This year, Nov. 25, marks one of Sikhism’s most sacred holidays, Guru Nanak Jayanti, the namesake festival of the religion’s founder. Though the man was born April 15, 1469, his birthday celebration changes every year based on Kartik Poornima, the full moon during the month of Kartik.
The holiday is celebrated all over India, but the most colorful festival will take place in Amritsar, home to Harmandir Sahib, commonly known as the Golden Temple. The city is considered the holiest place in the world for Sikhs, with the Harmandir Sahib housing the Guru Granth Sahib, the religion’s most sacred text.
Many of the gurudwara’s architectural features symbolize Sikhism’s commitment to openness. Four doorways on all sides of the building welcome people of all races, creeds and sex. Unlike most temples built on high ground, people are required to walk down steps to enter the low-lying temple. Harmandir Sahib also operates one of the busiest free kitchens in the world, serving flat bread and lentil soup to an average 100,000 people per day.
Just like their temple, Sikhs welcome visitors of all background to celebrate Guru Nanak Jayanti. Preparations start weeks ahead of the holiday, with morning processions called prabhat pheris commencing from the gurudwaras and singing hymns through the towns.
Two days prior marks Arkhand Path, a 48-hour reading of Guru Granth Sahib, followed by a public procession called Nagakirtan one day before the festival. On the morning of Guru Nanak’s birthday, Sikhs get up at amrit vela (4 a.m.) to recite hymns and eat Karah prasad, a blessed sweet. A large community lunch called langar is served by volunteers at the temple, free for people of all religions.
At night, people congregate at their local gurudwara to recite hymns as fireworks fill the sky. Harmandir Sahib’s celebration is especially impressive, with the temple decorated with flowers, flags and lights, illuminated by the full moon and fireworks. The festivities last until 1:20 a.m., the exact birth time of Guru Nanak.
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