Tens of thousands of Sikhs, as well as their friends and supporters, gathered in downtown Toronto on Sunday to celebrate Khalsa Day and Vaisakhi. The day started with a parade from the CNE grounds to Nathan Phillips Square, where celebrants gathered for speeches, performances and an almost mind-blowing quantity of food.
Vaisakhi is a harvest festival observed by Indians of all faiths. Khalsa Day celebrates the revelation of the Sikh code of conduct by the religion’s 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh, on Vaisakhi in 1699. Toronto’s Khalsa Day celebrations are among the largest outside of India. According to Manjit Singh Parmar, one of the celebration’s organizers, the event is the culmination of months of planning.
“It takes almost four months of preparation,” he said. “In January, we started meeting with city officials, police officials, to make sure the site is secure. We want to make sure all the police, TTC, the local businesses, everyone who gets affected, is on board.”
Parmar says that while Khalsa Day is a Sikh holiday, anyone is welcome to join in the celebration.
“This is a community event, not just a Sikh event. It’s for all walks of life,” he said.
Jaskaran Singh has been coming to the Khalsa Day celebrations since he was a small child. This year, the 19 year-old from Brampton decided to give back to the community by volunteering to help keep things running smoothly.
“I thought I could come down and do a good deed,” he said. “I came here to help serve food, direct the flow of traffic, pick up the garbage afterwards”
Food seemed to be the main attraction at Nathan Phillips Square. Communal dining, or langar, is an important Sikh tradition, and is part of a broader belief in sharing resources and inclusiveness. At Sunday’s gathering, langar manifested itself in a number of ways, ranging from long tables laden with traditional Indian dishes to a cotton candy machine, as well as people randomly handing out fruit and drinks in the crowd.
Among those handing out food was Brampton resident BK Sehkon. Sehkon says that his family and friends, who had multiple dishes set up on a table in the square, had spent two solid days in the kitchen.
“This is just a few families coming together to make food,” he said. “Families made different things…and we all organized and came as one group.”
Sehkon was unsure exactly how much food his group distributed in total, but had an interesting way of estimating.
“It was like small truck, all filled,” he said. “Like a U-Haul.”