April in the north Indian province of the Punjab, the 'land of the five rivers', is a time of flowers and festivals. In 1919, the festival of Ram Naumi, when Hindus parade through the streets carrying statues of their gods anointed with ghee — clarified butter — and garlanded with flowers, fell on 9 April. It merged into the Baisakhi fair, several days of festivity culminating in Baisakhi Day itself, the start of the solar new year, on Sunday, 13 April. On Baisakhi Day, Hindus and Sikhs bathe in sacred rivers and tanks and worship at their temples or gurdwaras. In the Sikhs' holy of holies, the Golden Temple, around which the city of Amritsar was founded in the sixteenth century AD, water brought from all the sacred rivers of India is poured into the tank, and those who bathe in it emerge purified, their sins washed away.
For Sikhs and Hindus alike, Baisakhi is a family occasion, a time for exchanging presents, for feasting and laughter and enjoyment, for chaat and ice‐ cream and the innumerable sweetmeats Indians adore. In the Punjab, it is also a harvest festival: the rabi crop, the first of the year, has been gathered and sold, farmers have money in their pockets and are in a mood to give thanks and celebrate. They congregate in vast numbers at traditional horse and cattle fairs to meet friends and to buy and sell stock.
'They told me there were 200,000 people present at a fair I attended in the Punjab. I could believe it. They looked a million to me,' wrote Fred B. Fisher, an American who had lived and worked in India for many years.
Turbans of orange, salmon color, brilliant greens, blues and Indian red, punctuated here and there with shining black hair and shaven heads, made a flaming top to the picture. The mass of flowing robes of saffron, rose and orange, was streaked with bare bronze legs and backs and vivid rags, while the many white draperies glistened like flashes of iridescence in the dazzling sunshine.
Dust was over everything. The grass was white with it. We ate and breathed and swallowed it. Tent flies were stretched over some of the most valuable cattle; the rest stood patiently in the sun and dust while groups of