Vancouver marks the Vaisakhi Festival in April of every year, with a festive atmosphere complete with a procession, free food, and an impressive gathering.
Given that Vancouver hosts Canada’s oldest and largest Sikh community, it’s an ideal place to partake in these celebrations.
Whether you’re aiming to participate in this significant event on the Sikh calendar or seeking to deepen your understanding of it, we’ve got all the information you’ll need. Read on to explore its history and experience its flavor within the city of Vancouver.
What is Vaisakhi Festival?
Vaisakhi is a spring harvest festival widely celebrated in Northern India and by various Indian diaspora. To the Sikh community, it carries special significance as it also marks the auspicious day, around 320 years ago, when Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa.
In 1699, on this festival day, the Guru created the Sikh community and bestowed upon it the name Khalsa, which signifies both “pure” and “King’s own.”
The 1650s was a challenging time in the Punjab region and the Guru formed the Khalsa to organize people within the community who could rise to the occasion and uphold justice and truth.
So, the formation of the Khalsa was meant not only to provide Sikhs with a distinct identity and faith but also to inspire them to embrace values of equality, compassion, and dedicated service to all.
It’s also in the Vaisakhi of 1699 when Sikhs began wearing articles of faith that symbolized their commitment to the principles of the Khalsa.
These articles, including uncut hair covered with a turban or headscarf, a wooden comb, an iron bracelet, cotton breeches, and the kirpan—a ceremonial sword—became integral to the Sikh identity and to their dedication to living virtuously.
Today, Vaisakhi shows the enduring legacy and unity of the Sikh community. Typically on April 13 or 14 of each year, the festival draws individuals worldwide to celebrate the shared identity of the Sikh community with more energy, fun, and color.
Why is the Vaisakhi Festival celebrated in Vancouver?
Vaisakhi Festival is celebrated in Vancouver, as it is home to the first, largest, and most influential Sikh community in Canada.
With roots dating back to 1897, the community is continuously growing – its population reached 222,165 individuals in 2021, making up 8.5% of the population in Metro Vancouver.
Surrey, another city with a significant Sikh population, also holds its Vaisakhi Festival in the latter half of April. This widespread observance underscores Vaisakhi’s unifying influence across communities.
How is the Vaisakhi Festival celebrated in Vancouver?
The Vaisakhi Festival in Vancouver involves a procession called Nagar Kirtan, religious ceremonies in the temple, and selfless service or seva. Managed by the Khalsa Diwan Society, it happens every year on a Saturday near April 13.
“Nagar Kirtan” is a combination of “town” and “singing of spiritual hymns.” That practice that hailed from the Punjab region, when Sikhs would wake up before sun up and sing praises on their way to the Gurdwara, is still very much alive in the diaspora in Vancouver.
The Nagar Kirtan in Vancouver is one of the largest Sikh parades all over the world. Drawing around 150,000 participants in the past, the festival’s hiatus during the pandemic was followed by an incredible return, with around 300,000 joining the parade.
During this colorful and jubilant event, attendees adorn themselves in traditional clothing, engage in singing prayers, playing music, and chanting hymns from the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib.
The procession is led by the Panj Pyare, referring to the five beloved of the Guru, while the Guru Granth Sahib, is on a float as the people pay homage to it.
The parade typically commences from the Khalsa Diwan Temple, the Gurdwara located at 8000 Ross Street, where prayers and religious services precede the procession.
The route snakes through Marine Drive and Main Street (main street vancouver) to 49th Avenue, then south to Fraser, stretching as far as 57th Avenue, before circling back to the temple.
Other Activities to Anticipate during Vancouver’s Vaisakhi Festival
Another interesting part of this celebration is the abundance of free food, which shows Langar Seva, or communal meal as an act of selfless service. The distribution of meals, desserts, and drinks symbolizes equality regardless of race, religion, or social status.
Yes, you read that right. The food’s not just a piece of candy that’s given as a token gesture – parade participants get offered full Indian or South Asian meals and drinks, entirely free of charge, as they make their way along the streets.
Everyone participating in the Vaisakhi Festival in Vancouver is encouraged to partake in the free treats. Businesses and even volunteer residents give away food as part of the celebrations, so it’s a good chance to savor authentic Indian and South Asian flavors.
Those who will be serving up food are required to register and get a food safety permit to avoid any untoward incident related to food. There’s also a zero-waste initiative in place, so everyone shouldn’t be using styrofoam at the Vaisakahi festival.
Aside from the food, participants in the parade are occasionally treated to the sight of cherry blossoms along the side streets near Punjabi Market, situated close to Main Street and 49th Avenue.
While timing isn’t guaranteed to align perfectly each year, there are times such as in 2015 and 2019 when the presence of cherry blossoms added an extra layer of festivity to the atmosphere.
Well, why wouldn’t it if it adorned the surroundings with those lively, pink canopies?
Do’s and Don’ts in the Vaisakhi Festival in Vancouver
- Respect the Sikh customs and traditions: Vaisakhi is a religious and cultural festival. Show respect for their customs, beliefs, and practices.
- Dress modestly: It is recommended to dress modestly and appropriately when attending the festival out of respect for the religious nature of the event.
- Follow instructions from organizers and volunteers: Pay attention to any instructions or guidelines provided by the event organizers and volunteers to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience.
- Enjoy the cultural performances: Take the opportunity to appreciate and enjoy the cultural performances, live music, and community performers that are part of the festival.
- Try the festive food: Vaisakhi is known for its range of festive food. Take the chance to try some of the delicious food available throughout the parade route.
- Don’t consume alcohol or drugs: Vaisakhi is a religious festival, and the consumption of alcohol or drugs is not appropriate during the event.
- Don’t bring pets: It is generally advised not to bring pets to the festival to ensure the safety and comfort of all attendees.
- Don’t litter: Help keep the festival grounds clean by disposing of trash in designated bins. Respect the environment and the efforts made by organizers to maintain cleanliness.
- Don’t disrupt the religious ceremonies: During the religious ceremonies and processions, it is important to maintain a respectful and quiet demeanor. Avoid any behavior that may disrupt or disrespect the religious proceedings.
- Don’t block emergency exits or pathways: Be mindful of the safety of yourself and others by not blocking emergency exits or pathways. Follow any instructions regarding crowd control and safety measures.