London celebrates Vaisakhi

London has played a key role in celebrating one of the most important dates in the Sikh calendar.

Vaisakhi takes place on the 13th or 14th of April each year and is a key religious festival, which has been celebrated since the 16th century.

London’s strong multi-culturalism means that many Sikhs and those from other religions, travel to the capital to take part in this vibrant and special festival.

The story behind the event is linked to the 9th Sikh Guru who was killed in Delhi while protecting the rights of Hindus. However, many Sikhs were afraid to come and collect the Guru’s body because they feared repercussions.

It is believed the 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Rai, wanted to create a special force who would be able to defend other Sikhs. Therefore, he called for five Sikhs to come forward and willingly give their heads to him.

Many people were scared to approach the Guru, but eventually five people did come to him and agree to give their lives to him. However, it emerged the Guru had no intention of killing them, but selected them to form the Khalsa – a group that would protect the faith.

Hundreds of years later, this event is celebrated with street processions called Nagar Kirtans (or Street Hymn Singing) and free food and drink is handed out along the route of the parade.

Vaisakhi In London

As well as a special event in Trafalgar Square, there are also annual street processions in Hounslow, Ilford, East Ham and Woolwich.

The biggest celebration is held in Southall, where around 50,000 people from across the UK head to celebrate the birth of the Khalsa.

Another popular event this year was organised by the Gurdwara Singh Sabha, High Road, Seven Kings and London’s City Hall.

The Gurdwara’s treasurer Mankamal Singh said: “We had people from the Midlands and Newcastle travel to London for the celebrations. It was great.”

Lovepreet Singh Samra, the Gurdwara’s secretary, explained: “These Vaisakhi celebrations were the most extravagant I have seen. But it had a more spiritual and community feel to it too.”

He added: “In previous years, a renowned singer would go on a stage in Trafalgar Square, but because the Gurdwara was involved there was different element to it.”

Prime minister David Cameron also joined a Vaisakhi parade in Gravesend. He was accompanied by his wife Samantha and made a speech after holy prayers had concluded.

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