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Sikh Celebrate Vaisakhi New Year Festival, 'A Real Proud Moment For Us'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - Tuesday is Vaisakhi, the Sikh New Year festival.

It's marked around the world, including here at home.

CBS2's Kiran Dhillon has more on how the community here is celebrating.

On one of the holiest days of the year, hundreds of Sikhs gathered at a church, also know as a gurdwara, in South Richmond Hill — to mark Vaisakhi.

The holiday is an opportunity for Sikhs everywhere to come together to celebrate their faith and history.

"For Sikhs, Vaisakhi is so important," said Hapreet Singh Toor with the Sikh Cultural Society of Queens.

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The holiday originally began centuries ago as a harvest festival in the Punjab region of India. In 1699, it took on extra meaning for Sikhs when their tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, chose the day to establish the Khalsa - the name given to Sikhs who have been baptized.

"Guru Gobind Ji decided that this is the day that I will declare the Khalsa as a panth. Panth means a group," Toor said.

To celebrate what's also the beginning of their new year, the community gathers in solidarity.

"We come to the gurdwara with the families, with the kids, pray for our community," said Queens resident Rajwinder Kaur. "We eat mixed sweets... and teach our kids religious things so they are aware of what Vaisakhi is."

A highlight of the festival is the annual parade that's taken place every year in Manhattan since the 1980s, and that's been cancelled for two years due to the pandemic.

Even though COVID restrictions have changed how Sikhs are able to celebrate Vaisakhi this year, many say the spirit of the festival remains remains and will not be lost.

(credit: CBS2)

"It's a real proud moment for us because we learn what Sikh is, what braveness is," Kaur said.

"It makes me feel extremely proud that I am blessed with this religion and am a part of a religion that treats boys and girls with equality and I have the exact same rights as men," said 17-year-old Harleen Kaur.

Even if it's on a smaller scale, these devotees say they'll use the day to give thanks and pray for the year ahead.

In the meantime, they're wishing us all a happy Vaisakhi.

Kiran Dhillon contributed to this report.

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