Sikhs celebrate freedom on Deepavali


Deepavali is celebrated not by only Hindus. Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains also take part in the festivities.

The Festival of Lights connects followers of multiple religions as it is essentially a celebration of the victory of good over evil.

Lighting of earthen lamps, bursting of firecrackers, offering prayers and distribution of sweets mark the day.

But each religion adds its own colour to the day.

Sikhs celebrate as Bandi Chhor Diwas (prisoner release day) to mark the historical release of their sixth guru, Guru Hargobind (1595-1644), from the prison of Mughal emperor Jahangir.

The story goes that Jahangir imprisoned 11-year-old Guru Hargobind on trumped up charges after killing his father Guru Arjan Dev.

He was put in prison along with 52 Hindu kings and noblemen.

On Deepavali Day in 1619, Jahangir decided to release Guru Hargobind. But the guru insisted that he would only leave the prison if the 52 kings and noblemen could also go free.

Jahangir said that those who could cling to the guru's coat could walk free. This was meant to limit the number of prisoners who could be released.

However, Guru Hargobind had a coat made with 52 ropes attached to it so that all the 52 could leave the prison with him.

For Sikhs around the world, Bandi Chhor Diwas marks the day Guru Hargobind was released from Gwalior Fort and could return to Amritsar.

The day reminds Sikhs of freedom and human rights and they celebrate the occasion every year by bursting fireworks, offering prayers and lighting lamps at homes and gurdwaras, singing kirtans (devotional songs) and a continuous reading of the Guru Granth Sahib, the central religious scripture of Sikhism.

It is also an important occasion for Sikhs to visit gurudwaras and spend time with their families. Devotees in Punjab in India often take a holy dip in the tank at the Golden Temple in Amritsar and offer prayers.

Jathedar Balbir Singh, head of the Budha Dal, a Sikh martial faction, told The Indian Express that it is a centuries-old tradition among Sikhs to gather at the Golden Temple on Bandi Chhor Diwas.

"Bhog (observance) will be held on Diwali day and we will attend the gathering at Akal Takht (seat of power of the Sikhs) where the jathedar (leader) would read a message for the community," he said.

Martial groups among the Sikhs will also display their skills. "It is a long and rich history," said the jathedar.

"The festival of Diwali at Amritsar is also a tribute to those Sikhs who were not allowed to enter the city in the 18th century. It is symbol of victory of Khalsa (community)."

In Singapore, Bandi Chhor is a very special celebration for the Sikhs, said Central Sikh Gurdwara Board secretary Narinder Kaur.

"We celebrate it on two levels - individual and community," she said. "At the individual level, Sikhs greet their loved ones and share sweets.

At the community level, they visit the Gurdwara Sahibs and do congregational prayers.

"Bandi Chhor reminds us to set ourselves free from all negative mental forces which imprison, confine and restrain us, just as our sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Sahib ji, was released from imprisonment together with 52 kings."

Usually hundreds of Sikhs gather at the different gurdwaras in Singapore to celebrate Bandhi Chhor on Deepavali day.

This year, because of Covid-19, they gathered in smaller groups to take part in the reading of the Guru Granth Sahib, singing of kirtan and distribution of langar (community food).

Real estate agent Puran Kaur lighted candles at the Silat Road gurdwara, listened to the guruji narrate stories about Guru Hargobind and took home the langar in a bento box.

"Deepavali day is significant because we also celebrate the Hindu festival as well as Bandi Chhor," she said. "Both celebrate the triumph of good over evil.

"I always make a posting about Bandi Chhor on my Facebook page so that the younger generation will get to know about it."

Ms Narinder said Bandi Chhor is important in the Sikh calendar.

"Bandi Chhor is a significant and auspicious day for the Sikh community," she said.

"If we believe that Sikh calendar is a rosary of different celebrations such as Gurpurabs, Vesakhi, Shahidi Purab and Hola Mohalla, Bandi Chhor is an important bead of this rosary.

"Bandi Chhor is as important in our Sikh calendar as our other religious celebrations."


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