I refer to Sardar Jaspal Singh’s article entitled Redefining Vaisakhi (Malay Mail, April 16, 2016). He is absolutely correct that Vaisakhi cannot be regarded as the “Sikh New Year” as Vaisakhi falls on the first day of the Vaisakh month (April-May) which is the second month according to the Nanakshahi or Sikh Calendar. The first month in the Sikh Calendar is Chet; hence, the Sikh New Year falls on the first day of Chet (March 14).
Historically, Vaisakhi originated as a springtime harvest festival ― a Thanksgiving Day for a bountiful harvest ― in the Punjab. It was then institutionalised by Guru Amar Das Ji (third Sikh Guru) in 1567 as a special day when all Sikhs would gather to receive the blessings of the Sikh Guru at Goindwal. Today, Vaisakhi is celebrated primarily by the Sikhs worldwide in honour of the creation of the Khalsa Panth (Sikh Brotherhood) by their tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji. On Vaisakhi day in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh Ji established the Khalsa Panth during a large gathering at Anandpur. At this gathering, the Guru called upon Sikhs to uphold their faith and preserve the Sikh religion. Guru Gobind Singh Ji then lifted his sword and asked that anyone prepared to give his life for his faith to come forward. One Sikh came forward and followed the Guru into a tent. Shortly after, the Guru reappeared alone with his sword covered in blood, and asked for a second volunteer. Another Sikh stepped forward and again the Guru took him into the tent, and re-appeared alone with his sword covered with blood. This was repeated until five Sikhs had offered their heads for the Guru. Finally, the Guru emerged from the tent with all five men dressed in saffron-coloured clothes and turbans. Guru Gobind Singh called the five Sikhs ― the nucleus of the Khalsa Panth ― the Panj Pyare, the Five Beloved Ones. Today, Vaisakhi has ultimately become the birth anniversary of the Khalsa.
Guru Gobind Singh gave the Khalsa (meaning the “Pure”) a unique identity with five distinctive symbols of purity and courage, known today as the Panj Kakke or the Five Ks: kesh (unshorn hair and beard), kachhera (cotton shorts), kara (iron or steel bangle worn commonly on the right wrist), the kirpan (a small curved sword) and the kangha (a small wooden comb). About 80,000 men were baptised in a few days. The Guru gave all Khalsa men the surname of Singh (lion) as a reminder to be courageous. Women took on the surname Kaur (princess) to emphasise dignity. With the distinct Khalsa identity, Guru Gobind Singh gave all Sikhs the opportunity to live lives of courage, sacrifice, and equality. The Sikhs were to dedicate their lives to the service of others and the pursuit of justice.
With regard to Sardar Jaspal Singh’s labelling of the Sikhs today (without elaboration) as “no more a force to be reckoned with”, I share a different view, particularly in reference to the diasporic Sikhs. Jaspal’s statement may have been made in reference to the lack of political influence of the Sikhs ― a minority group ― today in India primarily due to a Hindu-dominated national government. However, one must appreciate the fact that despite constituting less than 2 per cent of India’s population, the Sikhs have contributed immensely to the nation's agriculture, industry, transport, military and sports. Outside India, the Sikh community is definitely a vibrant force to be reckoned with and a model community for others to emulate. Throughout the world (including Malaysia), the diasporic Sikhs have proven to be a dynamic and resilient community which within one generation had transformed from predominantly being one of policemen, bullock carters, watchmen, dairymen, carpenters and mining labourers into doctors, lawyers, engineers, academicians and other professionals.
Of particular significance, is the success story of the Sikhs in Britain, Canada and the United States. The Sikhs in these three countries have successfully transformed themselves from being perceived initially as a “culturally inassimilable and socially undesirable community” into a “model industrious and entrepreneurial community”. In the words of David Cameron (Prime Minister of the United Kingdom), “British Sikhs make an immense contribution to our country in so many ways. Whether it is in the fields of enterprise or business; whether it is the way hard working families are doing the right thing; whether it is in the way Sikhs practice the pillars of their faith, Britain’s Sikhs are a success story and model community that is doing great things for our nation.” In a similar vein, Justin Trudeau (Prime Minister of Canada) stated “Canada is proud to be home to one of the largest Sikh populations in the world, and we thank the community for the immense contributions it makes to our country.” Indeed, Canada currently has four Sikh Cabinet ministers. There are currently at least fifty Sikhs who are CEO’s of high tech companies in the Silicon Valley. In the words of Bruce La Brack (a leading cultural anthropologist and South Asian specialist), “This represents an achievement that is one of the most remarkable transformations any immigrant community has ever achieved in America.”
Finally, according to the 2010 Population and Housing Census of Malaysia, the Sikh/Punjabi population in Malaysia totalled 65,493. Based on extrapolation of the 2010 figure and a 5 per cent allowance for under-enumeration, the current population of Sikhs/Punjabis in Malaysia is about 75,000 and not 170,000 as stated by Sardar Jaspal Singh.- Ranjit Singh Malhi MalayMail Online What You Think 20 April 2016