Sikhs celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Khalsa - the core community of committed followers within the wider Sikh faith - on 13 April 1999. The event is commemorated every year on Vaisakhi (or Baisaki), traditionally the beginning of the year in several South Asia countries and a major harvest festival. This year, however, an estimated 20 million Sikhs are organising events all over the world to mark the occasion. The Sikh "mini-Millennium", as it has been dubbed, is generating interest across the media. Two new BBC productions provide comprehensive profiles of this small but distinctive community. BBC World Service's series The Khalsa: Birth of a Community is presented by Indarjit Singh, a frequent contributor to Radio 4's 'Thought for the day' slot, and perhaps Britain's most prominent Sikh.
The Khalsa was formed to defend Sikhs against persecution, and has always had a leading role within the Sikh community. As the producer of 'The Khalsa', Kristine Pommert explains: "the last Sikh Guru, or spiritual leader, Guru Gobind Singh, said 'my Khalsa should be both saints and soldiers.'" Sikhs is a two-part documentary on BBC Two which marks the event with a vivid and compelling portrait of the Sikh community. The first programme explains the background to the current celebrations by looking at the emergence of Sikhism as a compromise between Islam and Hinduism in the 15th century. The faith taught justice, social harmony, peace and equality of all people regardless of religion, creed and race but in the face of tyranny eventually adopted a martial character.