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Celebrating Diwali: What Bandi Chhor Divas/Diwali means to me

By Daleep MannNov 20211 min read

I’m Daleep, a British Sikh and I celebrate Diwali together with Bandi Chhor Divas, which translates to the liberation of political prisoners day. This day is all about celebrating freedom and human rights for all. 

Background

Around this time in 1619, the long-imprisoned sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji, who had not committed any crime or offence, was finally freed from Gwalior Fort. 

He refused to leave until 52 innocent Hindu princes were also freed. (Imagine, a prisoner giving conditions about his release not for his own benefit, but for that of others!) The evil emperor, not wanting to free them, agreed on one condition, “whoever can hold on to the Guru’s cloak can be released”. 

So, the compassionate Guru had a special cloak made with 52 tassels. As the Guru walked out of the fort, the princes followed him, each holding onto a tassel. He had liberated them. The Guru walked them back to the holy city of Amritsar, their arrival celebrated by candles (Diwali divas) shining brightly, from everyone’s homes. A wonderful celebration took place at Sri Harmandir Sahib (the Golden Temple) which was beautifully lit up. 

A painting depicting the Guru leading the princes out of the fort to freedom

Sri Harmandir Sahib (the Golden Temple) lit up today.

What it means to me

The Guru could’ve left the Fort when offered the chance, but instead, he thought of others before himself. At this time of year, I commemorate and honour our Guru, who taught us some key Sikh principles. These include compassion, always standing up against injustice and using our privilege to help those in need. These are as relevant in 2021 as they were in 1619. 

How I celebrate 

I usually go to the Gurdwara (Sikh Temple) with family and friends to seek blessings and give thanks for all that I’ve been given. In our prayers, we say “Sarbat da bhala” which asks for the wellbeing and prosperity for all of humanity.

We light candles, just as our ancestors did in 1619, and there’s always a huge fireworks display. Of course, food - rotis, rice, daal, saag, paneer, various curries, samosas, pakoras and sweets - plays a key part in our celebration, and gives everyone the chance to catch up with each other. 

Wishing everyone a very happy Bandi Chhor Divas and Diwali! 

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