Popularly known as the ‘Festival of Lights’, Diwali usually comes in the month of October or November and is one of the largest and most popular festival. Recognised as a national festival of India, in Hinduism, it marks the return of Lord Rama to his kingdom Ayodhya after defeating Ravana; in Jainism, Diwali marks the attainment of moksa by Mahavira in 527 BC; in Sikhism, Diwali commemorates the return of Guru Har Gobind Ji to Amritsar after freeing 52 imprisoned in Fort Gwalior by Emperor Jahangir. Hence Sikhs also refer to Diwali as ‘Bandi Chhorh Divas’, meaning the day of the release of detainees.
The entire city of Amritsar is decorated with colours, lights and diyas with streets, shops, homes alight with the festive spirit. The brightly lit and beautifully adorned Golden Temple glitters with its reflection shimmering in the water. The celebrations are prepared and enjoyed on an enormous scale. The Durgiana Mandir is also beautified and devotees pay homage to the goddess Lakshmi. The evening echoes with the burning of countless fire crackers that sparkle the sky till the late hours of the night.
One of the most sanctimonious and celebrated occasions in the Sikh calendar is Gurpurab. It is a commemoration of the lives of the Sikh Gurus where each is remembered for their devotion through the celebration of their day, gurpurab – remembering the guru. The ceremony is immensely special and holy for the Sikhs and it attracts followers in enormous numbers from across India and beyond. Streets of Amritsar are decorated and a procession, nagarkirtan, is led through the walled city with the holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, being carried on a gold palanquin. Punjabi martial arts are displayed, langar is held to feed all, school children and Nihangs perform acts of valour and devotion.
In the Gurdwara hymns and kirtan are sung; the four silver doors of the Golden Temple are replaced by those in gold, the treasury, jalau, from the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh is taken out to adorn the main shrine. By the evening the entire complex of worship is lit with thousands of lights. Each gurpurab is special but those which are celebrated with greater vigour are that of the day of Guru Nanak’s birthday, known as Guru Nanak Parkash Utsav, celebrated usually in November, Guru Gobind Singh’s birthday which falls in December/January and that of Guru Ram Das, the founder of Amritsar, whose gurpurab falls in September/October.
Also known as Guru Granth Sahib Gaddi Diwas, this festive occasion marks the day the holy book was first brought from Ramsar Sahib Gurdwara and placed in the Golden Temple. Ramsar Sahib Gurdwara (known as Guru Granth Sahib Bhavan) is not too far away from the Golden Temple and here stands the press which prints the holy book. A beautiful procession begins at noon after the reading of the ardas from Ramsar Sahib and has prominent citizens of the city, nihangs, school children and bands, and followers in large numbers.
Streets are decorated, the gurdwara adorned and gatherings in full spirit of the occasion throng the march. Nigadas, men on horses or camels, lead the procession while beating the drums; the holy book is carried on a gold palanquin lead by five men holding the flags, nishan sahibs; behind whom are the panch pyare, the five men holding the swords, and the procession goes all the way till the Golden Temple. It is a huge festival which holds prime importance in Sikhism and is celebrated with immense gaiety.
Started in 1933, Kila Raipur is popularly recognised as the undisputed ‘Rural Olympics’. Initially conceptualised by philanthropist Inder Singh Grewal as an annual recreational meet where farmers from areas surrounding Kila Raipur could get together and test corporal endurance, it grew itself as a festival of rural and traditional sports. Today this three-day festival attracts more than 4,000 sportsmen and women worldwide and is witnessed by more than a million people. It is usually slotted for the first weekend of February.
Bullock carts, camels, horses are run in speed races, traditional games like Kabadi and Tug of War are played, matches in Hockey, Sprinting & Cycling are held; the evenings are a display of Punjabi folklore, songs and dances. Nihang Sikhs display their skills and valour in various games, even the gatka. A riot of odd 40-50 events, the yearly games are a fun and frolic carnival of courage and culture that go beyond the hours of sunset.
Other prominent festivals of Punjab are Baisakhi, which is celebrated on 13th April and marks the new harvest season. It also commemorates the establishment of Khalsa at Anandpur Sahib in 1966 by the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh.
The ‘Festival of Colours’, Holi, usually comes in March and is a riot of kaccha rang and pacca rang played with immense gusto and joy. Water balloons and coloured water is sprayed on each other in the midst of singing and dancing and bhang intoxication.