In a small backstreet town, in the forgotten depths of Kent lies Gravesend. It’s a place most people quickly pass through, unable to look past the seedy bars, and reprobates loitering around every corner. But, while some of Gravesend chowed down on bunny shaped confectionary and random chocolate eggs for Easter, the local Sikh community was handing out a vast array of culinary classics and drinks, throughout a parade in honour of Vaisakhi.
What is Vaisakhi?
Vaisakhi is an annual Sikh and Hindu festival celebrating the Sikh new year and observing some significant events in the history of Sikhism and the Indian subcontinent. People also remember this day as a time to mark the birth of the Sikh order, after the persecution and execution of Guru Tegh Bahadur for refusing to convert to Islam.
Celebrations of Vaisakhi are usually held on the 13th of April and it breathed new life into a dreary town, devoid of colour. The day began with a parade through the streets, people from the Sikh local community came together to showcase every element of life, from football teams to bhangra dancers, sword fighters and so much more, each one showcased on intricately decorated floats. At the head of the procession a gold palace was erected and traditional Sikh musicians played, while men in turbans and swords followed close behind and behind them thousands of people followed closely, smiling and waving at every gaping spectator, loitering on the sidelines.
The parade went on for miles and many residents in Gravesend reported they could hear the parade from their homes, miles away and while we all watched in silent disbelief at a sight we’d never thought we’d find in our own backyards. People dressed in saris handed out delicious food for free, it’s a common tradition in the Sikh community to hand out free food, as part of their belief system is everyone deserves a meal, no matter who they are, or what walk of life they come from. But, during the Vaisakhi celebrations, a delicious abundance of food was being handed out from pizza to ice cream, bottled water was being thrown at spectators and everyone was made to feel a part of the day.
Later everyone headed to the main Gurdwara, a building that can only be described as a magnificent palace, a place that transports you from the treacherous streets of Gravesend to the ancient and intricate world of India. It’s a spectacular specimen architecture, that cost an impressive £12 million to erect. It was here that the celebrations continued, thousands of people travelled here to partake in the celebrations, from across neighbouring areas. The entire field was packed with people perusing stalls of clothes, children playing on carnival rides and a stage with enigmatic musicians, bringing Vaisakhi to life.
Gravesend may be a run down, disparaged town, but during the Vaiskhai celebrations, it’s an unrecognisable haven of colour and music and gives everyone a glimpse into the beauty of the Sikh community.