The annual Sikh festival of Vaisakhi commenced in Gravesend today with dancing, prayers and the raising of the ceremonial flag.
The organisers said everyone is invited to join in singing, martial arts, Indian food and a colourful procession in a effort to unite the communities during the annual celebrations this weekend.
Historically, Vaisakhi marks the spring harvest for farmers and communities in Punjab in northern India, from where most of the Sikhs in Gravesham originate.
More than 20 million Sikhs all over the world celebrate the historic and religious festival of Vaisakhi every year.
Festivities began today with Vaisakhi on the square, in community square in front of the civic centre between 11 AM and 1 PM.
In 1699 the tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji chose Vaisakhi as the occasion to transform the Sikhs into a family of soldier saints, known as the Khalsa Panth.
The Guru founded the Khalsa in front of thousands at Anandpur Sahib.
During the Vaisakhi festival, Guru Gobind Singh came out of a tent carrying a sword.
He challenged any Sikh who was prepared to give his life to come into the tent.
The Guru returned alone with his sword covered in blood. He then requested another volunteer and repeated the same action four times until five men disappeared into the tent.
The crowd was very concerned until they saw five men return with the Guru wearing turbans with the Guru.
These five men became known as the Panj Piare, or ‘Beloved Five’ and created the Sikh religion as it is practised today.
The men were then baptised into the Khalsa by the Guru. He sprinkled them with Amrit ( ‘ immortalising nectar’, the Sikh term for holy water) and said prayers.
This is the basis of the Sikh baptism ceremony.
Ever since people have celebrated Vaisakhi in Gurudwaras (temples) on Vaisakhi day. This usually falls in the spring. This year it fell on the 14th of April. It is a day when new converts are baptised into the faith
The festival is marked with Nagar Kirtan processions through the streets (nagar means “town”).
This forms an important part the Sikh culture and religious celebrations.
Kitan means the singing of hymns from the Guru Grath Sahib, the Sikh holy book.
Celebrations always include music, singing and chanting scriptures and hymns.
The processions are led by traditionally dressed Panj Piaras. The Guru Granth Sahib will be carried in the procession in a place of honour. It is followed by drummers , floats and performers.
A fresh Sikh flag, known as Nishaan Sahib, is put in place and the flag pole is washed.
There are shared meals called ‘Langar’ and celebrations with reverence, music and dance.
Gurvinder Sandher, chief executive of Kent Equality Cohesion Council, said:
The Vaisakhi celebrations in Gravesham are some of the biggest in the country.
Vaisakhi is a wonderful example of how faith can bring diverse communities together.
With recent atrocities still fresh in our minds Vaisakhi is a wonderful example of how faith can bring diverse communities together to celebrate as one all that binds us together as a community in Gravesham.
Our reporter Sam Ghartey was in Gravesend in Kent and filed this report: