Guru Nanak Jayanti is a sacred festival of Sikhs and celebrates the birth of Guru Nanak who was the founder of Sikhism and the first of the ten Sikh Gurus. While some scholars and organisations believe that his birthday falls on April 14, which is the same day that Vaisakhi is celebrated, others claim that he was born during Pooranmashi around November and they celebrate it on Kartik Purnima. Guru Nanak was born in Rai Bhoi Ki Talvandi village (present-day Nankana Sahib, Punjab, Pakistan).
Celebrations to mark Guru Nanak's birthday begin with the singing of hymns or prayers and reading from the Guru Granth Sahib in Gurdwaras at the start of the new day, that is at 12 AM.
HOW IT IS CELEBRATED:
Gurpurab celebrations begin at least two days in advance with the reading of the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikh community. Called Akhand Path, it is a 48-hour-long, non-stop reading of the book.
A day prior to Nanak's birthday, a procession is organized which is headed by the five beloved ones or panj pyaras, who carry the Sikh flag known as the Nishan Sahib, and the Palki (Palanquin) of the Guru Granth Sahib. They are followed by teams of singers singing hymns with devotees singing the chorus. This part of the celebration is called Nagarkirtan. There are also Gatka teams who display their swordsmanship through various martial arts and as mock battles using traditional weapons.
Prabhat, which stands for morning, and Pheri, which stands for procession, takes place around 4 or 5 AM on Guru Nanak Jayanti from the Gurdwara with the devotees walking together around the locality singing hymns.
After the procession, the devotees assemble for a reading from the holy book called the Katha, and the Kirtan (hymns from the Sikh scriptures), in praise of their Guru. This is followed with a langar, a special community lunch arranged at the Gurudwaras by volunteers. It is served to all who come to the gurudwara irrespective of their caste, creed or religion.
The festivities do not end there as some Gurdwaras would also conduct night prayers which begin around sunset with the recitation of Rehras(evening prayer) followed by Kirtan till late at night. The congregation starts singing Gurbani at about 1:20 AM, which is believed to be the time of birth of Guru Nanak, and then the celebrations culminate at around 2 AM.
Guru Nanak Gurpurab is celebrated by the Sikh community all over the world and is one of the most important festivals in the Sikh calendar. The celebrations are especially colorful in Punjab, Haryana, and Chandigarh and many more locations like in parts of Pakistan and England.