Bandi Chhor Diwas - ( also known as Sikh Diwali ) holds special significance for Sikhs as it is intricately woven into the history of Harmandir Sahib. This sacred place has been a gathering point for Sikhs since the time of Guru Ram Das. This connection endures, marked by the initial reading of Guru Granth Sahib by the first Granthi, Baba Buddha, who established this tradition on this auspicious day. Guru Ram Das himself encouraged Sikhs to visit the Gurus at Harmandir Sahib on Diwali, as poetically expressed by Bhai Gurdas, "On the night of Diwali, burn oil lamps."
On the night of Diwali, Harmandir Sahib transforms into a breathtaking spectacle with hundreds of oil lamps, candles, and thousands of electric lights, while the Sarovar takes on a magical aura. Diwali and Vaisakhi were celebrated on the last day of the dark half of the lunar month in Katik, which typically fell in October or November, providing fixed dates for the Sikh community to assemble, even in the absence of efficient communication.
Vaisakhi is a significant and vital event in the Sikh calendar, marking the birth of the Khalsa Panth. However, Diwali's celebration is primarily concentrated at a single location, Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar. It was on this historic day that Jahangir, the fifth Mughal emperor, agreed to release the sixth Sikh Guru, Hargobind Sahib, who had been imprisoned for five years due to his unwavering commitment to Sikhism. He is also revered as Bandi Chhor, the liberator, for his insistence on the freedom of the fifty-two Hindu princes who were imprisoned alongside him before his release.
In 1620, on Diwali, Guru Hargobind arrived in Amritsar, initiating the tradition of celebrating Bandi Chhor Diwas at Harmandir Sahib. The shimmering illumination symbolizes not only the celebration of light for Sikhs but also demonstrates their unwavering faith, even during the turbulent eighteenth century when Sikh warriors faced numerous dangers to gather in Amritsar.
Bandi Chhor Diwas is a solemn occasion, marked by the sacrifice of Bhai Mani Singh, the Granthi at Harmandir Sahib, in 1738, as he valiantly defended the sacred shrine. This sacrifice deeply resonated within the Sikh community. The pain deepened further when Ahmed Shah Abdali, an Afghan marauder, plundered and desecrated Harmandir Sahib in 1756. This grievous event bolstered the Sikh resistance, with Baba Dip Singh fighting courageously, although ultimately overwhelmed by the sheer numbers.
Eyewitnesses recounted how Baba Deep Singh, holding his severed head in one hand and his sword in the other, fell at the steps of Harmandir Sahib, embodying the courage to sacrifice one's life within the shrine. The martyrdom of Baba Dip Singh is considered a pivotal moment in Sikh history, inspiring Sikh chieftains like Jathedar Jassa Singh and others to stand up for their faith, eventually leading to a triumphant victory against the Afghan marauders.
On Diwali, Sikhs converge in significant numbers at Darbar Sahib. They adorn Harmandir Sahib with candles, oil lamps, and electric lights, creating a mesmerizing spectacle, with the Sarovar reflecting the luminance, enhancing the shrine's beauty. The community takes pride in showcasing its heritage through fireworks and exhibitions of Sikh treasures. Deepmala, the festival of light, serves as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by the Gurus and their disciples, enabling Sikhs to access their holiest shrine freely.
The ancient history of Diwali predates the arrival of the Aryans in India. Sikhs partake in this ancient festival, which held great significance in their religious history, even though the holiday later became associated with Hinduism. Originally, Diwali served as a means for people to assess their wealth while warding off malevolent spirits of darkness. Over time, it evolved into a day to honor Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and the return of Lord Ram to his city. Hindus celebrate with earthen lamps, fireworks, festive feasts, and joyous gatherings.
Bandi Chhor Diwas ( Sikh Diwali ) encapsulates the essence of Sikhs' religious faith, their history, and their unwavering resolve. It is a night of wonders, marking both their tragic and glorious past, where their collective resilience shines as brightly as the stars and lights that adorn it. It is the story of India and Sikhs, a tale of unshakable faith, courage, and the victory of good over evil that defines Diwali, the festival of lights.