Guru Gobind Singh, honoured as the greatest Sikh leader after the founder of the faith, Guru Nanak, was the most dynamic of all the gurus who consolidated Sikhism and gave it the modern form it has today. On the first day of the month of Vaishakh in 1699, he established a new militant order of Sikhs called the Khalsa. Holding a naked sword raised in his hand, he announced to a large gathering of his followers at Anandpur Sahib that he would choose five men who were prepared to sacrifice their lives for the brotherhood. One man came forward first. The Guru took him into a tent and brought back the sword dipped in blood. Despite the fear engendered by this sight, one by one, the next four men came forward. It so transpired that Guru Gobind Singh had dipped the sword in goat's blood to test the devotion of the five men. These men were chosen by the Guru as the Panj Pyaras. They were 'baptised' as the first Khalsa, whose lives would be a lesson in devotion, sacrifice and brotherhood. They were given the rites of Khanda Pahul or Khanda ka Arnrit and swore to lead a life devoted to the service of the religion and its goals of universal brotherhood. The chosen disciples were given the five Ks of Schism-Kachha (shorts), Kesh (long hair), Kangha (comb), Kirpan (dagger), and ada (iron bangle) . From that time all young Sikhs go through this initiation ceremony under the supervision of five seniors representing the Panj Pyaras. For Sikhs as well as for all the people of Punjab, Haryana and other northern states, Baisakhi is the beginning of a new year, a harvest festival and the celebration of the establishment of the Khalsa. Baisakhi is celebrated by taking the Granth Sahib in processions led by the Panj Pyaras or the five senior Sikhs who are symbolic of the original leaders. These processions are a special feature of the temples of Anandpur Sahib and Muktsar. There is a great deal of merrymaking and feasting marking the occasion. All-night revelries termed Baisakhi di Raat or Baisakhi da Mela, are held where men dance the robust Bhangra and women the Gidda. Folk dances and songs are highlights of this festival. People don colourful clothing typical of the region. Needless to say, elaborate meals of chana, bhatura, Sarson da Saag, tandoori roti and mithais of vast variety are distributed to the merrymakers in community feasts and langars where people eat together, forgetting their communal differences or religious denominations. These occasions are symbolic of the all-embracing principles of the Sikh faith as well as the open nature of the northen people.
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