Baisakhi was already celebrated as a joyous springtime (April-May) renewal of life celebration when, over 300 years ago, in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh sent messages to all the local Sikh communities that everyone should come in large numbers at Anandpur Sahib to celebrate Baisakhi together.
He stood before the assembly of about 80,000 people with an unsheathed sword and his voice rang out, “I need a head. Who will offer me their head?” This was high drama, asking his Sikhs to make the supreme sacrifice. He repeated his shocking challenge five times in all.
Hearing this, most of the people in the crowd got scared and ran away, but one at a time, five brave and devoted Sikhs came forward. One at a time they disappeared into the Master’s tent with him (and his sword), finally to emerge unscathed.
Thereupon the Guru called them his Panj Piaray, his “Five Beloved Ones.” The Guru stirred an iron bowl full of water with a double-edged sword called a khanda, while chanting over the water to fill it with sacred vibrations. As the water was being stirred, Mata Sahib Kaur, the Guru’s wife, added Patashas (sugar crystals) to the bowl.
The Guru then gave this sweet ambrosia to the five Sikhs who had volunteered their heads. He gave them the name “Singh,” meaning “lion,” to be followed with “Khalsa.” Later, the Guru himself knelt before the five and asked them to give the Amrit to him.
Thus the Guru became the disciple of his Sikhs—and Guru Gobind Rai became Guru Gobind Singh. He baptized Sikhs to be pure and explained the way of life of purity, and then he said, “Rehit piaaraa moeh ko, Sikh piaaraa naa-eh.” Rehit, this way of life, the dharma, the call of duty, is precious to me… not any Sikh.
He didn’t reject the Sikhs. He just improved them. He gave them a simple, pure lifestyle, and the rights and blessings that come with it.
When Guru Gobind Singh formed the Khalsa (those who live in purity of consciousness), he made no distinction between men and women–expecting both to live with the same discipline. At that time many women even fought and died on the battlefield in equal roles of leadership with their male counterparts.
Now Sikhs all over the world gather on or about April 14th every year to celebrate this historic birthday of the Khalsa.
~ This information was originally published in the book Heroes, Saints and Yogis (2012) by Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa and Guruka Singh Khalsa and the article “Equality ~ All One Before God” by Pritpal Singh Khalsa (https://www.sikhdharma.org/equality-one-eyes-god/).