Surrey Vaisakhi parade represents Sikhs’ ‘commitment to being the absolute best that you can be’

Published: April 17, 2013
Vaisakhi parade

More than 200,000 people participated in the annual Surrey Vaisakhi Parade, billed as the largest outside of India, last year in Surrey, BC. Nick Procaylo/PNG

LARISSA CAHUTE
VANCOUVER DESI

The exciting festival atmosphere of Surrey’s Vaisakhi parade this Saturday — the largest Vaisakhi celebration outside India — all comes down to a deeper meaning.

“It’s a lot of fun … with all the food and the colours,” said University of B.C. graduate student and longtime Surrey Vaisakhi participant Kirpa Kaur.

The day starts out with a parade procession at the Gurdwara Sahib Dasmesh Darbar on 85th Avenue at 9:30 a.m., with the winding route surrounded by food tents and volunteers dishing out delicious — and free — Punjabi meals and treats, stages put up by community organizations for musicians, singers and dancers, and even a carnival for kids.

“For young people they’re really excited — it’s a big festival,” said Kaur. “For older people, after immigrating, to be surrounded by so much community is very meaningful.

“But the crux of why it’s celebrated is because it is a day of faith.”

While the celebration marks the harvest time for Punjab farmers, the day is especially sacred for Sikhs across the globe because it marks the birthday of Sikhism, which dates back to 1699.

“Vaisakhi is renewing a commitment towards humanity,” said Kaur, adding that it’s a commitment to stand up against injustice and stand up for anyone’s rights — regardless of caste, creed or religion.

Kaur cited “a commitment to being the absolute best person that you can be,” adding: “For me that’s been extremely inspiring and reminds me of who I am in any community or any given situation.”

Even the 30 floats that will be on display Saturday are deeply rooted in the spirituality of Vaisakhi by “bringing attention to some of the different oppressions against minorities in India.”

Kaur’s float is dedicated to the Sikh fight against the hanging of Prof. Davinderpal Singh Bhullar, who’s been imprisoned for nearly 20 years, half of which have been on death row.

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And while a serious issue, there’s still fun had with the creative process of the float, which is built atop a truck.

“You have this group of people trying to figure out, ‘OK, how do we beautify this?’” said Kaur, adding that a lot of thought goes into the colour scheme, fabrics, lettering and posters.

But all the while, the group must keep in mind “the sentiments of the message,” she said.

Lead organizer of the celebration, Moninder Singh, said while “we try to keep the focus on the spiritual aspect of it,” it’s still a day-long event open to everyone.

“It’s like an entire community getting together to pray to the divinity and the world we live in,” said Singh, who’s been a part of the festival for the past 13 years and organizing for the past five.

“The community has learned a lot about the event — it’s not just the Punjabi community. And that’s kind of a good sign (in) trying to bridge that gap about learning about cultures … to uphold the values of justice, human rights and equality amongst all people.”

Last year’s event had 200,000 people in attendance, and Singh hopes to achieve that again this year.

“It’s just gotten bigger every year,” he said. “There’s genuine interest amongst the community — not to just have fun with one another, but to actually come out and learn about one another … the culture of heritage, the food, the spiritual aspect of the day.”

“It’s also a moment of pride that we can run an event like this in Canada, a multicultural country … and have no issues whatsoever within the parade, within the community.”

“There’s road blockages, it’s difficult for people to get around, all these things come up, but our city of Surrey is very accommodating.”

The parade will kick off around 9:30 a.m. from the temple grounds with the day’s festivities running until about 4:30 p.m.

“For us it’s the most important time of the year – both to reflect spiritually and religiously and also to reflect culturally,” said Singh.

lcahute@theprovince.com
twitter.com/larissacahute

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