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BAISHAKHI on April 13 is celebrated throughout India in many ways. In the Himalayan region, it is also called `Baishakh Sankranti'. It is observed even in far-off Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, where it is called Songkaran and celebrated on April 14 as the Water Festival. Children visit their parents and elders and offer scented water in homage to obtain their blessings for the New Year.
Baishakhi traditionally marks the end of the month long `New Year' celebrations of the Hindu Calendar. The new `Samvatsar', an astrological forecast of things to come during the New Year based on position of the different planets, and the culmination of Navratras with the birth of Lord Rama, are the two main religious aspects of these celebrations. In northern India, Baishakhi also marks the harvesting season and village folk celebrate the occasion by holding community-wide festivities - sports, fairs, offering of sweets and community feasts, etc.
In Punjab, Baishakhi celebrations encompass both the religious and cultural sentiments in equal measure. It was on this day over 300 years ago, that the Tenth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singhji Maharaj, established the `Khalsa' order. The word `Sikh' means disciple and all the followers of the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev and subsequent nine Gurus, were called Sikhs or followers. They included both Hindus and Muslims. The fundamental message of 'universal brotherhood' was propagated by Nanak Devji in a unique manner by insisting on the triple principles of Seva, Pangat and Sangat. All the followers were to share in community service (Seva), meals (Pangat) and prayers (Sangat). All were equal before the 'Order'. Even the king had to share Seva and Pangat before meeting the Guru in Sangat.
The teachings of the Sikh Gurus were so simple in comparison to the complicated ritualistic orders of that time that they appealed to the masses far and wide.
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