Aglow with divinity

Last Updated 23 October 2010, 15:39 IST

For Sikhs especially, it is a centre of all divinity and on every Diwali , in addition to nagar keertan (a street procession during which hymns are sung) and an akhanda paath (a continuous reading of Guru Granth Sahib), Diwali is celebrated by a  grand fireworks display. The Golden Temple as well as the whole complex is festooned with countless  shimmering lights, creating a unique jewelbox effect.

We normally put down these celebrations, to the very close ties the  Sikhs have with the Hindu community in Punjab. After all, as the saying goes, these two communities believe in the  notion of  “Roti and  Beti,’’ which refers to a close relationship based on breaking bread together or eating together and sharing matrimonial ties. The relationship of Sikhs and Hindus is supposed to be as  close as  that of the nail  with the skin. For many generations, many Hindu families converted one of their sons to Sikhism. 

 Till extremism sneaked into the state,  a few decades ago, the interpersonal ties were even closer and it was a matter of time for the two communities to grow close again after the demon of mistrust withered away.

But the historical relevance of   Diwali in Sikh lore is not known so well.  There are five important  reasons for the Sikhs to  celebrate  Diwali. It was on Diwali day in 1577, that the   Sikh Guru  Ramdas started the construction of  the Golden Temple at Amritsar.

Then  later  Sikh Guru Amar Das institutionalised  Diwali  as the sacred day when all  Sikhs would gather to receive the Guru’s blessings,  by incorporating two festivals, Baisakhi (at the time of the spring harvest) and  Diwali (at the fall harvest), into the religious calendar.  Then the   festival of  Diwali  became the second most important day after the Baisakhi, when the Khalsa was formally established by Guru  Gobind Singh  in 1699.

The Sikh rebellion  against the Mughal  atrocities intensified in the 18th century and many events came to be centred around this day. After the execution of Banda Bahadur in 1716, who had led the agrarian uprising in Punjab, the Sikhs  started the tradition of deciding matters concerning the community at the biennial meetings which took place at Amritsar on the first of Baisakh and at Diwali. These assemblies were known as the Sarbat Khalsa and a resolution passed by it became a Gurmata (decree of the Guru).

Then Diwali  in October, 1619   happened to mark the end of the imprisonment of  Guru Hargobind Singh by the Mughal emperor Jehangir. The Guru had been kept in prison,  in the fortress of Gwalior by the emperor, and was later released as when he was convinced of the  piety of the Guru.

But when  Wazir Khan the Governor of Gwalior Fort  informed the Guru of his release, the Guru,  (who had lived among the other prisoners for an year and knew that many of them were innocent, especially  the 52 Hindu princes imprisoned over a trivial matter), requested Jehangir to release all the   princes with him.

The emperor first refused, but finally agreed.  But not really wanting to free the prisoners, the emperor cleverly added the following condition: “whoever can hold on to the Guru’s cloak would be released.”

But to circumvent this, Guru Hargobind Singh asked his devotees to make a  cloak made with 52 tassels and the dress was soon delivered. So, as the Guru walked out of the gate of the fort,   the 52 princes trailed behind, each holding on to his own tassel  of the Guru’s special cloak. The Guru’s cleverness had trumped Jahangir’s deviousness and liberated the 52 princes. This humane act of the Guru is termed in Sikh history as Bandi Chhor Divas (the day of freedom), for his co -prisoners.

Guru Hargobind Singh  arrived at Amritsar on Diwali day in 1619  and the Har Mandir (now known as the Golden Temple) was lit with countless lamps  and  he was accorded a grand welcome. Every Diwali, hence is the day to recall that moment of joy and to celebrate it again.

On the occasion of Bandi Chorrh Divas every year,  (Diwali day), Sikhs observe a one-day celebration in the Gurdwaras. In the evening, illumination is achieved by displaying  earthen oil lamps.

Candles are lit and fireworks can be seen creating a wonderful atmosphere of joy. Such celebrations are held both in the Gurdwaras and in homes. Then came a sad episode in Sikh history in 1737 when Bhai Mani Singh, a Sikh saint,  took charge of Harmandir Sahib’s management.

In 1737, invitations were sent to the Sikhs  all over north India to join that year’s   Bandi Chhorh Diwas  celebrations at Harmandir Sahib. A large amount of money had to be paid as tax  or bribe to the Mughal  governor of Punjab  so that the celebrations could go on without any problems.

But the governor of Lahore, Zakariya Khan had other nefarious plans.  As  Bhai Mani Singh later discovered,  the secret plan of Zakariya Khan was to kill all the    Sikhs during the gathering. Bhai Mani Singh  immediately sent a message to all the Sikhs to not  turn up for celebrations.

 Zakariya Khan was not happy about the Sikh devotees escaping his clutches  and he ordered Bhai Mani Singh’s assassination at Lahore by ruthlessly cutting him limb-by-limb to death. Ever since, in Sikh history,  the great sacrifice and  devotion of Bhai Mani Singh  is remembered on the Bandi Chhorh Diwas  on Diwali day.

 Thus for the  Sikhs,  Diwali commemorates many important dates and events in Sikh history.  In fact during Diwali, Sikhs rejoice in their religious freedom, which was won against so many odds and we find them celebrating  Diwali as their own festival of light.

(Published 23 October 2010, 11:06 IST)

Follow us on