STOCKTON, Calif. — This week, the Sikh community is celebrating Vaisakhi. It was originally a harvest festival celebrated in Punjab, India. However, for Sikhs, it is the most important religious holiday of the year, according to Mandeep Singh, a community organizer with the Jakara Movement.
The Sikh Coalition, a national community-based organization, says Sikhism is the fifth-largest religion in the world.
“[It] is a monotheistic religion that was started by Guru Nanak in the 15th century in South Asia in the state of Punjab, and at that time, it was a social, political, and religious movement that started under the Mughal empire,” said Tejpaul Singh Bainiwal, vice treasurer at Stockton Gurdwara.
Vaisakhi, also called Baisakhi, is significant to the Sikh community because it is when the 10th Sikh Guru established the Khalsa, a community of initiated Sikhs who are committed to the Guru’s way of life, in 1699.
“This was when Guru Gobind Singh Ji gave us the tools to be able to have our own identity and make our way of life official,” Singh said.
He says Vaisakhi is a time to center oneself and recommit to justice, equality and walk the path of the Guru.
This weekend the Sikh American community is celebrating Vaisakhi at Stockton’s 23rd annual Nagar Kirtan, also known as the Sikh parade and festival, at Stockton’s Gurdwara Sahib — a religious, political, and social institution for the Sikh faith.
“The Nagar Kirtan is just an opportunity for us to celebrate various events. And it really translates to a procession throughout the city,” Bainiwal said.
The procession will start at Stockton’s Gurdwara at 12 p.m. and return at 4 p.m. It is located at 1930 S Grant St., Stockton, CA 95206.
Jaskaran Singh Shergill, a member of the Stockton Gurdwara, says the procession typically has a large turnout of up to thousands of people. This is the first Nagar Kirtan since the pandemic started. It will feature holy hymns, Sikh martial arts, and Punjabi food. The procession is free and anyone is welcome to attend and learn about the Sikh religion and traditions.
Fun fact: The Stockon gurdwara was the first Sikh institution in the United States. It was established in 1912.
“It's not just something that is restricted to the Sikh faith, but we also have members of the broader community here in Stockton attend as well,” Bainiwal said. “It is an opportunity for us to reach out and let individuals know about the holiday.”