The festival Vaisakhi (also spelled Baisakhi) celebrates the baptism of the Sikh Panj Pyare, the first members of the new Sikh community called the Khalsa. Every April, millions of Sikhs world-wide celebrate Vaisakhi Day to mark the New Year. One of the largest celebrations outside India is held in in Surrey, B.C., where 80,000 – 200,000 people attend the annual Vaisakhi Parade and Celebration.
In 1699 at the city of Anandpur Sahib, Guru Gobind Singh summoned Sikhs from all over India. At the meeting, the Guru invited anyone prepared to sacrifice his life for his faith to come forward. The Guru repeated his invitation until one Sikh finally stepped forward. The Guru took the Sikh into his tent. He soon returned alone, his sword covered in blood. He then asked for a second volunteer, then a third, a fourth and a fifth. Eventually, the Guru emerged from the tent with all five men dressed in blue.
The Guru baptized the Panj with amrit (holy water) mixed with patashas (sugar crystals). He then knelt before the five and was baptized himself. The Guru called the five Sikhs the Panj Pyare, the Five Beloved Ones, and proclaimed them his embodiment, saying, “Where there are Panj Pyare, there am I. When the Five meet, they are the holiest of the holy.”
The Guru gave all Khalsa men the surname of Singh (lion) as a reminder to be courageous. The women took on the surname Kaur (princess) to emphasize dignity. With the distinct Khalsa identity, Guru Gobind Singh gave all Sikhs the opportunity to live lives of courage, sacrifice, and equality. These Sikhs dedicate their lives to the service of others and the pursuit of justice.