A Sikh festival or holy day is called a Gurpurb, meaning Guru's remembrance day. The celebration is generally similar for all Gurpurabs; only the hymns and history of a particular occasion is different. The ceremony for Guru Nanak's birthday is described in detail.
1) The birthday of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, founder of the Sikh religion, usually comes in the month of November, but the date varies from year to year, based on the traditional dates of the Indian Calendar. The birthday celebration usually lasts three days. Generally two days before the birthday, Akhand Path (forty-eight-hour non-stop reading of Guru Granth Sahib) is held in the Gurdwara. One day before the birthday, a procession is organized which is led by the Panj Pyares (Five Beloved Ones) and the Palki (Palanquin) of Siri Guru Granth Sahib and followed by teams of singers singing hymns, brass bands playing different tunes, 'Gatka' teams (Martial art) show their swordsmanship, and devotees singing the chorus. The procession passes through the main roads and streets of the town which are covered with buntings and decorated gates and the leaders inform the people of the message of Guru Nanak. On the birth anniversary day, the program begins early in the morning at about 4 or 5 am with the singing of Asa-di-Var (morning hymns) and hymns from the Sikh scriptures followed by Katha (exposition of the scripture) and lectures and recitation of poems in the praise of the Guru. The celebration goes on until about 1 to 2 pm.
After Ardas and distribution of Karah Parshad, the Langar is served. Some Gurdwara also hold night session. This begins around sun set when Rehras (evening prayer) is recited. This is followed by Kirtan till late in the night. Sometimes a Kavi-darbar (poetic symposium) is also held to enable the poets to pay their tributes to the Guru in their own verses. At about 1:20 am, the actual time of the birth, the congregation sings praises of the Guru and recites the Holy Word. The function ends about 2 am. The Sikhs who cannot join the celebrations for some reasons, or in places where there are no Sikh temple, hold the ceremony in their own homes by performing Kirtan, Path, Ardas, Karah Parshad and Langar. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru's birthday generally falls in December or in January. The celebrations are similar to those of Guru Nanak's birthday, namely Akhand Path, procession and Kirtan, Katha, and Langar.
2) The martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru, falls in May or June, the hottest months in India. He was tortured to death under the orders of Mughal Emperor, Jahangir, at Lahore on 25 May 1606. Celebrations consist of Kirtan, Katha, lectures, Karah Parshad and Langar in the Gurdwara. Because of summer, chilled sweetened drink made from milk, sugar, essence and water is freely distributed in Gurdwaras and in neighborhoods to everybody irrespective of their religious belief.
3) Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Guru, was arrested under orders of Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb. As he refused to change his religion and accept Islam, he was beheaded on 11 November 1675 at Chandani Chowk, Delhi. Usually one-day celebrations of his martyrdom are held in the Gurdwaras.
Three days before his passing away, Guru Gobind Singh conferred on 3 October 1708, the perpetual Gurudom on Siri Guru Granth Sahib. On this day, a special one-day celebration is held with Kirtan, Katha, lectures, Ardas, Karah Parshad and Langar. Sikhs rededicate themselves to follow the teachings of the Gurus contained in the scriptures.
4) Vaisakhi, is the day of establishment of the Khalsa (the Pure Ones). Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa brotherhood with the 'baptism of steel' on 30 March 1699. On this day, a one-day celebration is held in Gurdwaras with Kirtan, Katha, lectures, Karah Parshad and Langar. In addition, the Amrit ceremony is held and is given to those who offer themselves for Sikh initiation. The Sikhs after taking Amrit are called Khalsa. The Amrit ceremony can be held at any other time as well. Vaisakhi is generally celebrated on the 13th April every year.
5) The Sikhs celebrate Diwali to express the joy at the return of the sixth Guru to Amritsar in 1620, after his release from Gwalior Jail. (Emperor Jahangir had imprisoned him because he was afraid of the Guru's growing power and popularity with masses. The Sikhs on this day, which generally falls in November, hold a one-day celebration in the Gurdwara. Diwali means festival of lights. So in the evening, illuminations are done with Diwas (oil lamps made of clay) or candles and fire works held both in the Gurdwaras and in homes and businesses of the Sikhs.