Arts and Culture

Vaisakhi takes over Manchester Museum for a second year

Sikhs across the world celebrated Vaisakhi on April 13, and last week the festival took over the Manchester Museum. 

The religious event celebrates 1699 – the year when Sikhism was born as a collective faith.

With events going on throughout the day from 10am until evening, a host of volunteers helped arrange the celebration which was open to everyone.

And they welcomed more than 2,000 people through the doors. 

Kiran Patwal a meeter and greeter said: “We are celebrating our identity as Sikhs and what we symbolise.”

There are many symbolisations in Sihkism which every member holds including the five Ks.

These are are Kesh, standing for forever growing hair, Kirpan a little curved sword, Kachera a form of underwear, Kara, a bangle that is worn, and Kanga a small comb kept in the hair of Sikhs. 

The 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh Ji introduced these foundations that are continuing in the religion over 300 years later, and artist Rajpal Singh Ubhi illustrated this showcasing his work.

He said: “I focus on showing sikh heritage and history through visual formats based on historical artefacts that link to the youth in a digital way.”

Building understanding between cultures and ages was an aspect highlighted by Manchester Museum Director Esme Ward. 

She said: “I think its an absolute privilege to host this, its a real responsibility. We’ve got stories, musuems at their best are empathy machines building understanding and this event is an example of that.

“Events like this in particular are the best of us. Its about bringing generations, communities together and learning about Vaisakhi its what the museum should be doing.”

This event was held on three floors of the museum including a welcoming area, presentation of defence weapons used by Sikhs and a canteen for langar.

Langar is a communal meal that is shared by Sikhs and all visitors whereby for cleanliness purposes your hair is covered and shoes taken off. 

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said: “The idea everyone sits and eats together and nobody more important than anybody else, to me that’s what Greater Manchester is about – it’s a perfect fit.

“It’s amazing what the Sikh community gives back to our city region it is important to recognise that.”

Sukhi Bharat was in the lungar hall, feeding the public a meal of chickpeas and chapati and fruit. 

He said: “In the Sikh community this is important as it;s a charitable kitchen, this is what the Sikhs do -providing food for anyone in need.

“Everyone sitting on the floor is to reflect equality. Even as a King or Lord Mayor, you would sit on the floor as everyone in the Sikh community is equal, it’s humanity first.”

Labour councillor and leader of Manchester City Council, Bev Craig and Mayor of Salford Paul Dennett were also in attendance throughout the day.

Bev said: “As a city as diverse and vibrant as Manchester we ensure that they [diverse communities] benefit and contribute to Manchester being a better and more cohesive place. 

“The event was not just people who went to celebrate Vaisakhi but people who got to learn a lot about Sikh culture while enjoy the museum.”

“You can’t celebrate diversity without truly understanding what it means to be a multi-cultural city,” she added.

Despite Vaisakhi taking place on the 13th, hosting this event on the 6th April allowed the wider community to be aware of the connection of the event. 

Sukmar Singh Chair of Trustees said: “To educate and publicise our religion is why we are here. Being a good person within the faith, our purpose is to inform and live a life with love, peace, harmony, unity in a community that lives together.

“Sharing the message of Sikhism is most important.”

The celebration of Gatka, a Martial art, colourful, noisy lively event, celebrating Vaisakhi rounded off the afternoon with a demonstration from the upcoming generation. 

Baljit Singh said: “Its most important the little ones get to know about their faith, they are future ambassadors. Getting to understand gatka and practice in the name of his almighty’s name at the same time, it’s intertwined.”

On Saturday 13th April there will be activities going on based in the temples across the city in addition to community venues and the work of Manchester Sikh Foundation.

All images taken by Ollie Dennett

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