Vaisakhi 2020: Community in Action
As the new season springs from the cold it should be a time to rejoice. A time where many cultures celebrate harvest festivals and reflect on cycles of rebirth and regeneration.
For those from Panjab, especially of Sikh heritage, this takes the form of Vaisakhi – a day that also signifies the birth of the Sikh order (Khalsa) by Guru Gobind Singh Ji in 1699; galvanising core principles of equality and community resilience that are revered to this day.
Culturally this time takes the form of fetes and farmers markets. Spiritually the community comes together to partake in processions where the entire or village becomes a Gurdwara (or Temple). The Holy Book, seen as the last living guru, is taken around communal areas with hymns played out loud and the free community kitchen (Langar) takes to the street with all those able to giving out free food along its path as service (Seva).
This year the normally flooded streets will, rightfully so, be absent of celebration. Nonetheless, this stark contrast brings the importance of community networks to the forefront, without being lost in the fanfare. Rather than lamenting, many in the diaspora are continuing to reach out.
Community leaders have been engaging via digital platforms to host guided meditations and a ‘Virtual Vaisakhi’. Celebration can take the form of connecting with each other via video links, providing relief for those in isolation and encouraging discussion of Sikh ideals in modern times. These include bingo cards with checklists to complete during the day with tasks of meditation, understanding prayers, and good deeds to keep us grounded and humble.
Whilst many of us are stuck inside it is a time for introspection and an opportunity to widen perspectives; in particular reflecting on the levels of privileges we enjoy and take for granted.
Many are coming to realise that the capacity to self-isolate in these uncertain times is in itself a privilege. From keeping a roof over your head, to having access to stable food supplies we are all rely on others to get by, in our daily lives let alone during periods of global shock.
Whilst they are not valued appropriately within the current economic system – the vital role that those who grow your food and those who help in bringing it to your plate play should be gaining everyone’s respect. None should know better than those who flaunt their Panjabi heritage when much of this pride derives from notions of agrarian prowess, hospitality and standing up for those in need.
This year a celebration of Langar and Seva is more important than ever. Whether it be those who are vulnerable to sickness who cannot leave the house, those who are now out of work and cannot provide for their families or those who have no home at all and feel even more abandoned as society retreats; we have to be the leaders they rely upon. It is especially in adversity that community networks can flourish and can be strengthened for the long term.
Beyond a round of applause, it is our duty to contribute to the interdependent society within which we reside and benefit from. For those who can, donating time, food and money will actually stretch operations further and for longer. Organisations like ‘Khalsa Aid’ have always stepped in during times of emergency, no matter the location, echoing the words of Guru Gobind to “recognise the whole human race as one”. Stories of local Gurdwaras offering their space for official medical use and volunteers for food delivery to maintain the community in this time should be a source of pride but also inspiration to act. The Sikh Welfare & Awareness Team (Nishkam S.W.A.T) have been exemplary in organising community networks across urban areas in the UK to provide food for the homeless and coordinate ‘free mobile langar’ for those over 65 in isolation. But like many organisations, such as ourselves, we rely on individuals volunteering their time.
Sikh principles had been in practice for many years before 1699, but were cemented into a religion due to the need for a common goal and set of practices to ensure the resilience of communities that were under threat of annihilation at the hands of tyranny. Part of the reason why the turban is revered as such is that it would be a signal to whom to look for to help; even to those of different backgrounds. This symbology can be a great source of inspiration for the generations to come.
In this time relying on empty promises of remote leaders only makes us more passive and prone to shocks out of our control. It is those in your community who you share space with and exchange your service with. Mutual Aid networks are forming all over the country evolving the way we organise and support ourselves. There is no better time to stand up and be counted.
Find out about local mutual aid networks:
Nanak Naam guided meditation and sikhi philosophy: