A different mode of celebration will be adopted by the Sikhs this Baisakhi. Instead of congregating at gurdwaras, they will heed to the advice of Giani Harpreet Singh, Akal Takht Jathedar, and pray from home on Monday, just as people of other faiths have done in recent days for their holy events, including Ram Navami, Easter and Shab-e-Barat.
We have become accustomed to seeing the gathering of lakhs of devotees at gurdwaras, including Harmandar Sahib, Amritsar; Takht Sri Damdama Sahib, Talwandi Sabo; and Takht Sri Kesgarh Sahib at Anandpur Sahib on this occasion. We will not see those this year, as devotees will be kept away on the advice of spiritual and temporal leaders, as well as the requirements of social distancing necessitated by the policy to check the spread of coronavirus.
Instead of the spectacle that the Baisakhi gatherings had become, this year the focus will be on the spiritual. Prayers are sought, not presence. All too appropriate at the time. Indeed, it could well be argued that over the years, the grandeur of the event often eclipsed the devotional ethos of the laity.
“Sarbat da bhala,” reflects the ethos of the ardas, and indeed, it is the well-being of all that is more necessary at the time, as the epidemic threatens to upend the world as we know it.
The recent lockdown has given us time to think about our lives, and in many cases, I am sure, question some of the decisions we have taken. The crisis has exposed the ill-effects of rampant materialism, and the perils of straying from the core ethical values that form the nucleus of every faith, of all moral systems.
Apprehension about the future is palpable. At worst, we can revert to what the British philosopher Thomas Hobbs called the ‘state of nature’, where every man is against every man and life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” However, by controlling the impulses generated by this fear and channelling our energy in a productive direction, we can rise above the menacing immediate.
Our duty towards fellow human beings is clear, and that clarity informs our choices. We have to rise above the insidious sectarian virus that is piggybacking on the medical one. Fear can unleash the monster in us.
Many Sikhs have responded to the humanitarian crisis caused by the lockdown by providing langar to the needy. It is, however, necessary to reflect on the need to expand the scope of langar from food to care of the needy. Help can be given in many forms, and each situation demands something different from those who seek to help their fellow beings.
On the one hand, there is the attitude of the brave who risk exposure to the virus even as they help others. On the other, there are those, thankfully few, who shied away from even their basic duty towards their dead relatives by not participating in their cremation. Fear enveloped their minds to an extent where it doused the flame of humanity in them, as it did, in another instance, among those who left members of a minority community homeless…. Let’s pray for them too.
The festival of harvest this time is a difficult one. Farmers need help in handling the crops. Many of those who were there to help are caught between their work, homes, and family abodes. The migrants are literally trapped in the middle, with not enough being done for them.
The crisis has demonstrated how interdependent we are. It shows the vacuousness of material gains, the need for health, and the strength of holistic living. As we transcend the pain and privation caused by the epidemic, it is time to look at ourselves, and see how we have become entrapped by the extraneous. Life is more than amassing the material goods, the pause has reconnected us to our families and friends, and we will need their help to rebuild our lives.
The post-Covid 19 world will be one tempered by the crisis of fighting the epidemic. The winners will be those who emerge as better people, more considerate, more compassionate, more committed to the fundamentals of humanity.
The Baisakhi of 2021 will celebrate them. Would it be too much to hope that the pendulum would have, by then, shifted from spectacle to the spiritual? That the celebrations would be more involved and evolved. When faced with an existential crisis, people have shown a great ability to adapt.
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