Today I am sharing with Kid World Citizen readers the Sikh celebration of Vaisakhi, celebrated in April. Learn about Vaisakhi, the traditions associated with the holiday, the five core Khalsa values, and some books featuring Sikh families.
Even before becoming a mother, I always wondered how I would raise my child to become a citizen of the world. Teaching learners of the 21st century certainly played an integral role in nurturing my own awareness of diverse needs and wants. I didn’t quite realize at the time how much that awareness and my own heritage would serve my many personal experiences through motherhood.
As my son has grown, he has embraced many cultural celebrations, from wishing us a Happy Hanukkah to sharing in the joy of Christmas. His curiosity to learn something new has been without bias and that is the way I wish it to remain. Together, we continue to learn about our interconnectedness as global citizens and this month, we will celebrate Vaisakhi.
Spring is a time for renewal and change. Many global cultures celebrate the advent of a New Year during the month of April – Songkran is celebrated in Thailand and Vesak celebrates Buddha’s birthday in places like Nepal. The Japanese enjoy beautiful cherry blossoms during the festival of Hanami and egg hunts bring smiles for Easter. Vaisakhi is another April celebration, which is often overlooked but is deeply significant for Sikhs around the world.
Vaisakhi originates in the northern Indian state of Panjab. It is known as a time for the harvesting of crops and is celebrated with traditional Bhangra folk dance and festivities. However, this is also a special time for followers of the Sikh faith. During the month of Vaisakh, in 1699, a new generation of citizens was introduced, called the Khalsa. These initial five citizens represented values of change and social activism and Sikhism was born.
The five core Khalsa values are:
Daya – kindness
Dharam – fairness
Himmat – courage
Mohkem – determination
Sahib – strength
The Khalsa would stand out in a crowd with a distinct visible appearance – their actions would always speak louder than words, since there would be no way to hide their visible identity.
Men (and women) were crowned with turbans to reflect their right to advocate for themselves and for others. The Khalsa raised social consciousness and gave followers an opportunity to experience equality and freedom from the restrictive social class system of the time. Last names would no longer distinguish their social status but instead, the Khalsa community would adopt a shared last name: men would be named Singh (strength of a lion) and women would be named Kaur (strength of a lioness). Sikh women had equal rights hundreds of years ago, and their distinct last name reflected their independence. They did not belong to any man, whether married or unmarried, these women (and men) carried their own identity and value.
This is the strong heritage of Vaisakhi that I choose to share with my son today. I raise him with the values of respecting all citizens, regardless of societal norms. When we learned that our son was Deaf, we knew our world was going to look and sound very different to the norm and that was alright. We were already strong advocates for change and this would only widen my perspective and understanding of the global world. And it has. Why fit in, when you can stand out!
One of our favourite Vaisakhi traditions is to fly a kite. People in India fill rooftops with their patangs or kites. Some give their kites poetic names and send message of love through the air.
Vaisakhi is celebrated on the 13th or 14th of April each year. You can find instructions for constructing your own kites for Vaisakhi here. You can also print out cards and create a lion mask too. If you are looking to fill more teachable moments, please check out the Countdown to Vaisakhi resource – it is filled with fun and engaging ideas.
Vaisakhi dee Vadayee (Happy Vaisakhi)!
Books Featuring Sikh Families
Here is a claymation video for the children’s book A Lion’s Mane, which explains how to tie a patka (dastaar), the turban cloth worn by Sikh boys or young men.
A Lion’s Mane explores a young boy’s celebration of his Sikh identity: an empowering book for all children wondering “Who Am I?” Here is the trailer:
Dreams of Hope is a book with a sweet lullaby within a Sikh family, sprinkled with Punjabi words.
Born and raised in England and of Sikh-Panjabi heritage, Navjot Kaur is inspired by diverse environments and culture. Her first children’s book, A Lion’s Mane, won the 2010 Skipping Stones Honor Award for Multicultural and International Awareness. An Educator, Children’s author and Mother, she believes that our children can become advocates for social change and uses her writing as a way to inspire them to become active global citizens. To learn more about her, please visit www.navjotkaur.com. For books, please visit Saffron Press. You can follow her on Pinterest and facebook as well.