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Vaisakhi

To discover the importance of the Khalsa for Sikhs and why they celebrate the day of its foundation.

by Helen Levesley

Suitable for Key Stage 3

Aims

To discover the importance of the Khalsa for Sikhs and why they celebrate the day of its foundation.

Preparation and materials

  • You can use students to re-enact freeze frames depicting the story if you wish – it provides a good focus. You will also need two narrators who will be able to bring a sense of suspense to their reading.

Assembly

  1. I would like you to think about the communities that we have in our country. First, however, let us define what a community actually is. The Cambridge Dictionary defines a community as: ‘the people living in one particular area or people who are considered as a unit because of their common interests, background or nationality’.
  2. This school is a community. We are a unit of people who share a common interest. Notice the kinds of communities we have: people who come from the same kind of backgrounds; your neighbourhoods in which you live can be communities; people who follow a religion are also a community.
  3. An excellent example of a religious community is that of the Sikh religion. Community is essential for Sikhs who find themselves living in other countries; they know that they have a group of people around them to whom they belong straight away. Imagine knowing that wherever you went in the world, there would be someone you could find with whom you immediately had something in common. A pretty comforting thought, especially if you find that other people are not, on the whole, welcoming!
  4. The idea of community is very important to Sikhs, who have a particular name for it: this is the Khalsa. As with most of Sikh history there is a story attached as to how the Khalsa came into being. The story goes as follows:

    Reader 1:  The story of the establishment of the Khalsa started with the martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur, the 9th Guru, who was beheaded in public by the rulers of the time for protecting freedom of worship for both Sikhs and Hindus.

    Reader 2:  The son of Guru Teg Bahadur, who was called Guru Gobind Singh, became the next Guru. He stated that Sikhs should always be prepared to defend their beliefs, whatever the cost. Even if it cost them their lives! His father had, after all, just given his in order that their religion might survive.

    Reader 1:  In 1699, Sikhs from all over the Punjab region gathered to celebrate the Hindu harvest festival of Baisakhi. Farming is a very important aspect of life in the Punjab, and if the harvest is good, farmers will become wealthy.

    Reader 2:  It was during this gathering that Guru Gobind Singh came out of a tent carrying a sword. He said that if anyone was prepared to give his life for his faith, he was to come forward. You can imagine the scene.

    Reader 1:  After a moment a young Sikh man came forward. He disappeared into the tent with the Guru. (Pause) Then the Guru reappeared alone with his sword covered in blood and asked for another volunteer.

    Reader 2:  This was repeated four times. A total of five Sikh men went into the tent with him, and not one of them came out again. Everyone present was very worried; they assumed that Guru Gobind Singh had killed the men.

    Reader 1:  Suddenly all five emerged from the tent alive, with Guru Gobind Singh. They were wearing turbans. These five became known as the Panj Piare, or ‘Beloved Five’. The Guru said some prayers over the five and they were sprinkled with a special substance called amrit. The five Sikhs became the first members of the Khalsa. They were the first to adopt the five Ks, which are five key things about their appearance that Sikhs continue to honour today, including not cutting their hair and wearing a turban.
  5. It may be difficult to understand that people would be prepared to die for their religion and for their community, but the Sikhs believed in it so strongly that these special five were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. I doubt whether many of you would follow me into a tent and be prepared to die for the school!! Hands up if you would like to volunteer! No? – but this just shows how significant the Khalsa and the Sikh religion is to its followers.
  6. Vaisakhi celebrates the fact that just over 300 years ago, Sikhs were given a clear individuality and identity and a code of conduct to live by. If you think about the community we are as a school, we have an identity that separates us from other schools, and our rules are our code of conduct. We are proud of it, and feel as if we belong.

Time for reflection

Around the world at the time of Vaisakhi, Sikhs reflect on the principles taught to them by their Gurus and celebrate the birth of the Khalsa. They celebrate the fact that they were formed into a separate and individual group which had their own path to follow, which had initially been set out by their first leader, Guru Nanak. This is also a good time for new members to join the Khalsa and those who have been a member to recall what is expected of them.

Think today of the sacrifice that those first five, the Panj Piare, the ‘Beloved Five’, were prepared to make. Although not as demanding, think about what you can do for the communities that you live in.

Prayer

You might like to use this as a prayer:

Thank you for the communities that we belong to.

We give thanks for the roles that we can play within them,

the support and encouragement they give us

and the sense of belonging we have when we are with them.

Let us appreciate our communities,

and understand that without them, we lose a little bit of our identity.

Amen.

Publication date: April 2009   (Vol.11 No.4)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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