The Festival of lights, Diwali is often referred to as the Hindu festival. But, not many know that it is also an important day for Sikhs.
To be accurate, Sikhs are not actually celebrating Diwali, but they are celebrating Bandi Chhorh Divas, which means ‘Prisoner Release Day’ which happens to be at the same time of year as Diwali, so the two are amalgamated.
Prisoner Release Day is the celebration of the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Sahib, being released from Gwalior Prison in India along with 52 princes in 1619. The day is seen as a triumph of right over wrong and a tribute to the Guru who saved the lives of the 52 men without violence.
According to History, Guru along with hundreds of others was held as a political prisoner by Mughals. The Mughal Emperor Jahangir met with Guru during his imprisonment and became close to him – partly because the Guru saved him from a lion whilst out hunting, but also because the Guru’s prayers were thought to have cured the Emperor of a serious illness.
Such was the debt the Emperor owed Guru Hargobind, he agreed to release him but the Guru refused to accept unless he could take 52 princes (Rajas) with him. The Emperor was at first reluctant, but agreed to letting any prisoners free who could hold onto the Guru’s cloak, thinking this would serious limit the number. However, the Guru outsmarted the Emperor by creating a cloak made with 52 tails (reported as pieces of string in some places) so all the Rajas could hold on and walk to freedom with him.
The selflessness of the Guru is celebrated to this day at Gurudwara Bandi Chor (the Sikh Temple built on the site of the Guru’s imprisonment) with ‘Deewalee’ (earthen oil lamps), candles and fireworks on Bandi Chhorh Divas. It is also a time when Sikhs may choose to make a pilgrimage to the Golden Temple (Sri Harmandir Sahib) which is the most important pilgrimage site in the religion. On Diwali, the Golden Temple in Amritsar is illuminated with Diyas (lamps) and fireworks are also lit.