Today marks the Sikh New Year, the start of the month of Chet, the first in the Nanakshahi calendar.
The calendar starts with the birth of the founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak Dev Ji.
Other religions, like Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism, have had their own calendars. However, for most of its history, Sikhism has used the traditional Vikrami (or Bikrami) calendar, shared by Sikhs and Hindus in North India, to set the date of its festivals.
The Nanakshahi Calendar was developed by a Canadian Sikh, Pal Singh Purewal, a retired computer engineer. He started work on the calendar in the 1960s. Purewal believed that having a unique calendar was vital for the integrity of the Sikh religion.
The Nanakshahi Calendar was adopted in 2003 and made life much easier for Sikhs as their holy days no longer move about the calendar from year to year. Gurpurbs (celebrations devoted to particular Gurus) now always happen on the same date and occur once (and once only) every year.
Sikhs see the adoption of the new calendar as a big step forward for the Sikh identity, and one that will help dispel any assumptions that Sikhism is a branch of some other religion.
The calendar didn’t fix the date of all Sikh festivals. Those Sikh festivals that are celebrated at the same time as similar Hindu religious events, such as Diwali, still have their dates set by the Vikrami calendar.
14 March also celebrates World Sikh Environment Day, a day marking the gurgaddi divas of Guru Har Rai Ji, who is remembered in Sikh history for his deep sensitivity to nature and its preservation.
The day was first celebrated by Eco Sikh (US) in 2010, but international chapters of the organisation have marked the day ever since. Last year, Eco Sikh UK celebrated their first-day environmental day by holding its first conference promoting inter-faith action against climate change in the UK.
Amandeep Kaur Maan, director of Eco Sikh UK, committee member of the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission, and member of Guru Gobind Singh Gurdwara on Leeds Road, said: “It just so happens that Sikh New Year falls on World Sikh Environment Day.
“Sikh New Year marks the growth of new things and the change of the seasons. A key part of the Sikh faith is the environment, respecting nature, and nurturing plants all tie in very nicely.
“I am involved with a national organisation, Eco Sikh UK, and we deliver talks in Gurdwaras to engage the Sikh community in environmental projects. With Sikh New Year falling on World Sikh Environment Day, it was an incredibly special moment for us.”
She added: “We are trying to work on more inter-faith activities this year, to do more tree planting projects and litter picks. The New Year marks an opportunity to have a resolution to be centred around nature.
“We have been pushing for people to make pledges around combating climate change – it could be as simple as reducing your use of single-use plastics.”
Eco Sikh UK will be holding their next annual conference next weekend. For more information, visit here.