Art series explores fond memories tied to Metro Vancouver’s Vaisakhi celebrations
"Seeing that these streets become places of gathering of all backgrounds. People doing seva. Being generous. Community pride and strength."
“I miss walking from Fraser Street to 49th Ave to Main Street. No cars on those streets, only people. Seeing that these streets become places of gathering of all backgrounds. People doing seva. Being generous. Community pride and strength. Getting dressed up, & chai. Such joy.”
This is one of many sentiments shared in a new online art exhibit titled “Lost Vaisakhi” by Vancouver-based artist Jag Nagra, which chronicles the memories of the Vaisakhi celebrations in Surrey and Vancouver that have been cancelled since 2020 due to the COVID pandemic.
View this post on Instagram
Vaisakhi is an auspicious religious event for Sikhs around the world to commemorate the establishment of the Khalsa in 1699 by Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the 10th Sikh Guru.
Folks from across the region, including those in Burnaby, attend the Nagar Kirtans in Vancouver and Surrey which spans blocks and draws in thousands of attendees. Surrey’s Nagar Kirtan specifically has been noted as having the largest Vaisakhi events in the world outside of Punjab, India.
The Nagar Kirtan involves transporting the Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhism’s holy scripture, on a float through the streets as folks follow along singing religious hymns (kirtan).
Community members also prepare vegetarian meals, snacks, and sweets (like samosas, pakoras, and cholay bhaturay), giving the food away for free as an act of seva (selfless service) which is a tenant of the Sikh faith.
This year, Vaisakhi takes place on April 14 but unfortunately, the streets of Surrey and Vancouver will be empty once again.
In a release, Nagra said that during the first two years of the pandemic it was understandable that the Nagar Kirtans in Surrey and Vancouver would be cancelled.
“In 2022, there was some hope that the parades could possibly come back and we could once again gather to celebrate in the streets. When it was announced that the parades were cancelled for a third consecutive year, I thought I could help people feel the sense of pride and nostalgia through my art.”
The project includes vibrant images drawn by Nagra to represent the fond memories folks have of attending Nagar Kirtans of the past.
View this post on Instagram
She also reached out on social media, asking what people missed most attending the Nagar Kirtans, and included those quotes in some of her pieces.
Here are some of the responses she received:
Nagra told the Beacon that one of the ongoing themes she found in people’s responses was that they missed the “sense of community and the seva” of the Vaisakhi celebrations.
“Almost every response I got touched on one, if not both of those,” she said.
“And that just goes to show that this is such an important day to remind people that they belong to this beautiful thriving community.”
As for her illustrations, Nagra said she wanted to highlight a few things folks would typically see during the celebrations.
“Whether it’s the rainbow of colours or the food or the architecture. It was important to me to try to invoke a sense of nostalgia to those familiar with the Nagar Kirtan but to also introduce people who haven’t attended with the kinds of sights they would come across,” she said.
You can check out all of Nagra’s Lost Vaisakhi art pieces here.