Jallianwala Bagh Centenary | Bloodbath on Baisakhi that lasted 10 minutes but killed hundreds

Sikh community around the world is gearing up to celebrate the Khalsa Sirjana Diwas or the birth of Khalsa. i.e., Baisakhi. The festival also marks the beginning of the Punjabi New Year; in accordance with the Punjabi solar calendar. Khalsa refers to the sovereign or a group of baptized Sikhs who consider Sikhism as a faith. The Khalsa was born in 1699 by the last living Guru of Sikhism, Guru Gobind Singh. Sikhs celebrate Baisakhi as the birth of Sikhism. Guru Gobind Singh created and initiated the Khalsa as a warrior with a duty to protect the innocent from any form of religious persecution. The tradition began with an initiation ceremony (Amrit Pahul/nectar ceremony) and rules of conduct for the Khalsa warriors. This baptism is done by the Panj Pyare in front of the Guru Granth Sahib. Upon initiation; a baptized Sikh was given the titles of Singh (male) and Kaur (female). The traditional colors of Baisakhi are yellow and orange which represent the "spirit of rebirth and sacrifice of the Panj Pyare".The colors also symbolize "joy and celebration".

The Khalsa provided a political and religious vision for the Sikh community. A Khalsa is enjoined, to be honest, treat everyone as equal, meditate on God, maintain his fidelity, resist tyranny and religious persecution of oneself and others. One of the duties of the Khalsa is to practice arms hence each year, the Khalsa display their military skills around the world at a festival called Hola Mohalla or in annual Baisakhi procession.

Baisakhi also takes us back to the memory lane and reminds us about the 1919 bloodbath that took place at the Jallianwala Bagh. The bloodshed by the British Raj showed their heartlessness and cruel spirit. On April 13, 1919, on Baisakhi day, people in large crowds mostly Sikhs were assembled at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar which included men, women, and children. Brigadier General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer who had arrived in the town two days earlier with his force came to the scene, blocked the only exit and started firing on the unarmed innocent people with machine-guns (deprived of the chance to use tanks with mounted weapons due to the narrow entrance to the Bagh). The casualty number quoted by the Congress was more than 1,500, with approximately 1,000 being killed within ten minutes. The Sikhs were the largest in number to suffer casualties, but Hindus and Muslims were killed as well.

Today is the centenary of Jallianwala Bagh massacre and we must not forget that the incident was a major turning point in the Indian freedom struggle and it gave India’s journey to independence an unstoppable momentum. Let's celebrate Baisakhi but we should not forget the history people martyred on the day.

Here, I would like to quote, Indian Congress MP and scholar of imperial history Shashi Tharoor, who opines, “We need to know the history on its own terms. If you don’t know where you come from how you will know where you are going.”

On this Baisakhi, let's not forget our past as we must know where exactly we come from and how much we have sacrificed to be where we are today.

Happy Baisakhi to all our readers!

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Hardeep Bali