The Sikh festival of Vaisakhi will not be marked with the customary large gatherings and melas in different parts of the UK this year as the community is urged to stay safe amid the coronavirus pandemic, with all events cancelled.
Vaisakhi, which this year falls on Monday, commemorates the creation of the Khalsa, a collective body of Sikhs.
Virtual kirtans and shabads being streamed from gurdwaras are aimed at supporting the UK government’s stay-at-home message for a festival usually marked by large gatherings and festivities across different parts of the country.
“As households come together over the coming days for family celebrations, we will be also thinking about how we can support our incredible NHS [National Health Service] people as they care for people through this global health emergency,” said Prerana Issar, NHS Chief People Officer.
“Our NHS staff are doing extraordinary things at this extraordinary time. The best thing we can do is to protect them by following government guidance and staying indoors and washing our hands. Together we can then focus on respecting and celebrating the important upcoming dates and festivals, safely with our families,” she said.
Under the UK’s ongoing social distancing measures to try and curb the spread of Covid-19, gatherings of more than two people in public, including religious gatherings and except for funerals, are banned.
Police forces have the power to fine or even arrest individuals breaking that ban as the government has been urging the public to stay the course during what is a long Easter holiday weekend in the UK, including Monday.
London’s annual Vaisakhi on the Square held at Trafalgar Square, scheduled for next Saturday, was cancelled as Mayor Sadiq Khan took measures to enforce the lockdown measures in the UK capital.
The London Mayor said: “Our Trafalgar Square celebrations are key moments that bring communities together from across the capital, but the government has advised that large gatherings should not take place so we will be cancelling them until further notice.
“It is vital that we take all necessary precautions to ensure the health of all in our city.”
A similar mega Vaisakhi event held at Handsworth Park in Birmingham, one of the cities with the UK’s largest Sikh population, stands cancelled amid the lockdown, with celebrations in Leicester, Southall and Gravesend also called off.
“No event in the Sikh calendar should endanger lives,” said Southall Gurdwara in west London.
The events at annual Vaisakhi events, including colourful street processions in the form of nagar kirtans, feeding the community with langars as well as cultural activities including the traditional Sikh martial art of Gatka, have been replaced by a focus on community service to help the vulnerable during the lockdown.
“Our amazing selfless volunteers are dedicated in helping those in need during this difficult time,” said the Khalsa Aid charity, which has been working on food deliveries and other community support initiatives through the pandemic.
In social media, an @SikhAssembly initiative is aimed at involving British Sikhs in a “Virtual Vaisakhi” as part of a worldwide celebration including sharing texts, poems, art, photos, video clips.
The Sikh Council UK said that special food production guidance compiled by the Sikh Doctors Association had been issued to gurdwaras during the pandemic to aid the production of healthy langars.