Sikh Calendar and the Sikh Observances

The Sikh Calendar

Sikhs celebrate their New Year on the 14th of March. It may sound strange and interesting, but that is what the Sikh calendar dictates! As in most other religions, the Sikh Calendar is one of the central aspects of the Sikh Religion. Also known as the Nanakshahi calendar, it is a solar calendar that determines the dates for the most important Sikh events.

Interestingly, the Sikh calendar has only recently been adopted. For the longest time, the Sikhs have used the Hindu calendar which has been forced upon them. Since 1998, all Sikh holidays as well as Sikh festivals have been observed based on the newly-created Nanakshahi Calendar. The said calendar was designed by Pal Singh Purewal.

The epoch of the Sikh calendar is based on the birth year of first ever Sikh Guru, Nanak Dex (1469), such that 1998 is known as the Nanakshahi 530. In 1999, a slight modification of the Sikh calendar was made: since then, it has become based on the solar year and not the lunar cycle with its movable dates. When the solar calendar was adopted, dates when the festivals are celebrated are considered fixed. As was previously mentioned, the Sikh New Year begins in Chet 1. In the Common Era Calendar, Chet falls on the 14th of March; 1999 being the year 531 Nanakshahi (2000 is year 532, and so on). The months in the Sikh calendar are as follows:
  • Chet14th of March
  • Vaisakh14th of April
  • Jeth15th of May
  • Harh15th of June
  • Sawan16th of July
  • Bhadon16th of August
  • Asu15th of September
  • Katik15th of October
  • Maghar14th of November
  • Poh14th of December
  • Magh13th of January
  • Phagan12th of February

During its early years of existence, the Sikh calendar became highly controversial and was not initially universally supported by the entire Sikh community. However, majority of people who belong to the Sikh community firmly believe that the Nanakshahi calendar is important to their religion and re-affirms the independence of the Sikh religion from the Muslim and Hindu faiths.

The Sikh calendar contains the most important Sikh holidays. There are some similarities that can be found between the Sikh calendar and the traditional Hindu calendar. The Bandi Chhor Divas or the Diwali, the Hola Mohalla and Guru Nanak's birthday, for example, are celebrated on the same dates.

The most significant Sikh holidays and events belong to two categories. They are either the gurpurbs - important festivals that mark the martyrdom or the birth of a certain Guru; or melas - where other Sikh religious observances and holidays fall under. Shown below are the most important festivals in the 2007 Sikh Calendar:

  • January 5Birthday of Guru Gobind Singh
  • January 31Birthday of Guru Har Rai
  • March 4Hola Mohalla
  • April 13Vaisakhi
  • April 14Birthday of Guru Nanak; Hola Mohalla
  • April 18Birthdays of Gurus Angad Dev and Tegh Bahadur
  • May 2Birthday of Guru Arjan Dev
  • May 23Birthday of Guru Amar Das
  • June 16Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev
  • July 5Birthday of Guru Hargobind
  • July 23Birthday of Guru Har Krishen
  • October 9Birthday of Guru Ram Das
  • November 9Diwali (Festival of Lights)
  • November 24Birthday of Guru Nanak (lunar calendar); Martyrdom of Guru
  • Tegh Bahadur

The History of the Sikh Religion

"There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim." But there is Sikh. Ever wondered how the distinct Sikh religion came to be? Well, wonder no more.

The Origins of Sikhism

Historians believe that Sikhism is a religion that is syncretistic in nature - the merging of two religions namely Hindu and Islam. However, there is no exact consensus as to the origins of this religion. Some Sikhs stand by their belief that their religion is the re-purification of Hinduism, while many believe that it is a direct revelation from God and is independent from either of the two religions.

It is a fact though that Sikhism contains a number of principles and religious beliefs that are different from both Islam and Hinduism. Whatever it is, Sikhism is generally accepted to be a distinct religion in itself and is widely followed. In fact, Sikhism is not the fifth largest religion in the world, with over 26 million adherents all over the world.

Sikh History

The founder of the Sikh religion was Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji (ca 1469-1538). He was born in Punjab, now known as Pakistan. At the place called Sultanpur, Guru Nanak received a vision from God who instructed him to preach the way to enlightenment. Since then, he taught monotheism, the oneness of humanity; rejected the Hindu caste system and idol worship. His followers (Panth) later built the first ever Sikh temple in Katarpur.

By the time Guru Nanak died, he has already formed a new movement of followers. Guru Angad stepped on and assumed leadership. He was then followed by eight other Gurus (totalling ten human Gurus), all of whom were no less than revered teachers, leaders and warriors. All the teachings and ideals of these ten human Gurus were compiled by Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the last of the ten. This book, now called the holy granth, contains the wisdom by which the Sikhs live by. From 1708, it has been considered to be the eleventh guru, is revered as Guru Granth Sahib and is the present Guru of the Sikh faith. This holy text is treated as a person would be.

In the 16th until the end of the 18th century, the Mogul emperors ruled a vast area in South Asia. This was a very challenging era of the Sikh religion. The Moguls attempted to convert the Sikhs to Islam but were mostly unsuccessful. Religious prosecution was rampant during this era, the peak of which was insinuated by Ahmad Shah who slaughtered about 70% of the Sikh community and destroyed the Golden Temple (Sikhism's holiest place) - the day is now commemorated as the Holocaust in Sikh History.

The Sikhs slowly stood up from this dark period and in 1801, the Sikh state of Punjab was successfully founded by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. This glory was short-lived as the invasion of Great Britain led to the Sikh Wars which lasted from 1845-1849, after which the British gained full control over India. After its independence in 1947, the occupied area was split into two based on religious grounds - Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India. This led to the mass migration of Sikhs and Hindus from Pakistan to India, creating a reverse migration of Muslims. This led to loss of many lives on all three religions.

The Sikhs have long wanted to form their own nation that they can call their own. Their long history of struggle and prosecution has challenged them to be strong enough to form their own Khalistan - the land of the Pure, the land of the Sikhs.