Baisakhi Celebration at Embassy Residence Evokes Nostalgia

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April 25, 2012

Special By Geeta Goindi

WASHINGTON, April 22 – It was a heart-warming scene at the Indian Embassy residence, Sunday evening, as the soothing sounds of shabad-kirtan greeted guests at the annual Baisakhi celebration. 

April 25, 2012

Special By Geeta Goindi

WASHINGTON, April 22 – It was a heart-warming scene at the Indian Embassy residence, Sunday evening, as the soothing sounds of shabad-kirtan greeted guests at the annual Baisakhi celebration. 

Indian Ambassador Mrs. Nirupama Rao (left) greeting guests at the Baisakhi celebration in her residence, on Sunday. Seen with her are Mirin Phool (center), co-founder and President of The Kaur Foundation, and Mr. Gurcharan Singh Lamba, TV host and anchor of Jus Punjabi

There could not have been a more welcoming sight and sound for the largely Sikh gathering than the profoundly moving devotional rendition by ‘Ragis’ Bhai Chattar Singh, Mehtab Singh and Hari Singh of Baltimore.

Addressing the audience, Indian Ambassador Mrs. Nirupama Rao said, at the outset, “You just heard a beautiful invocation to bring home to each one of us the spirit of Baisakhi.  This is one of the major Indian festivals and it is celebrated with enthusiasm, with gaiety and traditional fervor not only in Punjab, but also throughout India and all over the world wherever there is a significant population of Sikh faith as also of Indian origin”.

Ragis from Baltimore presenting profoundly moving shabad-kirtan on the auspicious occasion of Baisakhi at the Indian Ambassador’s residence, on Sunday

There was standing room only as guests in colorful attire thronged to the celebration of this auspicious festival.  Distinguished speakers included: Dr. Rajan Natarajan, Deputy Secretary of State for Policy and External Affairs, the highest position occupied by an Indian-American in Maryland; Delegate Aruna Miller (Democrat), the first Indian-American woman elected to the Maryland General Assembly from District 15; Maryland Delegate Sam Arora (Democrat-District 19); and Mr. Gurcharan Singh Lamba, TV host and anchor of Jus Punjabi, the first Punjabi television channel in America, who delivered the keynote address on the significance of Baisakhi as a religious and harvest festival.

Ambassador Rao noted, “Baisakhi has special significance for us as it is on this day in 1699 that the tenth Guru Gobind Singh ji organized the order of the Khalsa Panth.  For the large farming community of Punjab and Haryana, the Baisakhi festival also marks a time for the harvest of the ravi crop and they celebrate this day by performing joyful bhangra and giddha dances.  For many of us, it brings home the beautiful memories of seeing these dances and makes us very nostalgic for home”!

A cross-section of the gathering at the Baisakhi celebration in the Indian Ambassador’s residence

Dwelling on the “tremendous importance” of Baisakhi in the Sikh religion, the envoy pointed out the features integral to this festival: the special prayer meeting in a Gurudwara; the Ardas (prayer), followed by Kara Prasad (food blessed by the Guru) and Langar (community lunch); colorful processions under the leadership of the Panj Pyare (five beloved ones); mock duels, energetic bhangra and giddha performances.

Ambassador Rao emphasized that “the festival is celebrated with exuberance and devotion by people of all faiths”.  Heralded as the ‘Nav Varsh’ (New Year), it is known as ‘Vishu’ in Kerala, ‘Puthandu’ in Tamil Nadu, ‘Pohela Boishakh’ in Bengal, ‘Bohag Bihu’ in Assam, ‘Ugadi’ in Karnataka, ‘Bikhu’ in Uttarakhand and ‘Maha Vishuva Sankranti’ in Orissa.

The envoy noted that in his greetings to the nation on this joyous occasion, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh said, “These traditional New Year festivals, coinciding with the harvest, are an occasion to rejoice over the fruits of the hard work of our farmers.  They are not only an occasion to celebrate the harvest but also a time to mark a new beginning.  May these festivals usher in prosperity and happiness for all”.

Dr. Rajan Natarajan (center), Deputy Secretary of State for Policy and External Affairs, the highest position occupied by an Indian-American in Maryland, is flanked by Indian-Americans at the Baisakhi celebration in the Indian Ambassador’s residence

Dr. Natarajan underscored, “Baisakhi is significant not just for Sikhs and other Punjabis as millions of Indians celebrate this festival”.  He pointed out that Maryland Governor Martin O’ Malley celebrated Baisakhi at his mansion for the first time last year and will be doing so again, on Monday.

Recalling that the Governor led a significant trade and economic development mission to India, last November, Dr. Natarajan told the gathering, “The Governor and First Lady Katie O’ Malley truly enjoyed their trip and were very touched by the warm welcome and hospitality extended by Indian government officials and business leaders”.

Beginning her remarks with “Sat-Sri-Akal (God is truth), Mera naam Aruna Miller” (my name is Aruna Miller), the exceedingly popular Delegate elicited much applause from the audience.  “On this auspicious occasion of Baisakhi, we come together to celebrate the rich and sacred traditions of India’s heritage, a reminder that our faiths are linked, our future intertwined”, she said.  “Each of us in this room today has been blessed with great opportunities and with great opportunity comes a great responsibility to work towards peace, justice and to speak for those who have no voice”.

Quoting the renowned French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, she aptly noted, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience.  We are spiritual beings having a human experience”.

Performing at the Baisakhi celebration in the Indian Ambassador’s residence are, from left to right: Mrs. Alka Batra; Mrs. Jasbir Kaur on harmonium; and Bishen Singh on tabla

Fun and fervor are key to Baisakhi and for entertainment, there were three performances by: Mr. Mohan Singh Bains who played various instruments popular in Punjab; Mrs. Surekha Vijh, a renowned poet who recited from her work, ‘Prelude to Sunrise’; Mrs. Alka Batra and Mrs. Jasbir Kaur, accompanied by Bishen Singh on the tabla, rendering popular Punjabi songs.

Mrs. Batra began on a touching note by singing a verse from ‘Mera rang de basanti chola’ as a tribute to the victims of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.


 

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