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Sunday, 7 April, 2002, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Sikhs celebrate harvest festival
Crowded streets in Southall
Tens of thousands celebrated
Up to 50,000 people have gathered in west London to celebrate Vaisakhi, one of the most important festivals in the Sikh calendar.

The two-and-a-half hour procession was held at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha temple in Southall, Middlesex - the largest Sikh temple in Europe.

Ancient Punjabi harvest festival
Significant for Sikhs since 1699
Marks the birth of the Khalsa, the core committed order
Celebrated in Southall since the 1960s
Vaisakhi is both the harvest festival and the Sikh New Year, marking the birth of the Sikh order of the Khalsa.

It is actually marked on 13 and 14 April, but processions are held throughout the Sikh world on various dates beforehand.

The Southall procession, called Nagar Kirtan, was led by five "panj piaray", dressed in traditional yellow and representing the first five members of the Khalsa.

Carried at the head of the procession, on an ornate bejewelled float, was the revered Sikh Holy book.

Celebrating in traditional dress
The atmosphere was joyful and devout
Behind, members of the Sikh community, dressed in ordinary clothes but all with their heads covered and many barefoot, chanted prayers.

BBC correspondent Martha Doyle, at the festival, said there was an atmosphere "of both celebration and reverence".

She said it was notable for the numbers of young people turning out for the devotions.

Across Britain

Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak in 1469, and the Khalsa - the core community of committed followers within the wider Sikh faith - in 1699.

Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha temple
The procession focused on the Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha temple
It was founded when the 10th Guru, Gobind Singh, gathered Sikh devotees together during the Punjab harvest festival and baptised them.

Vaisakhi (also spelled "Baisakhi") processions have been held in Southall since the 1960s. This year's procession was the biggest in Europe.

Other processions were held at temples throughout Britain, which is home to about 500,000 Sikhs.

See also:

13 Apr 00 | South Asia
Sikh celebrate harvest festival
14 Apr 99 | South Asia
The Sikh Khalsa: Community of the Pure
15 Apr 99 | South Asia
Who are the Sikhs?
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