Once again Sikhs throughout the world are celebrating the festival of Vaisakhi, one of the most important days in the Sikh calendar. Vaisakhi is a tale of brave martyrdom followed by the challenge of new beginnings.
The story of Vaisakhi begins with the martyrdom in Delhi of Guru Teg Bahadur, 9th Guru of the Sikhs, whose 400th birth anniversary we are celebrating this month. The Guru, who disagreed with many aspects of Hindu teachings was publicly beheaded by the Mughal rulers for trying to protect the Hindu community’s right to freedom of belief and worship. The Mughal emperor then challenged the Sikhs who at that time, had no distinguishing appearance, to claim their master’s body. But in the event no one came forward. The Guru’s young son Gobind now became Guru, and as he grew into manhood, he constantly stressed that Sikhs should always be ready to stand up for their beliefs, however difficult the circumstances. Then he decided to put the community to the test.
On Vaisakhi day three centuries ago, as crowds were celebrating the gathering of the spring harvest, the Guru, sword in hand, asked for anyone willing to give his life for his faith, to come forward. A brave Sikh stepped forward and accompanied the Guru into a tent. To everyone’s dismay, the Guru then emerged alone, his sword apparently covered with blood, and asked for a second volunteer. After five Sikhs had come forward, the Guru again emerged from the tent. To everyone’s joy he was now followed by all five Sikhs who were clearly alive and well and dressed in turbans and other symbols that have ever since formed a uniform or badge of Sikh identity.
The Guru was clearly overjoyed. The infant Sikh community had proved its courage and he was now confident that it could now continue to flourish, if it remained true to the teachings of our Gurus and the Guru Granth Sahib, while being on its guard against those who wish to distort or destroy the independence of Sikh teachings.
We have survived many direct challenges before. Today the threat is from India’s PM, Narendra Modi, a lifetime follower of the RSS agenda to turn India into a Hindu State. Disguised as praise for Sikh teachings, and aimed at absorbing Sikh teachings into Hinduism, it poses an insidious threat. The clue is in the PMs own words.
He writes – “our Sikh Guru tradition is a philosophy of life in itself.”
What does an extremist Hindu leader of a supposedly secular country that has passed discriminatory laws against Muslims, mean by ‘our’ Sikh Guru?
Guru Arjan emphasised independent Sikh identity when he wrote:
‘I neither keep the Hindu fast; nor the Muslim Ramadan. I serve the one God who is both Allah and Ram.’
The Guru taught that Sikhism cannot be caged in Hinduism or any other belief system. On this anniversary of Vaisakhi, we should pledge ourselves to resist both threats and blandishments; and live and promote Sikh teachings of equality, tolerance, and freedom of belief in a world that has lost its ethical direction.
Lord Singh of Wimbledon, Director, Network of Sikh Organisations