Preparing for oldest Vaisakhi parade in North America has Vancouver temple officials hopping

Published: April 11, 2013
Vasakhi parade 1

Vaisakhi parade preparations are underway at the Ross Street Temple in Vancouver, B.C., April 11, 2013. Pictured (left to right) are Capt Sidhu, Daljit Uppal, Kashmit Lasoda, Amarjit Rai and Sohan Singh Deo. Nick Procaylo/PNG


It’s been an all-consuming month for Vancouver’s Ross Street Temple as they gear up for their annual Vaisakhi parade Saturday.

With about 20 floats from various South Asian community groups spanning the nearly 10 km parade route — and with anywhere from 70,000 to 100,0000 spectators expected — this week has been the temple’s busiest yet.

“We start at least a month before trying to prepare the floats, getting them ready, decorating them, and getting all… the dresses together for the people who walk in front,” said gurdwara office manager, AJ Rai. “In temple (we’re) preparing sweets — we do all our own preparation, we don’t buy anything from anywhere.

“(We’re) pressure washing the whole Sikh temple because all the guests will be coming … trying to clean up the place, deck up the place nice.”

Vancouver’s Vaisakhi parade is the oldest in North America, which started at an old temple on West 2nd Avenue until it moved to its current location at 8000 Ross St.

“Vaisakhi — it has two meanings, actually,” said Rai.

The first is the celebration of the harvest for farmers in Punjab.

“It’s time to cut their crops and benefit from the fruits of the hard work,” said Rai. “They are all farmers (in Punjab) – so obviously when the farmers are now beginning to harvest the crops and sell the crops and make some money back … that’s why it’s a celebration time.”

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But the second and “bigger reason now for the Sikhs to celebrate” is that Vaisakhi marks the birthday of Sikhs.

“This is the day when the Sikhs came into being,” said Rai, adding it dates back to 1699. “The people started wearing turbans — the identity of all the turbans and long hair, that’s what started in 1699.”

The big celebration starts off like any other day, with hymns starting at the temple from 7 a.m., but at 11 a.m. the parade will kick off from the Ross Street temple gates.

The gurdwara’s float will lead the way, boasting the holy book and singers performing religious hymns, with Sikhs marching ahead outfitted in the colourful orange dress of baptized Sikhs, blue turbans and swords in hand.

“They will walk like they walked in 1699,” said Rai.

They’ll be followed by floats from local bhangra groups, the Punjabi school, police band and Sikh Motorcycle Club to name a few.

The parade will head south down Ross Street and along SW Marine Drive over to Main Street, moving north to 49th Aveune, where they’ll break for speeches as well as a Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s Places that Matter Plaque Project presentation to the noteworthy Punjabi Market at All India Sweets. The parade will then continue east to Fraser Street, south to 57th Avenue, and back to the Ross Street temple.

And of course, all along the parade route, vendors and restaurants will be out in full force with Vaisakhi’s trademark free food.

“One of the very big things in Sikh religion or every Sikh temple is free food,” said Rai.

The tradition started with Guru Nanak, who would always have a hot meal prepared for visitors.

“In India, in the olden days, people used to walk – no cars or motorcycles – and people came from far off, they were hungry,” said Rai. “Whoever comes to the house of the guru must be fed.”

“Food became the main part of the Sikh religion.”

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