Diwali, the "festival of lights," is joyfully celebrated by many people of South Asian descent worldwide. Rooted in Hindu tradition, it stands as a major annual celebration for Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs alike. In 2009, President Obama acknowledged its significance in a video, and this year, in his Diwali greetings, he drew inspiration from the resilience displayed by the Sikhs of Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

Understanding Bandi Chhor Divas 

Bandi Chhor Divas marks the Sikh celebration of Guru Hargobind's release from the prison of Gwalior Fort in 1619. Originally timed around Diwali, it signifies a "Day of Liberation" for Sikhs. The celebration not only honours Guru Hargobind's freedom but also his noble act of securing the release of 52 other imprisoned kings and princes under Jehangir, the Mughal ruler of India at the time. Jehangir, known for his strained relations with the Sikh community, had ordered the execution of Guru Arjun, Guru Hargobind's predecessor. Initially hesitant, Jehangir agreed to release Guru Hargobind only if he was left alone, but the Guru insisted on the freedom of all prisoners as a condition,  "whoever can hold on to the Guru's cloak can be released."

The tale

In an extraordinary act of solidarity, the Guru arranged for a cloak with 52 strands, allowing fellow prisoners to hold onto it as they walked out of the fort together. This remarkable gesture secured the release of all those imprisoned alongside him. It's a powerful reminder of selflessness and compassion, something we as Sikhs should deeply contemplate each year.

Bandi Chhor Divas isn't just about festivities with our Hindu and Jain brothers and sisters; it holds a much deeper significance for Sikhs. Beyond the candles and fireworks, it symbolizes sacrifice and unity. Let’s look at Bandi Chhor Divas in a new light, pondering its profound message of empathy and liberation.

Guru Hargobind's actions nearly 400 years ago serve as a timeless lesson for everyone today, whether they are Sikhs or not. Rather than merely commemorating a historical event, this history presents a personal challenge. 

The tale of Bandi Chhor Divas serves as a constant reminder to extend beyond personal boundaries and utilize the bestowed privileges to help those in need. It demands reflection on actions beyond self-interest and encourages individuals to become catalysts for positive change within their communities. The narrative of Guru Hargobind's cloak signifies the importance of forging connections with others to collectively pursue common objectives. It inspires us to evaluate our individual endeavors through the lens of how our work contributes to the greater good.

*Based on an article by Rupinder Mohan Singh, published in Huffington Post on 15th November 2012


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