Vaisakhi is a religious festival celebrated annually by Sikhs across the world to commemorate the formation of the Khalsa. But before understanding what the Khalsa is, it is important to know how the Khalsa was formed and why at Vaisakhi.
In 1559, the third Sikh Guru, Guru Amar Das established Vaisakhi as a joyous occasion and time of celebration. Sikhs would gather in the presence of the Guru to sing divine poetry, cook and share meals with the community, and to participate in sports. Vaisakhi is the time of the Spring harvest so it was already established as a festival amongst the farming community.
In 1699, the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Rai sent out a request for Sikhs to meet in the city of Anandpur (northern India) at the time of Vaisahki. Sikhs had gathered in large numbers and waited in excitement to see the Guru. Guru Gobind appeared out of a tent pitched on a hill brandishing a sword. He looked out to the Sikh congregation and bellowed for a head. The excitement mellowed after hearing the request of the Guru. One Sikh got up and presented himself to the Guru. They both entered the tent but only Guru Gobind returned with a bloody sword. The Guru asked again for a head. There was confusion and panic amongst the congregation over what they were witnessing however another Sikh stood up from the crowd and entered the tent with the Guru. Again the Guru returned with a bloody sword and demanded another head. This process continued until there had been a total of five Sikhs offering their head to the Guru. The Guru then emerged from the tent, hand in hand with the five Sikhs who had entered previously. The five Sikhs were dressed in new decorated robes and presented to the congregation by the Guru as the Panj Pyare (the five beloved ones).
The Guru then started a new ceremony by using a double-edged sword to stir water mixed with sugar in an iron bowl. The mixture was called Amrit (nectar) and given to each of the Panj Pyare to drink. From this the Guru then declared a new formation called the Khalsa (the Pure) that would fight against injustice wherever it was present. Those initiated into the Khalsa were given royal surnames; men being given the name Singh (meaning tiger) and women given the name Kaur (meaning princess). After the Panj Pyare were initiated, the Guru then requested that they initiate him too into the Khalsa, emphasising the equality between the Guru and the Sikhs. From this moment, Guru Gobind Rai became known as Guru Gobind Singh.
Those initiated into the Khalsa were required to adhere to the panj kakkars (five k’s):
Kesh (unshorn hair)
This gave the Khalsa a distinct identity which made them stand out in a time where India was under tyranny from Mughal rule.
Since the formation of the Khalsa, Sikhs across the world have celebrated Vaisakhi in recognition of the events that took place in the city of Anandpur in 1699, and to pay tribute to Sikhs that have fought against injustice for centuries. Sikhs gather at gurdwaras (place of worship) and take part in a Nagar Kirtan which is a procession where Sikhs sing divine poetry, share food, and display bouts of martial arts. The procession in Derby typically takes place around the area of Normanton and Peartree. Unfortunately due to the known circumstances, Sikhs will not be able to gather in large groups and take part in a communal Nagar Kirtan so instead will celebrate Vaisakhi from their homes.