Happy Vaisakhi!

A message from Revolutionary Love Project founder, Valarie Kaur:

HAPPY VAISAKHI! This weekend, millions of Sikhs around the world are celebrating one of the most important historic and religious festivals in our faith. Here’s the story, as it was passed down to me…

Our first teacher and founder of the Sikh faith Guru Nanak called us to a life of love and service: “If you want to play the game of love with me, step forth with your head on your hand.” Two hundred years later, our tenth teacher Guru Gobind Singh Ji put us to the test.

In April 1699, Guru Gobind Singh called Sikhs to a clearing in a place in Northern India called Anandpur Sahib. It was a time of crisis. The Sikh community was struggling to survive onslaught at the hands of Mughal rulers. Our numbers were dwindling, and the future was dark.

There stood the Guru – a warrior dressed in a tall turban, sword in hand, often seen with a falcon on his shoulder. He rose before the thousands with fire in his eyes, and called out: “Who among you is ready to give your head for the love of God and one another?” The crowd was silent. The wind rustled, and the people did not move – until one brave soul, Daya, stepped forward.

The Guru took Daya inside a tent and a few moments later, emerged with his sword dripping with blood, and called: “Now, who else is ready to give their head for love?” Not a word was spoken. The wind rustled, and the people did not move. Until courage stirred within another, Dharam, and he stepped forward and entered the tent. The Guru emerged once again with the same call, again and again, until five had offered their lives. The Guru appeared once more, but this time, he opened the tent for all to see – and there they stood. They were all alive and well, but they were changed.

“These are my Panj Pyare,” said the Guru. “My five beloved ones. These are the ones who were willing to offer their body, breath, and blood for the sake of love.” The Guru gave them new names and anointed them, and was anointed by them in return. The death of their egos had birthed them anew.

On that day, we as a community were also birthed anew. We too shed our old separate names and were given new names – Singh and Kaur, lion and lioness – to honor our equality and courage. We received the gift of five articles of faith, including long uncut hair, which men and some women wrap in a turban, so that we may never hide from the call to serve again.

That is the story of Vaisakhi — our birth as the Khalsa, a spiritual sister and brotherhood, a collective body of beloved ones. We were taught to live as Sant-Sipahi, warrior-saints devoted to service and social justice. Not out of duty but out of love — a love so deep that we would give even our lives for it. Our long hair and turbans were worn precisely so that we could be seen — so that you could come to us in your time of need and we would give our lives to help you. At least this was the idea.

These days in America, hate crimes are at an all-time high, our turbans still cast us as terrorists, and it is a courageous act just for a Sikh to walk out the door. And yet many of us still manage to practice the call of our faith — to love others even when they hate us, to fight for others even when we are bleeding, to insist on Chardi Kala, ever-rising high spirits even in the darkness.

So today I wonder: What if everyone knew the story of Vaisakhi and why Sikhs wear turbans? What if we knew one another’s stories the way we know our own? Might we begin to see one another the way we see ourselves?

Let’s find out. Share this story.

#HappyVaisakhi #RevolutionaryLove

[Painting by ArtofPunjab – Sikh Art by Kanwar Singh]