Baisakhi in Canadian Parliament
Canada is one country that has scored over others in taking Baisakhi celebrations to the House of Commons, writes Sheeba Singh from Ottawa

Members of the Indian community in Canada gathered in Parliament to celebrate the birth anniversary of the Khalsa
Members of the Indian community in Canada gathered in Parliament to celebrate the birth anniversary of the Khalsa
Members of the Indian community in Canada gathered in Parliament to celebrate the birth anniversary of the Khalsa

Baisakhi has now become a global festival, thanks to the growing influence of Punjabi immigrant communities in different parts of the world. Be it the US or Canada, Germany or England, Australia or New Zealand, Kenya or Tanzania, if there is one event that brings the Punjabi community together every year in April, it is Baisakhi. Everywhere, huge colourful processions are taken out from places of worship to city centres, where leaders of various political parties, including, at times, MPs, ministers and others, make it a point to address the congregations.

Canada is one country that has scored over others in taking Baisakhi celebrations to the House of Commons. It started after the election of the first Sikh turbaned Member of Parliament, Gurbax Singh Malhi of the Liberal Party, in 1993. Since then, every year a function is held in the House of Commons. No other country, including India, has such celebrations inside Parliament. Incidentally, Canada is one of the few countries that issued a special commemorative stamp in 1999 to celebrate the tercentenary of the birth of the Khalsa.

This year also members of the Indian community gathered in Parliament to celebrate the 311th birth anniversary of the Khalsa. A short note on behalf of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, lauding the Indian community, was read out at the beginning of the celebrations. With over five lakh Indian immigrants in the country, and the emerging Indo-Canadian trade, Canada embraces its diversity and the coming together of different cultures by valuing such occasions.

Hosted by Members of Parliament of the Conservative Party Nina Grewal and Tim Uppal, the event threw light on the importance of building cooperation amongst Canadian citizens, and was presided by dignitaries and diplomats from different parts of the world. There was Gurmant Grewal, three-time member of the House of Commons and husband of Nina Grewal. Incidentally, Nina and Gurmant created history when they both were elected simultaneously to the House of Commons.

After over 300 years of the birth of the Khalsa, as many as 161 countries participated in the celebration of Baisakhi. Baisakhi Mela, as the event is called, also introduces its guests to Sikhism, its core values and beliefs. It is a religion premised around faith in one God, speaks of love for all other cultures, values and people despite their differences.

High Commissioner of India to Canada Shashi Shekhar spoke of the recognition of the Indian community in Canada, and the contributions made by its members to the development of the country. Indo-Canadians, who have made significant contributions to both their own community as well as the new nation of their abode, are symbolic of the multiculturalism in Canada.

Special mention was also made of Tiger Jeet Singh, the first Sikh in Canada to have a school named after him. Only a few weeks ago, Mayor of Milton in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) had inaugurated one such school.

A bhangra team enraptured the people by its vibrant performance. Melodious vocalist Yuvraj Singh, who provided a surreal atmosphere of the fields of Punjab through his singing, joined the bhangra performers. A group of young women displayed their skills in giddha, and added to the jovial display of Punjabi culture.

The evening came to a close with member of Rajya Sabha Tarlochan Singh — a commendable member of the Sikh community — not only highlighting the importance of the traditional festival but also the immense contributions the Sikh community has made worldwide. His work for advocating rights of the Sikh community are evident from allocating recognition to Bhagat Singh in Parliament in India as a historical figure to pushing forth and amending the Anand Marriage Act. His short, yet inspirational, speech was about the values of Sikhism, and how it lends hand to bringing the communities at large together.

Sikhism has welcomed its members from varying cultures and communities of the world. In fact, he added, one of the first Sikhs came from the untouchable caste and was welcomed without hesitation. This is the message that stood out in the evening — welcome everyone, without caring for any caste. He also highlighted the spirit that brought Banda Singh Bahadar to Punjab to fight the then tyrannical rule.

The Sikh community will be soon celebrating the tercentenary of Baba Banda Singh Bahadar at Chappar Chirri, near Chandigarh. It was at Chappar Chiri that Baba Banda Singh Bahadar had defeated the Nawab of Sirhind to establish the first Sikh state in 1710.

Tarlochan Singh also emphasised the love and respect Canada has shown towards Indians. It is this level
of respect that has brought more Indians to the country, including he, even if for a visit. "People choose to come to this country because of its strength," he said, and added: "The Canadian Prime Minister’s visit to India and to Amritsar shows the unity between the two countries."

Emphasising the need for an everlasting faith in humanity, he claimed that God is neither divisible, nor can He be monopolised. Baisakhi is a day of rejoicing, and with his parting words, tuhadi khushboo saanu aawey, the evening came to an end with applause.