Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sensory Overload: Vaisakhi Celebration on Fraser

We made it out to the annual Vaisakhi Festival on Fraser yesterday - Vaisakhi, according to Wikipedia "is an ancient harvest festival in the Punjab region, which also marks beginning of a new solar year, and new harvest season. Baisakhi is a Sikh religious festival.It falls on the first day of the Baisakh month in the solar Nanakshahi calendar, which corresponds to April 14 in the Gregorian calendar."`

However, we didn`t know Vaisakhi as a harvest celebration, but more as "that springtime festival in Punjabi town where the community provides free food". Yes, gluttons we are - there was one occasion where we were heading to Richmond for dinner when we came upon hoards of people were blocking the roadways and random people tapped on our car windows and offered us plates of food.

I also have a friend who is getting married next month at a Sikh temple. To get a better feel for the traditions and culture she organized an outing for her friends last month to the temple; to take it a step further, I thought we`d walk the Vaisakhi festival yesterday. Here are some photos of what we saw and ate.
Preliminary, I was just taken by all the colours and embroidery on the veils, traditional sari, chuni, and salvwar kameez. Most of the girls attending the wedding next month have had the traditional outfits made. I just wished I had attended the Vaisakhi celebration before we'd had it made, just so I would have had a better idea of what to expect.

I was also trying to keep an eye out for jewelry and makeup, so the first batch of photos is just on that - clothing, jewelry, makeup.

Of course, aside from the sights and sounds (various broadcasting and traditional music throughout the Fraser area), we had to have a taste of the culture - first up was this marinated fruit medley. It is an acquired taste; I've had something similar before in a dried form - it is a salty-sweet combination that incorporates chili powder, cumin and other spices. M wanted us both to have one; I knew better and told him he'd better just get one. He disagreed and got the "vendor" (it was free afterall!) to give him a little more. It was what I'd remembered, and I only had one piece of each fruit; apple, banana, and grape.

Next up was another dessert that I`d had before. A deep fried, then candied batter that released syrup when you bit into it. We shared a small portion as it was quite rich. There were also a number of businesses distributing channa dhal, a chickpea curry or mataar paneer, a cheese curd curry, on steamed rice, or rice pilau which we accepted gratefully, but the winner of the day would have had to be the channa dhal and fry bread that a private residence was distributing on one of the side streets.

What boggles our mind is how the community provided so much free food and drink to the masses. Below is a gazebo of women and children serving tea, pop, chickpea curry, and fry bread. When we visited the Sikh temple last month, we were told that after addressing the Holy Book, we would be given a small scoop of pudding made of cream and sugar - it was to symbolize the teaching that no one should ever go hungry.

As we had our fill of curry, rice, sweets and tea, we made our way back up Fraser Street and came upon the closing ceremony parade. First, there was the Sikh motorcycle club:

There were several floats pulled by huge bright trucks, with children from the Khalsa school or other religious entities.

One thing we noticed was an absence of cameras, an absence of outsiders (other outdoor events in the lower mainland generally attract a more broad cultural make up - this one was predominantly, and understandly, Indian / Punjabi), but also an absence of people with mans' best friend - one (of three!) of the only canine and owner combos we saw was this like dog / like owner duo strutting in their black and white hoodies.

At this point we were feeling pretty worn out from walking, the heat of the sun and the cool breeze (we did not necessarily dress accordingly at all). I was saying to M in the car, that it was a total sensory overload - smells, sights, tastes, touch (M claims he was felt up. *shrug*), and definitely sound.

We were comparing our "sensory overload" to being in a club or bar in our younger years - once you left the club, you generally felt a little deaf. Likewise in our case, we were really worn out from everything!

It was a nice outing and a beautiful day for the event. Glad we took a chance and made it out!

For additional photos on my flickr set.


  1. To improve motorcycle safety many countries mandate the wearing of personal protective equipment such as protective clothing and helmets. Protective gear may include certain types of jackets, gloves, boots, and pants. Jackets meant for motorcyclists are typically made of nylon, leather, or Kevlar.

  2. Awesome post. I wish I had attended more of these Punjabi/Sikh cultural festivals when I lived in Vancouver. I've never tried anything like that marinated fruit medley before but that deepfried candied batter looks familiar, I think it's called 'jalebi'. Have fun at the Indian wedding next month (get your dancing shoes on for some serious bhangra)

  3. I will Phyllis! Although the wedding sounds like a seriously long day - starts at 9am (?!?), not sure about the evening though! As for the fruit medley, I've had the same flavour combinations but in a dried form. Did not like it then either - but it is supposed to be meant as a digestive aid.


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