Baisakhi, or Vaisakhi, is the festival which celebrates Sikh New Year and the founding of the Sikh community in 1699, known as the Khalsa. It is celebrated on 13 or 14 April and began as a harvest festival in the Punjab before it became the Sikhs' most important festival.
In 1699, Sikhs from all over the Punjab gathered together to celebrate the local harvest festival. Guru Gobind Rai came out of a tent carrying a sword and requested that anyone who was prepared to give up their life for their religion come forward.
A young Sikh came forward and disappeared into the tent with the Guru. Then the Guru reappeared alone with his sword covered in blood and asked for another volunteer. This happened another four times until a total of five Sikhs had gone into the tent with him.
Amrit Sanskar, the rite of initiation into the Khalsa, often occurs on Baisakhi, very early in the morning. Amrit Sanskar involves five men, Panj Piare, initiating candidates with sweetened water (amrit) and the candidates commit themselves to observing a daily discipline.
For 48 hours, ending on the morning of Baisakhi, there is an akhand path, a continuous reading of the whole of the Guru Granth Sahib. At Baisakhi, the Nishan Sahib is replaced and there is a procession of the Guru Granth Sahib. Sikhs remember the unity, courage and strength of the Sikhs in 1699 and also the meaning of the Khalsa.
Sikhs often play team sports at Baisakhi as a reminder of these qualities. There may also be bhangra dancing, fairs and exhibitions.
This festival holds importance for Sikhs today as it reminds them of the birth of the Khalsa and the significance of joining the Khalsa in the Sikh community.