The Sikh commemoration of Bandi Chhor Divas, Prisoner Release Day, coincides with the Hindu celebration of Diwali.

Bandi Chhor Divas is an important celebration in the Sikh community. Bandi Chhor Divas literally translates to “prisoner’ release day.” Sikhs commemorate this day as the day of liberation for their Sixth Guru Hargobind Sahib along with 52 Hindu political prisoners detained during the reign of Mughal Emperor Jahangir.

This year, the holiday will fall on October 30, coinciding with the celebration of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. There’s a public misconception that the two celebrations are just the same. Diwali is celebrated by Hindus and has its own significances while Bandi Chhor Divas is a Sikh holiday commemorating the Guru’s release. The only connection between the two holidays is when Guru Hargobind was released and traveled back home to Amritsar, he arrived during the celebration of Diwali.

Bandi Chhor Divas also honors the martyrdom of Bhai Mani Singh who was executed in 1734 because of his refusal to pay religious meeting taxes.

The story of Guru Hargobind’s detention and release

Because of envy and unfounded accusations from the emperor’s court member Chandu Shah, Jahangir ordered the torture and execution of Hargobind’s father Guru Arjan Dev. Hargobind inherited what his father left and tried to bring greatness to his city. Guru Hargobind built the Sri Akal Takhat Sahib, “ The Throne of Almighty” and had also managed to strengthen his army. This became a warning signal for Murtaja Khan, Nawab of Lahore, who lied in his report to the emperor saying Hargobind was planning revenge for the death of his father.

Upon hearing the report, Emperor Jahangir ordered the arrest of Hargobind through Wazir Khan and Guncha Beg. But Wazir Khan was secretly a follower of the guru so instead of arresting him, he asked Hargobind to go visit the emperor. During the first meeting of Guru Hargobind and Emperor Jahangir, Jahangir was captivated by the purity and charm of the young guru. The emperor asked the guru which religion was better, Hinduism or Islam. Jahangir was impressed with Hargobind’s answer, which was to recite lines from an Indian mystic and poet named Kabir, whose writing influenced Hinduism. In a hunting expedition, Guru Hargobind saved the life of Jahangir from a lion attack and this eventually started their friendship.

When Jahangir became very ill while staying at Agra, Chandu Shah who hated Arjan Dev and Hargobind, tricked the emperor by devising a plan to detain the young guru. Shah instructed the astrologers to tell the emperor he would only be healed if a holy man will go and stay at Gwalior Fort and continuously pray for him. Shah also suggested Hargobind was the only man fit for the task. The emperor asked Hargobind and complied with his request. Guru Hargobind discovered that Gwalior Fort wass a prison, but still he complied with the emperor’s request and prayed for Jahangir’s health accompanied by the noble prisoners. It was unclear as to how long the guru was detained but he made significant improvements in the prison because the fort’s governor was also his follower.

After some time, Guru Hargobind’s followers, headed by Baba Buddha, became concerned about his detainment and asked the now healed emperor for his release. It was Sufi saint Sai Mian Mir who brokered and convinced Emperor Jahangir to eventually release the guru from detention. But Guru Hargobind had one condition, he shall be released together with the Rajput princes in detention. Jahangir who was reluctant at first, but eventually agreed with the condition that only those who can handle his cloak or chola on his way out can be released. Intelligently, Guru Hargobind devised the tailoring of a heavy and long cloak which had 52 tails for each prisoner to hold on to. The guru, together with the 52 princes, were eventually released. Guru Hargobind returned to Amritsar in 1619 and was greeted by the Diwali festival.

Activities

The main activities during the observance of Bandi Chhor Divas include the continuous reading of the Guru Granth Sahib, street procession, and a fireworks display at night. 

Resources

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