BAISĀKHĪ, a seasonal festival popular in the Punjab which takes place on the first day of the solar month of Baisākh (Sanskrit Vaiśākha, so called because according to astrological calculations, the moon at this time passes through viśākhā nakṣatra or constellation) of the Indian calendar. Traditionally, the festival was celebrated as the harbinger of happiness and plenty being closely connected with harvesting. To ward off malignant spirits ruinous to the harvest, a ritual dance preceded the festivities. In the central districts of Gujrāṅwālā, Siālkoṭ and Gurdāspur as also in parts of Jammū, the popular dance form was, and still is, bhaṅgṛā.
As some Sikh texts record, Gurū Nānak (1469-1539) was born during the month of Baisākh. According to Sarūp Dās Bhallā, Mahimā Prakāsh, Part 2, Gurū Amar Dās (1479-1574), at the suggestion of Sikhs led by Bhāī Pāro, started an annual congregational fair at Goindvāl on the occasion of Baisākhī. It became customary for distant saṅgats of Sikhs to assemble at the seat of the Gurūs on every Baisākhī (and Dīvālī) day. With the inauguration by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh of the Khālsā on 1 Baisākh 1756 Bk, Baisākhī became an important festival on the Sikh calendar. The date then corresponded with 30 March 1699, but owing to the adoption of Gregorian calendar by the British in 1752 and the difference between the Christian and the Bikrāmī years since then, Baisākhī now usually falls on 13 and sometimes on 14 April. The Sikhs everywhere celebrate Baisākhī enthusiastically as birthday anniversary of the Khālsā. Akhaṇḍ pāṭhs are recited followed by kīrtan and ardās in almost every gurdwārā. Community meals form part of the celebrations. At bigger centres congregational fairs, amrit-prachār, i. e. initiation ceremonies for inducting novitiates into the Khālsā fold, and contests in manly sports are held. Until the partition of the Punjab in 1947, the largest attended Baisākhī fairs were those of Pañjā Sāhib, in Aṭṭock district, and Eminābad, in Gujrāṅwālā (now both in Pakistan). The most important venues now are the Golden Temple, Amritsar, Takht Damdamā Sāhib at Talvaṇḍī Sābo, in Baṭhiṇḍā district, and Takht Kesgaṛh Sāhib, Anandpur Sāhib, in Ropaṛ district, all in the Punjab. It was at Kesgaṛh Fort that conversion of Sikhs into the Khālsā through the administration of khaṇḍe dī pāhul, or baptism of the double-edged sword, first took place on the Baisākhī day of 1699.
S. S. Vañjārā Bedī