For members of the Sikh community, the centuries-old festival of Vaisakhi marks the beginning of the new year, the birth of the Khalsa and the completion of the wheat harvest.
While local residents with the non-profit India Canada Cultural Association may not be as directly involved in agriculture as their forebearers, the marking of this special time of year in Greater Victoria offers numerous opportunities to experience Indian food, traditional dance and other cultural activities.
Not so ironically, this Sunday’s Vaisakhi Mela (a Sanskrit word meaning gathering, or to meet) is happening at the Saanich Fairgrounds, a Central Saanich venue tied directly to agricultural celebrations.
The free gathering at the fairgrounds represents the festival side of Vaisakhi, one of the most important cultural events of the year globally for members of the Sikh community – Hindus, Buddhists and Tamils also celebrate, but in slightly different ways. The festival also includes special prayer services and events at the gurdwaras (temples).
It’s primarily about family, says Serena Rai, a Victoria resident who has danced the traditional Indian bhangra style since she was five and performed often at such celebrations.
“We’re a close group. We all kind of pull together and work well as a group in order to make it a fun event for everybody,” she says.
While the mela has plenty of outward cultural appeal, Rai, as part of the younger generation, also appreciates the efforts being made to maintain her ethnic Indian heritage.
“It’s so important to look at what our elders are doing for us as a community,” she says of Vaisakhi-related events. “It makes me very proud to know my children (will be able to participate), as this is being passed from generation to generation.”
Gordy Dodd, a well-known Greater Victoria merchant and president of the India Canada Cultural Association, noted that the marking of Vaisakhi can have many beneficial elements.
“(This) celebration is about sharing and family,” he said.
“I firmly believe that when a community gathers in sharing its food, culture, music, art and dance, then our whole community of Victoria gains a sense of tranquility, equality and belonging that is spiritually healing for all of us.”
The Vaisakhi Mela, running from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. at 1528 Stelly’s X Rd. in Central Saanich, features a market, authentic Indian food stalls, henna tattoo applications and a variety of free children’s activities.
There will be outfit, food and decoration contests for attendees to take part in. From an entertainment standpoint, there will be various musical and dance performances and competitions, headlined by members of the Apna Virsa (translates to our cultural roots), which is billed as the region’s premier Punjabi arts and culture group.
According to Khushia Gill, the coach and leader of Apna Virsa, “Cultural dance knows no race, colour or ethnicity; only talent and passion.” and this groups remarkable energy and synergy symbolizes this way of dance.
The ICCA is mandated to celebrate and raise awareness about the power, diversity and colour of India’s rich culture. For more than 40 years, the society has worked towards creating bridges between the Indo-Canadian community in Greater Victoria and other cultural groups.
Getting there and back
For people wishing to attend Vaisakhi events in Saanichton but looking to avoid driving, transportation will be provided from various locations.
• Vehicles will leave the Khalsa Diwan Sikh Temple at 1210 Topaz Ave. at 11:30 a.m., noon and 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. Departures from Saanich Commonwealth Place are at noon, 12:30, 2, 3 and 4 p.m.
• Vehicles also leave Mayfair Centre from the Toys R Us entrance at noon, 1 and 2 p.m., while departures from Sizzling Tandoor at Uptown happen at 12:30, 1:30 and 2:30 p.m.
• Regular return times from the fairgrounds begin at 12:30 p.m. and run every 15 minutes starting at 4:30.