Contrary to popular belief, both Sikhs and Hindus celebrate Diwali (the festival of lights) for distinct and different reasons.
Sikhs celebrate Diwali as Bandi Chorr Diwas (Prisoner Release Day).
It was the day that Guru Hargobind (The Sikh’s 6th Guru) was released from Gwalior Fort along with 52 Rajas (Kings), who held the strings attached to the dress of the Guru, hence the Guru was called Bandi Chhor.
Bandi Chhor Diwas is the anniversary of Guru Hargobind ji being released from the prison at Gwalior Fort. In was on this day in 1619 A D.
The kind Guru ji refused to leave the fort on his own and demanded release of other 52 Hindu Kings. The Moghuls being the cunning rulers they were, decided on a compromise.
They said all the Kings that can hold onto your Chowla (gown) could walk out free along side you. The Sikhs smartly made a special Chowla with 52 long strips (tassels) and all the prisoners walked free.
Guru Hargobind ji is known as Bandhi Chhor because the imprisoned ones (Bandhi) were released (Chhor) by Him. Upon their return to Amritsar grand celebrations were held and Harmandir Sahib ji (The Golden Temple) was illuminated with lots of lights and candles. Gurbani Kirtan (Hymns) and prayers were performed. Guru ji was always prepared to sacrifice his own freedom for the sake of other innocent lives.
What does it Mean?
‘Bandi Chhor Divas’ means ‘Prisoner Release Day’. It is also known as ‘Diwali’ or ‘Deepawali’ which means ‘row of lights’. It is celebrated in October-November by both Sikhs and Hindus.
Why do Sikhs celebrate Diwali?
This is the day when Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji, the sixth Guru, was released from Gwalior fort along with 52 other prisoners.
Why was the Guru Ji put in a fort?
During the time of the 6th Guru, Sikhism had become the fastest growing religion. Unfortunately religious leaders and the Mogul Emperor became jealous. So they ordered Guru Ji to be detained in Gwalior fort in 1612 AD.
So what did the Guru Ji do?
Guru Ji accepted the decision without hesitation and the next morning he set out for Gwalior fort, accompanied only by a few Sikhs.
Was there anyone else in the fort?
Yes. On entering the fort, the Guru Ji was greeted by 52 Hindu kings. They had been stripped of their kingdoms by the Mogul Emperor Jahangir and were being ill-treated. They were not provided with sufficient food and nor with clean clothes to wear.
What did the Guru Ji do inside the fort?
What was the reaction of the Emperor?
Jahangir was surprised by Guru Ji’s popularity in the fort. In addition to this a group of Sikhs also campaigned in Delhi to secure Guru Ji’s release. Troubled with fearful visions, the Emperor gave orders for Guru Ji’s release.
Why did the Guru Ji refuse freedom?
The Guru Ji refused to come out of the fort until all the other 52 innocent prisoners were set free. The Mogul Emperor, thinking himself to be clever proposed to release any and every prisoner that could hold on to the Guru’s clothing.
Did the Guru Ji accept this proposition?
Yes! Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji ordered a special cloak to be made with 52 tassels. 52 pieces of cloth of different lengths were then tied to each tassel and each prisoner held one of these. It followed that on the day of Diwali in 1619 AD, the 6th Guru was released from Gwalior fort along with all 52 Hindu kings. Henceforth the Guru was called the ‘Freedom Provider’ or ‘Liberator’.
Who greeted the Guru Ji and the Kings outside the fort?
He was greeted by Bhai Gurdas Ji, Baba Budda Ji, Mian Mir (a Muslim Sufi Saint and friend of Guru Ji) and many other disciples.
What happened then?
The Guru Ji returned to Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple), Amritsar, with the 52 Kings where a magnificent celebration was held. The Harmandir Sahib was beautifully lit and decorated and fireworks illuminated the sky. People were elated and they sang Religious hymns.