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Bandi Chhor Divas

By Pritesh Mistry

Diwali; AKA Bandi Chhor Divas ("Day of Liberation, Prisoner Release Day or Day of Freedom") is a Sikh religious holiday which coincides with the day of Diwali. Sikhs have always historically celebrated Diwali along with Hindus after the Sikhs third Guru; Amar Das explicitly listed it along with Vaisakhi as a festival for Sikhs.

It is believed that the sixth Guru, along with 52 Hindu Raja's (Kings), were being held as a political prisoner by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir in October 1619, despite being otherwise innocent of any crimes. The Emperor was under pressure from influential moderate Muslim religious leaders like Hajrat Mian Mir, a friend of the Guru to release Guru Hargobind. Jahangir met with the 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 felt he owed Guru Hargobind. He agreed to release him on Diwali but the Guru refused to accept his release unless he could take the other 52 Rajas with him. Jahangir relented grudgingly and ordained, Let those rajahs be freed who can hold on to the Guru's 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 arranged 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.

He arrived at Amritsar on the day of Diwali and the Sri Harr-Mandar Sahib (also known as the Golden Temple) was lit with thousands of lamps. Guru Hargobind was received in the same way Lord Ram was received when he returned to his kingdom. Giving further homage to the festival which celebrates the triumph of Right over Wrong.

And this is how the day of Diwali came to also be known as the Bandi Chhor Divas (the day of freedom) for Sikhs.

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 is lit with hundreds of Diyas (oil lamps) and fireworks on this auspicious day. It is also a time when Sikhs light their homes with Diyas, give gifts, have feasts and spend time with family and friends. Many choose to make a pilgrimage to the Golden Temple which is the most important pilgrimage site in the religion. On this day, the Golden Temple in Amritsar is also illuminated with Diyas and celebrated with the lighting of fireworks. It is an important Sikh celebration along with Vaisakhi, Maghi, Holi with Hola Mohalla and Gurpurb.