaisakhi under lockdown

Despite continuing physical distancing measures, many are determined to celebrate the religious tradition safely.

Preeti Kaur will hold an online hymn session to celebrate Vaisakhi as the lockdown measures remain [Courtesy of the Kaur family]

London, United Kingdom – Half a million British-Sikhs are preparing to mark the Vaisakhi festival under coronavirus lockdown restrictions for the second year running.

Vaisakhi, which falls on Tuesday, celebrates the Punjabi new year and the day when Sikhism began as a collective faith.

It marks the foundation of the Khalsa – the brotherhood of the Sikh faith – by the 10th master, Guru Gobind Singh, in April 1699.

The Khalsa was created with the Panj Pyare – the five beloved ones – each one embodying the virtues of compassion, righteousness, courage, commitment and oneness.

Despite continuing physical distancing measures, many are determined to celebrate the religious tradition safely.

The processional singing of holy hymns, nagar kirtan, will go online, for instance.

Priti Kaur, a world-renowned singer and music teacher who lives in Wellingborough, told Al Jazeera: “Unfortunately, we’re all missing the vibrant celebrations together in gurdwaras [temples], but I’m grateful that we are able to stay connected virtually not just in the UK but all over the world.

“This year, I’m organising an online Vaisakhi Gurbani Kirtan – an event where I’ll be singing religious hymns with my students and family.

“We will be dressed up in colourful traditional attire, and make Karah Parshad [holy food] and have a traditional meal together.”

Harmeet Singh, general secretary of Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara in Southall, which is according to its website the largest gurdwara organisation outside India, said: “This Vaisakhi will remind us that the virtues Guru Gobind Singh Ji instilled in the Khalsa are more important than ever.

“During the pandemic, Sikhs across the world have shown their compassion and commitment by serving their local communities with langar – free kitchens – serving anyone and everyone, regardless of their background, recognising humanity’s oneness.

“Volunteers have shown immense courage, working to feed those on the front line.

“For Sikhs, serving humanity through the pandemic has been the most righteous way to celebrate Vaisakhi.”

The festival comes as the UK eyes a post-pandemic future, with falling COVID infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths.

That improved picture is largely down to a swift vaccination campaign, which has seen about half the adult population receive the first dose so far.

International travel is still banned, however, with persistent fears the virus, and new strains of it, could seep back in through borders.

Chef Harshdeep Anand, from Hayes, has been longing for the lockdown to end so he could visit India to celebrate Vaisakhi with his family.

But given the travel restrictions, he has made alternative arrangements.

“Our plans to travel to India to meet with family have been put on hold,” he said. “My mum who lives in India was on her own last year, so we invited her to come and visit us for Vaisakhi. She arrived at the end of February and is now living with us.”

Anand’s wife is now heavily pregnant with their first child.

“[We will] celebrate the Vaisakhi festival together along with my in-laws, have some traditional vegetarian food, and share recital experiences of the harvest festival in India.

“And we also celebrate the forthcoming birth of our first child.”

Source: Al Jazeera