Vaisakhi parade in South Vancouver offers free food and a phenomenal cultural experience

V00The annual Vaisakhi parade takes place today in South Vancouver. As this is being written, many local families of South Asian descent are scrambling to put the finishing touches on food that they’ll be handing out for free during one of the city’s most colourful parades.

You can expect to find chick-pea curry called chola, Punjabi sweets, leafy-greeen saag, and an unlimited amount of makki di roti. All at no charge. The Vaisakhi procession travels over a much greater distance than either the Chinese New Year or Pride parades.

It starts at the Ross Street gurdwara (8000 Ross Street) at 11 a.m. and travels west along Southwest Marine Drive. From there, the floats move north up the hill along Main Street to East 49th Avenue.

That’s ground zero for the celebrations and where politicians gather on a stage to deliver speeches. Premier Christy Clark will no doubt be among the elected officials, but you can also expect to see Mayor Gregor Robertson and plenty of federal politicians. (After all, a national election is expected later this year.)

From there, the parade goes east along East 49th Avenue to Fraser Street, turning south to East 57th Avenue. Then the various floats travel east to Ross Street before returning to the temple. If you arrive early enough, you can usually find parking on the side streets between Main and Fraser Street. Or you can take transit.

The Vaisakhi harvest festival, known as Punjabi New Year in India, also coincides with the founding of a Sikh military order known as the Khalsa in 1699.

It all comes together in a lively community celebration with a religious component. The parade is invariably led by a float carrying the Guru Granth Sahib, which is the central religious text of Sikhism.

Marching in front will be five flag-bearing turbaned men with long beards.

They symbolize the first five Sikhs who joined the Khalsa at the request of Guru Gobind Singh to protect Punjabis, whether Sikh or Hindu, from being forcibly converted to Islam by Mughal invaders in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Sikhism’s 10th Guru initially asked the five men to enter a tent to be beheaded. But it was only a test to determine if they were prepared to give up their lives in the service of their faith. The all passed and the Khalsa was born.

If you see any men with long beards and turbans dressed in the traditional blue robes of the Khalsa, I encourage you to stop and chat with them and ask about their attire. They can educate you about the five Ks: kesh (uncut hair), kanga (a wooden comb), kara (a metal bracelet), kachera (a cotton undergarment), and kirpan (a curved dagger), which distinguished members of the Khalsa.

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