Vaisakhi to draw crowds of 30,000

More than 30,000 people will parade through the streets of Sandwell and Birmingham as part of this year's annual Vaisakhi celebrations on Sunday.

More than 30,000 people will parade through the streets of Sandwell and Birmingham as part of this year's annual Vaisakhi celebrations on Sunday.

Two huge processions will make their way to Handsworth Park for an afternoon of community celebrations, one starting at the Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Smethwick High Street and the other at Ramgarhia Sikh Temple in Graham Street.

In all, 100,000 people from across the Black Country and Birmingham are set to attend the celebrations in the park, making it one of the largest festivals of its kind in the world.

Vaisakhi marks the start of the Sikh new year, celebrating the formation of the Sikh nation or Khalsa Panth in 1699, and is held around this time of year to coincide with the traditional harvesting of crops in the Punjab.

Dr Payara Singh Bhogal, the treasurer of the Council of Sikh Gurdwaras, said: "We are the only city in the world that has two processions and have been running this event for 20 years.

"The event is becoming more and more popular each year and this year we will be making more than 60,000 meals free of charge as part of our community kitchen.

"This an event not just for Sikhs but for the community as a whole. Everyone is welcome."

The parade from Smethwick will make its way from the town's High Street and the Birmingham parade will start in Graham Street in the city. Both start at 9.30am.

The processions are set to arrive at the park between 12 and 12.30pm, with events starting there at 11am

During this time closures will be in place along Smethwick High Street,  Tollhouse Way, Rolfe Street, Rabone Lane; and Booth Street.

Drivers are advised to take a diversion through Smethwick along Fenton Street, St Pauls Road, Holly Lane, Manor Road, Church Road, Bearwood Road and High Street.

The five Sikhs leading each procession represent the original Panj Pyare (Beloved Ones) who were the first to join the Sikh order over 300 years ago.

Councillor Martin Mullaney, cabinet member for leisure, sport and culture said: "Birmingham's vibrant Vaisakhi festival shows how people come together in the city to celebrate their cultural identity.

"As part of a calendar of diverse community events it is a great example of why Birmingham has been shortlisted for  UK City of Culture 2010."

Ranjit Singh Dhanda, Chair of the Council of Sikh Gurdwaras added: "Vaisakhi is a very important event in the Sikh calendar.

"The Sikh community,  Birmingham City Council and  our sponsors  have all given tremendous support for the celebrations in Handsworth Park.The event's theme of 'Proud to be Sikh, Proud to be British'.

Vaisakhi celebrations will be held in Wolverhampton's West Park  a week on Sunday.