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About This Festival

Sikhism’s most sacred festival falls on the full moon, or Kartik Poornima, which is a lovely sight given that the location is the Golden Temple with a lake surrounding it. Take a look at some of the photos in this listing and you’ll see why this is a photographer’s dream festival. With the Golden Temple lit up, twinkling lights surrounding the lake, a full moon glistening and Sikhs donning turbans and their finest silks, Nanak Jayanti is a festival made for the visually-minded folks of the world.

With this luscious landscape, you’ll hear Sikh devotees singing hymns in praise of the Guru while the various Sikh temples organize Langars, free community meals for anyone who walks in. The idea behind the lunch is that everyone is welcome. So, be prepared to make some friends at this festival. You may see people performing Gatka, a Sikh martial art and there’s a continuous reading of the holy book Guru Granth Sahib beginning 48 hours before the main event. Of course, it wouldn’t be a true Indian festival without a procession of drummers and garlands of flowers with wafting incense.

Who was Guru Nanak?

Born about 550 years ago, Guru Nanak mysteriously disappeared for three days when he was 30. When he reappeared, he began to preach the Sikh faith. While there are some commonalities in practice between Sikhs and Hindus like beliefs in karma and dharma, Guru Nanak’s famous proclamation was, “I am not a Hindu, nor am I a Muslim.” The question you often hear in India from naïve foreigners is, “Are Sikhs Hindus?” A Hindu may say yes, while a Sikh may be more inclined to say no. If you’re a religiously-curious person, this is a good conversation starter but make sure you are completely respectful in how you ask the question and how attentive you are in listening. In a radical departure from Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism, Sikhism rejects the concept of ahimsa, harmlessness, and places great emphasis on fighting social injustice. Sikhism is now the world’s fifth largest religion.

One of Punjab’s Biggest Festivals

India’s Sikh state, Punjab, prepares for the festival starting three weeks before the honored day with early-morning processions especially noticeable in Amritsar where the beautiful Golden Temple is located. The Temple is the home of the original copy of the Guru Granth Sahib.

The Gudwaras (places of prayer) are decorated with flowers, flags and lights. The day prior to the festival, there is a procession called a Nagarkirtan, with the “five beloved ones” (Panj Pyaras) leading the procession. You’ll see many saffron-colored triangular flags called Nishan Sahib, the religion’s official flag.

On the morning of the anniversary celebration, people get up at 4am and start citing hymns and poems. This time of day is called Amrit Vela. After this, Karah Prasad, a sweet-tasting food, is blessed and served. In the evening, a wonderful fireworks celebration occurs, which is particularly impressive given the full moon. There are prayers recited in the Gudwaras at night with the congregation singing Gurbani at 1:20am, which is the actual time of birth of Guru Nanak. By 2am, with people having been up for 22 hours, everyone falls into bed for a slumber that lasts well into mid-morning.

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