Sikh Missionary Society U.K. (Regd)
10, Featherstone Road. Southall, Middx, U.K. UB2 5AA
Tel: +44 020 8574 1902
Fax: +44 020 8574 1912
Reg Charity No: 262404
Bandi Chhor Divas
When it comes to celebrating popular festivals like Divali or Christmas, the colourful and socially vibrant Sikhs are renowned for outdoing their neighbours. For them, relevance of such festivals to their religion is of little consequence. However, the ancient Indian festival of Divali, more for historical reasons than religious, has acquired a very special significance in the Sikh tradition.
The story of Divali for the Sikhs is a story of the Sikh struggle for freedom. From the time of Guru Nanak (1469 Ė 1539), the founder of Sikhism, popular seasonal or folk festivals like the harvest festival of Vaisakhi, or ancient mythological festivals like Holi and Divali, or worship rituals like Aarti, began to take on a new significance for the Guruís students, the Sikhs. The Guru used these festivals and special days e.g. first day of each lunar month, as symbols or pegs for his teaching themes. And so the Sikhs were slowly diverted from darkness of superstitious ritualism based on fear and ignorance to an enlightened ideology based on reason and belief in One Creator. The enlightened ideology of Guru Nanak gave new significance to ancient festivals like Divali and Vaisakhi..
So what about Divali, the festival of lights when, according to Indian lore, Lord Rama returned home after destroying the demon god Ravana who had taken away Ramaís wife, Sita? The story, of course, has no significance in the Sikh tradition. However, in the Sikh struggle for freedom from the oppressive Mughal regime, the festival of Divali did become the second most important day after the Vaisakhi festival in April.
The Sixth Guru Hargobind, was freed from imprisonment in the famous fort of Gwalior by Emperor Jahangir in October, 1619. The reason for the young Guruís imprisonment was no more than religious bigotry. The Guruís father, Guru Arjan, had been martyred for the same reason. According to Sikh tradition, the Guru agreed to be freed only if the other Indian chiefs (rajahs) imprisoned with him were freed. Jahangir was under pressure from moderate but influential Muslim religious leaders like Hajrat Mian Mir, a friend of the Guru. So he relented grudgingly and ordained, "Let those rajahs be freed who can hold on to the Guruís coat tails and walk out of prison". He had in mind no more than four or five being freed with the Guru. However, the Guru was not to be outmanoeuvred in this way. He asked for a special coat to be made with 52 coat tails - same number as the rajahs in prison with him! And so the rajahs were freed and the Guru became known popularly as the "Bandi Chhor" (Deliverer from prison). He arrived at Amritsar on the Divali day and the Har Mandar (now known as the "Golden Temple") was lit with hundreds of lamps i.e. he was received in the same way as the Lord Rama and the day came to be known as the "Bandi Chhor Divas" (the day of freedom).
Thenceforth, the Sikh struggle for freedom, which intensified in the 18th Century, came to be centred around this day. In addition to the Vaisakhi day (now in April), when Khalsa, the Sikh nation was formally established by the Tenth Guru Gobind Singh, Divali became the second day in the years when the Khalsa met and planned their freedom strategy.
Another important Sikh event associated with Divali is the martyrdom in 1734 of the elderly Sikh scholar and strategist Bhai Mani Singh, the Granthi (priest) of Harmandar Sahib (Golden Temple). He had refused to pay a special tax on a religious meeting of the Khalsa on the Divali day. This and other Sikh martyrdoms gave further momentum to the Khalsa struggle for freedom and eventually success in establishing the Khalsa rule north of Delhi.
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