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Tilak Rishi, born in India, has been working as a career corporate executive, after doing his MBA. Passionately pursuing his hobby for writing, he also remained a regular contributor to newspapers in India and the U.S. Many true happenings and characters he came across in life, including interaction with former president Bill Clinton, inspired Paradise Lost and Found, his first novel. A family saga, it starts from Kashmir, when this paradise on earth is lost for the tourists who thronged in thousands every year to enjoy its scenic splendor. Terrorists have turned it into one of the most dangerous places in the world. The family is not only a witness to the loss of this paradise, but also to another tragedy of much bigger magnitude. In the aftermath of the partition of India, along with millions uprooted from their homes in Pakistan, the family leaves behind all that it has in Lahore. Starting from a scratch on the difficult path to progress, it still has many joyful moments when along the way it makes a difference in many a life. The survival-to-success story climaxes in California where the family finds the paradise that was lost in Kashmir.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Happy Baisakhi!

Lahore, the cultural and administrative capital of Punjab province of pre-independence India, can easily boast of the biggest Baisakhi fair anywhere in the world. Every year on April13, almost the entire population of Lahore and millions more from other parts of Punjab, would make it a must to reach the banks of river Ravi on the outskirts of the city to celebrate Baisakhi with exuberance and gaiety. High-point of Baisakhi celebrations was the performance of the traditional Bhangra and Gidda dances and the special langar served at Lahore's largest Gurudwara nearby. Out of town participants would also take the opportunity to visit the two most popular landmarks of Lahore, the Fort and the Shalimar gardens in the vicinity of the fair. The salient feature of the fair was convergence of all communities, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and Christians in large numbers, even though Baisakhi is basically a Sikh religious festival. Lahore, indeed, lived up to its unmatched secular traditions during the Baisakhi celebrations.

Over 60 years after the Partition and formation of Pakistan, when there are hardly any Hindus or Sikhs living in Lahore, Baisakhi remains one of the biggest festivals of Lahore, next only to Basant, though as part of Mela Chiraghan ("Festival of Lights"). It is a three day annual festival to mark the urs (death anniversary) of the Punjabi Sufi poet and saint Shah Hussain. It takes place at the shrine of Shah Hussain in Baghbanpura, on the outskirts of Lahore, adjacent to the Shalimar Gardens. It begins with a celebration of Hussain's birth, and includes the seasonal Baisakhi festival, which marks the beginning of the cutting of the wheat crop. The third and final day is reserved for women only. The road leading to the tomb of Sufi poet Shah Hussain in Baghbanpura is decorated, while the whole tomb lit up by the hundreds of thousands of lit-candles carried by people. Thousands of Indian Sikhs join from across Pakistan and the rest of the world to celebrate the 3-day Baisakhi festival in Lahore and at the famous Panja Sahib Gurudwara in the Punjab province.

Baisakhi Festival marks the time for the harvest of Rabi crops and is therefore celebrated with utmost joy and enthusiasm in the state of Punjab where agriculture is the predominant occupation of the people. To celebrate the occasion, people dress themselves gaily and perform the joyful bhangra and giddha dances on the tune of the dhol. Farmers in Punjab celebrate Baisakhi Festival to hilt by feasting and merrymaking before they hit on tiring but joyful task of harvesting from the next day. Festival of Baisakhi is celebrated as a Thanksgiving Day by the farmers. People wake up early on the day and take bath in rivers or pond water and pay a visit to the temple or gurdwara (Sikh worship place). Farmers thank God for the bountiful harvest and pray for prosperity in future also. Many people also perform charity on the day as a custom. As a harvest festival, Baisakhi is also celebrated by different names and with different rituals in several regions of India. Regional celebrations of Baisakhi are marked as Rongali Bihu in Assam, Naba Barsha in Bengal, Puthandu in Tamil Nadu, Vishu in Kerala and Vaishakha in Bihar.

With innumerable number of Sikhs now settled abroad, Baisakhi is celebrated worldwide. NRI Sikhs in Southern California celebrate Baisakhi at the Los Angeles Convention Center, where around 20,000 people participate in the event. California Government officials join the celebration and address sikh Community. A colorful parade from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. through the heart of downtown Los Angeles conclude the day’s events. The two-mile parade through downtown consisting of floats represent the principles of Sikhism. Special designs are created in which the floats highlight special Sikh themes, lifestyles and values. In San Francisco The festival of Baisakhi is celebrated at the historic Gadar hall with all the enthusiasm and gaiety. Among the prominent people who attend the celebrations, B.S. Prakash, Consul General of India, is a regular Chief Guest. The celebrations begin with prayers performed by members of the Sikh gurdwara and Bay Area Centre of Sikhs, El Sobrante. Several prominent members of the Indian American community are also honored. Of course, Punjabi music and Bhangra are the main attraction of the function, along with one or the other Bollywood celebrity. The San Jose Vaisakhi Mela is a world class event celebrating the diverse culture of Northern California. With over 10,000 people attending every year, This event has become the largest Mela festival in San Jose. The event is presented by the Indo-American Senior Center of San Jose, and collaborated with Evergreen Valley College and the San Jose/Evergreen Valley Community College District. There is an abundance of family activities to choose from, including over 40 sponsored booths, plentiful food, exciting entertainment and shopping. Not to mention the bhangra (punjabi dance) competitions, local/international celebrities and performers and sports tournaments.

The festival of Baisakhi also has tremendous religious significance for the predominant Sikh population of India, particularly Punjab, as it is was on a Baisakhi Day in 1699 that Guru Gobind Singh - the revered Tenth Guru of Sikhs laid the foundation of Khalsa Panth. Besides, it was on the Baisakhi Day that Guru Gobind Singh administered amrit (nectar) to his first batch of five disciples, the Panj Piaras making them Singhs, a martial community. After the Baisakhi Day in 1699 the tradition of gurus was discontinued, and the Granth Sahib - the Holy book of the Sikhs was declared the eternal guide of the Sikhs. People following Sikh faith wake up early in the morning on a Baisakhi day and pay visit to gurdwaras to attend special prayer meetings. While most Sikhs strive to visit the revered Golden Temple or Anandpur Sahib, where the Khalsa was pronounced, those who are unable to do so visit their neighborhood gurdwara. Colorful bhangra and gidda dance apart from mock duels are performed during Baisakhi processions. Another fascinating part of Baisakhi celebrations is the accompaniment of drummers, bands playing religious themes, devotees singing religious songs and men swinging swords.

Baisakhi also marks the beginning of the Solar New Year for the Hindus that takes place usually in mid-April but not necessarily on the exact same day each year but it is usually very close to the same day of the Baisakhi festival. The Solar New Year for the Hindus is a time for the spiritual bath in the holy rivers. Hindus gather along the Ganges River to honor the Goddess Ganga who was supposed to have descended to the earth thousands of years ago. The Goddess Ganga was believed to take on all the sins of the world so bathing in the holy Ganges River is supposed to take away a person’s sins.

Happy Baisakhi!


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