Bandi Chhor Diwas – significance of Diwali for Sikhs

As some of you may know, today is Diwali. In the Indian calendar this is the beginning of the new year and is a national celebration. For Hindus, it represents the festival of light. In folklore, the story goes that Rama defeated the evil Ravana in an epic battle of good over evil. He freed his consort, Sita, and they return to their kingdom of Ayodhya on this day. The story is much more expansive than this, and I’ve done it very little justice in giving such a short synopsis. Across the world, there will be celebrations of this day, mainly marked by fireworks, and passing out of sweets is common. It’s also traditionally a time of year when gifts are given to one another.

In Sikhi, though, Diwali has a very different significance and relevance. Our sixth guru, Guru Hargobind Ji, had become friends with the Muslim ruler at the time (1619), Emperor Jahangir. After some time, Jahangir became ill, and his advisers convinced him that Guru Hargobind Ji needed to go to Gwalior, to offer prayers for his recovery. Guru Ji accepted. On arriving, he was arrested and imprisoned with 52 other prisoners (done without the Emporer’s knowledge). All were princes and rulers of their own kingdoms. Guru Ji soon improved their living conditions there, and they all became followers of his teachings.

When news reached Jahangir that Guru Hargobind Ji had been imprisoned, he ordered his release. Guru Ji decided that he would not leave unless the other prisoners could leave with him. Jahangir stipulated that any prisoner holding on to the coat of Guru Ji could be freed. Immediately, Guru Ji asked for a coat to be made that had 52 tails for his fellow prisoners to hold on to. It was made for him, and he walked out of Gwalior fort with all 52 prisoners holding on to a tail on his coat.

Guru Hargobind Ji from this day on became known as Bandi-Chhor – the liberator. The day he arrived at Amritsar was also the same day as Diwali, and as such the two events have often been celebrated at the same time. For Sikhs, we celebrate by going to the gurdwara to offer our prayers, and have some langar. Langar is the practise of providing free meals to anyone, an open affair for all who visit the gurdwara. We then light a candle to remember the day and some gurdwaras will also have a show of fireworks.

Take from the story what you will, I just like the story.

Waheguru ji ka khalsa, waheguru ji ki fateh (A Sikh greeting).